Lessons L&D professionals can take from the Rugby World Cup
By Gavin Cooney, CEO & Co-Founder of Learnosity
The influence of leadership cannot be understated – Thinking outside the Box
This may feel like an obvious statement, but you really can’t underestimate the impact strong leadership can have on a team and the results.
Take the South African team (known as the Springboks), led by their ‘marmite’ coach Rassie Erasmus. They are perhaps the clearest example of organisational culture reflecting the behaviours of its leaders at this year’s competition.
For those not following the competition closely, the South African team have implemented some real ‘out of the box’ thinking and tactics which have set them apart in terms of performance and results.
The South African team, who were crowned champions at the 2019 WC, are looking to become only the second team to win ‘back-to-back’ titles. To do this has required the establishment of a culture of continuous learning.
This has meant innovation and being willing to do the unexpected to find a way to win – and boy, have they done that. The opposition has been left guessing.
The impressive thing here, from a wider perspective, is the adaptability which has been instilled within the team. Across the board, they’ve fully bought in, and genuinely believe in, the method behind what appears to be rugby madness.
While in the world of business, there may not always be the necessity for such ‘out the box’ thinking the theory is the same.
For leaders in the learning and development sector, they must lead by example. They need to genuinely believe in the learning process and actively engage/promote it.
Without high-level support, it is challenging for an L&D department to create a learning culture that resonates with the workforce. Much like rugby, where the team’s culture is shaped by the coach’s or captain’s leadership, this should be a top-down initiative strongly supported by senior management.
Embrace the expectation of individual growth
When you think of France (in a rugby context), what comes to mind…Flair? Passion? Inconsistent?
All of the above?
The current French team has been a great example of continuous development, both as a team and on an individual basis. They’ve propelled themselves from a team of inconsistency, who the opposition fancied their chance against, to one of the most clinical and feared teams in the world.
Not only have their players been expected to continuously improve their skills and not ‘sit still’ in finding areas to improve their game but have also had to deal with the expectation of being the host nation and one of the favourites for the competition.
To do this, they’ve had to drive this culture of continuous improvement and change the way they, as a nation, approach the game. Key to this has been the expectation from leadership that each player has a responsibility for their individual growth.
Now, within an organisation, you may not have the pressure of being the favourites to win a World Cup you’re hosting but you can certainly instil an expectation of continuous development.
To achieve this, managers should take a leading role in encouraging learning, making it an essential part of their responsibilities. This can be positioned to employees as embracing the expectation and using it as a force to drive standards.
Just as rugby players are recognised for their effective play, organisations should find ways to recognise and celebrate employees who excel in their learning efforts creating a self-fulfilling cycle which, in turn, embeds the process as part of the organisation.
Assess your learning culture – Analysis is king
In rugby, progress and performance are measured continuously to improve the team’s strategy. From monitoring players’ heart rates to the amount of time the ball is in play, what gets measured, gets improved – it’s simply a part of how a rugby team ‘does business’ and is how a team holds each other accountable for hitting KPIs.
We’re not saying that employees need to be wearing heart monitors and managers should be conducting video analysis sessions but from an L&D point of view, it’s essential to assess the organisation’s learning culture and listen to feedback as much as providing direction.
Using mechanisms like employee attitude surveys, certification tracking, and measuring various learning activities can provide valuable insights into employee perceptions of the organisation’s commitment to their professional development and ROI on training/development programmes.
Lessons from facing the All Black Haka – Exchanging ideas to speed up and enhance development
Unlike rugby, working professionals rarely get time on the training pitch to sharpen their skills and it can often be a case of learning on the job and jumping in at the deep end.
A scenario like this, in a sporting context, would be disastrous and is something teams work to avoid at all costs.
Take facing New Zealand’s haka for example.
The first time standing in front of this most iconic of rugby moments will be intimidating and holds so many unknowns. How does a team ensure its players are prepared not only to embrace the challenge but also to be capable of performing?
The answer, drawing on insights and experiences from past players to remove unknowns, fill knowledge gaps and, hopefully, speed up progression.
While an organisation might not be filled with former international sporting greats to draw inspiration from, there is still a huge opportunity to learn from teammates and benefit from sharing knowledge and experience within the organisation.
People are often very happy to share their experiences, it’s just a case of facilitating the right platforms for this. Practical steps leaders can take could include:
- Encourage internal channels (across departments) whereby people can exchange useful articles.
- “Lunch and learns” where one person gives training to others is very useful. They can either be in person (with sandwiches, etc) or virtual with everyone at their desk at home.
- Host quarterly or monthly roundtable discussions on different topics relevant to your business and industry
- Bring in outside speakers (perhaps from partner companies) to inform and engage your workforce.
Encourage the recognition of achievement
In rugby, players get validation through their performance on the field. This, of course, can result in individual achievement – reaching a milestone of appearances, number of points scored or ‘player of match’ performances – as well as collecting team success.
Take England’s captain Owen Farrell.
He became England men’s all-time top points scoring during this World Cup, but he didn’t get there on individual brilliance alone. He has been part of a successful team, which has allowed him the opportunity to produce performances, which, in turn, has meant that the team has been successful.
The recognition of management, peers, and supporters of both individual and team success drives this self-fulfilling circle.
In terms of the learning and development sector, this might look like encouraging employees to seek validation of their skills and knowledge through certifications.
Certification validates learning and provides employees with a sense of achievement, just as rugby players receive recognition for their achievements on the field, certifications offer a tangible mark of expertise and that all-important recognition from management and peers.
Encouraging employees to pursue relevant certifications, not only benefits employees in their career development but also enhances the organisation’s workforce with valuable skills, strengthening the team as a whole.