This opinion piece on my startup team was first published in the Business Daily on Monday December 14th, 2015
I’ve recently begun treating one of my businesses as a start-up – as we need to change direction quickly and re-invigorate our strategic purpose. I have always firmly believed that a group of driven, pro-active people will make the difference between good top line results and great bottom line results. But it needs to go deeper than that:
A 15’s rugby (union) team is a disciplined machine that has a single goal for every phase of the game. It is always about gaining territory until the goal posts are within kicking reach or the try-line makes somebody suddenly hungry.
My understanding of the roles in a 15’s team is thus:
The fly-half is the kicker, expected to be precise and know when the right moment to kick the ball is. Everybody trusts him to send the ball in the direction that helps gain territory. Every kick is a calculated risk.
The full-back is the stress-sponge. Absorbs pressure when space is available and is trusted to be the last resort when the competition has broken through. Also a kicker but takes a higher level of risk when he kicks because there is less precision and either sends it long ways, or into touch, depending on the level of pressure. Neither going long or into touch will give any gain unless the rest of the team do their bit, quickly.
The wingers are the quick thinking, obstacle jumping opportunists. They seek territory within narrow spaces and trust their ability to chase the ball down when they kick it into the space only they see. Perhaps seen as blind faith sometimes?
The above 3 roles are the risk-takers that every team needs. Once in a while a business will need someone who attacks a vision blind, someone who opens up the explanation after they’ve taken the dive e. Either to gain territory, relieve the pressure or to seek new opportunity. A kicker, available from all sides.
How else do I envision this start-up team behaving like a winning 15’s team?
In rugby every time you release the ball by hand, you move into a supportive position. You join the back of the line and wait for the ball to come back to you, while you’re still ALL moving forward. Everyone is always BEHIND the ball, facing the same direction.
Every time someone invites a ruck, they are TRUSTING the ‘pack’, or their support to be right behind them, to protect them and the ball, and that the right person will pick up from where they left off to continue gaining territory.
During a line-up or a scrum, the ‘pack’ needs to work in unison to gain territory, protect the ball and drive forward. There is no reliance on a single person in this group of 8. The dimensional balance is maintained by the number 8, a ‘leader’ of a smaller group within the team that’s supposed to get a job done every time they’re called in to do so. That brings me to having two leaders within the team of 15 – the number 8 who normally leads the front line and the leader of the backs, normally the scrum-half. Every team needs more than one leader, usually two who are always on the same wavelength and have the mutual respect of each other and everyone else on the team. The combined inspiration of this is intangible!
So my team will be made up of risk-takers, two leaders on the same wavelength, all facing the same direction, behind the ball and with an understanding of what support, trust and individual responsibilities are in the endeavor of territory gain. Unbwogable?