By Corrado Varoli, CEO and Founding Partner of G5 Partners
Levindo Santos, Senior Partner of G5 Partners
No matter the modality, it is always possible to draw precious lessons from sports to our daily lives. When it comes to the business world, sport analogies are even more abundant. Building a company from scratch is a complex task and steering people to act in an organized, efficient and harmonious manner, day after day, aimed at achieving collective goals is also not trivial. Just as in sports, the successful management of a business requires discipline, dedication and constantly challenging team members to perform at the limit of their individual abilities.
Among team sports, rugby is one of the most notorious modalities due to the countless examples it offers. This sport, which is still not widely known in Brazil, surely does not leave people with a positive first impression. All that pushing and shoving seems too rough to contain any kind of teachings, let alone special messages. However, this is only a superficial perception. What makes rugby so unique is the sport’s code of ethics, which is based on five key values, all of which are faithfully followed by those who enjoy the sport and can be summarized into the acronym DRIPS: Discipline, Respect, Integrity, Passion and Solidarity.
Rugby is a team sport that has intense physical contact and can be quite tough and manly. Even so, unfair play is rare. A rugby match has 15 players on each side, all of whom try to catch an oval-shaped ball (the rugby) to pass it through their opponent’s end zone. Each move is always rough but is played strictly within the rules, with the opponent always treated with respect.
As an unquestionable example of discipline and respect for rules, the referee always has the final word. All the decisions taken are explained to the captains of both teams and spectators. Referees may naturally commit errors, but players or members of the coaching staff will never complain or question their integrity. And that is where one of rugby’s most important cultural pillars resides.
Another striking feature of the sport is its appreciation for the collective and supportive effort needed for each decision taken at a match, which is rarely done by a single athlete. Since passes can only be executed backwards or sideways, only an effective and organized collective effort will allow a team to achieve its goals.
And even if the definition of success is the same for any other team in any other sport (which is ultimately to win), a victory is worthless if it is not achieved through fair play. Accordingly, a rugby team will never play exclusively on the defensive side or simulate fouls and injuries that did not exist. No matter the difference in points during a match, both winning and losing teams will use every opportunity to score additional ones. This is a matter of respect, not only for fans but also for the opponent.
Another peculiar trait of the sport is that, at the end of each match, including the toughest ones, both teams will always gather and celebrate. Rivalries and disagreements must remain on the field – a match only lasts 80 minutes, but the values taught by this sport must be practiced for life.
Rugby, New Zealand and the road to success
Rugby is the national sport of New Zealand, a small island country located in Oceania, with 5 million people and formed by two main land masses (called North Island and South Island). For almost 140 years, rugby has been a national passion and has decisively influenced New Zealand’s lifestyle and cultural formation, in addition to helping create a proud, disciplined and innovative nation that is determined to make a lasting impression on the world.
The All Blacks, the national team, is one of the most respected rugby teams in the world. Watching them on the field in their black, silver fern leaf printed uniforms arouses invariable pride in the hearts of New Zealanders and creates the feeling of fear to its opponents.
In the book “Legacy – What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life”(published by Constable, London, in 2013), the author James Kerr analyzes the trajectory of the All Blacks team, from scratch and until becoming the team with the highest percentage of victories among all collective sports across the world. What is the secret behind their success? How do players deal under pressure? How do they practice and reach such high levels? Where do they find motivation, year after year, to renew and stay on top of their game?
To answer these and other questions, Kerr spent five weeks with the All Blacks during the preparations for the 2010 World Cup and discovered that the team’s success was rooted in its culture, concepts and values applied on a daily basis. Kerr also realized that several of the management methods adopted by the team can be an inspiring and efficient model to be followed by leaders in other fields. In total, James Kerr identified 15 key reflection points, among which we highlight:
Humbleness: Creating and maintaining a team culture that combines humbleness with pride is essential. After each match, the All Blacks players remain in the locker room to reflect and discuss the match, identifying what can be improved. Then, the veterans lead by example by starting to clean the locker room. This ritual is to remind them that no single All Black member should ever feel too important to do even the “smallest chores”.
Adaptability: The decline of any organization seems inevitable unless its leaders are constantly prepared for change – and preferably when they are at the height of their performance. The All Blacks’ culture mixes senior players with younger ones in order to constantly renew the team’s talents, thus transferring responsibilities, knowledge and the team’s collective legacy.
Responsibility: Leaders should create a sense of ownership, self-determination and initiative among their staff. Leaders should not form a team of followers; leaders should form other leaders. At the All Blacks, sharing responsibilities and allowing everyone to contribute with the team’s success is an important cultural aspect and a key element of its success.
Collectiveness: At the All Blacks, collectiveness matters. No single individual is more important than the team. Each player’s ethical behavior and respect for team values are part of the team’s fundamental attributes. And the players themselves are responsible for fighting against any sign of destructive individualism that could jeopardize the team’s harmonious collective culture. Although the team has a captain who is responsible for steering the group, the entire All Blacks team applies the “group leadership” concept in which everyone must try to occupy their own space and lead by example.
Expectations: The All Blacks are encouraged to set the most challenging performance goals possible. Immediately after any defeat, players are challenged to reflect on how they are feeling at that moment and to always remember that feeling in the future. The reason is that by “remembering the pain of defeat” will serve as an incentive to pursue victory – every single time.
Preparation: For the All Blacks, intense training is essential to reach excellence and develop a winning mentality that adequately responds to high-pressure situations. In fact, it may be possible that the All Blacks trainings are even more intense and exhausting than the matches played against its opponents.
Tradition: All large organizations are founded to perpetuate a compelling story that helps people understand their values and what they stand for. Strong cultures need a sense of significance that can understood by all; a language that unites people. For the All Blacks, each rookie receives a copy of the “All Black Book” when they join the team. The book contains all the values and wisdom accumulated throughout the team’s history and is an important attribute to help solidify the pride of belonging and participating in this tradition.
Ritual: No other international sports team has a pre-match ritual as powerful as the famous All Black haka, of Maiori descent. Derived from the traditional “Ka mate, Ka mate” ritual, held for the first time in 1888 — the haka plays a critical role in the physical and mental preparation of the All Blacks team. Through this ritual, players have the opportunity to reflect, tell and reinforce their collective stories and, ultimately, connect with traditions.
In New Zealand, schools, universities and grassroots sports clubs work together to train future rugby players. At all of these institutions, children and teenagers have a common dream: to become an All Black player. Training discipline and the legacy of the black jersey serve as inspiration for millions of young people. Being an All Black team member means acting with integrity at all levels.
The discipline and legacy of the All Black team crowns the best of what the sport has to offer. Along with rugby’s overall values, the culture of excellence cultivated by the All Blacks and a permanent connection ritual with Maoris ancestors creates an almost unbeatable team. It is no coincidence that New Zealand considers itself the “land of rugby” and that this small and isolated country has, over the years, become one of the most developed societies on the planet.
G5 Partners and the All Blacks
Although we are geographically very distant from the All Blacks and our activities do not include the use of an oval-shaped ball, we at G5 Partners identify ourselves with several rugby values and, in particular, with the All Blacks’ culture:
- We are a relatively small firm operating in an industry of giants
- Our ethical values are clear and non-negotiable
- We strive for excellence and dedicate ourselves to all tasks
- We have strong leaders and foster a lead-by-example culture
- Humbleness and respect for others are the pillars of our culture
- G5 Partners, as the All Blacks, is guided by long-term success
- We believe that collective results are more important than individual success, and
- We believe it is our obligation to support G5 Partners’ growth, continuously preparing the firm for new generations of leaders.