Kurt (in blue) with 2014 NRL Premiers South Sydney Rabbitohs

I have now been with Leading Teams for five months. Prior to that I was an NRL player and coach for twenty-five years.

Needless to say, after such a long time in the one field, the transition to my role at Leading Teams has been interesting.

Learn, Commit, Do, Review

Leading Teams’ clients these days are about 80% corporate, but our origins lie in elite sport. What I’ve noticed in the time I’ve been here is that the two environments are more similar than I might have expected and there is much that corporate teams could learn from the sporting field.

I believe sport has learned a great deal from the corporate world in the last 30 years by focusing on the ‘mechanics’ of their game. Coaching individual skills and developing team strategy has improved markedly recently via video and statistical game analysis, as have strength and conditioning, injury treatment and prevention, recovery protocols, nutrition, psychology, welfare and even mindfulness.

The nature of elite sport helps. In the NRL, AFL, A-League etc. they have an event every week in the form of a game. This regular test of their progress gives them a tangible result each week to measure against. In essence, individuals and teams get regular feedback that is as public as it gets.

Consequently, teams are forced to rigorously review their performance and execute improvements straight away. At Leading Teams we call this the ‘Learn, Commit, Do, Review’ cycle and it’s a constant process in the sporting world.

Dynamics

Elite sporting teams are on the search for any marginal gain they can get. Now any gains to be had from mechanics are generally minimal; most teams are looking for larger gains in the dynamics space. And I think elite sporting teams have unlocked the power of culture as a real competitive advantage.

Absolute alignment, buy in and engagement by all members of the team is a minimum requirement for teams to be successful. As a young coach I worked so hard to be excellent in the skills/tactics/game plan side of the game but it wasn’t until I was more experienced that I realised the benefit of prioritising the dynamics – or culture – of the team and indeed the whole club.

Good sporting teams and clubs have spent time clarifying and honing their culture and behaviours and start to bring their values to life. This is not just lip service, it is the cornerstone of their performance, and becomes a code by which they live and breathe. Furthermore, it gives them a reference point by which they select their leaders and recruit and retain their players.

Sports teams are not afraid to challenge anyone they see who isn’t abiding by the agreed behaviours. They also celebrate and recognise actions that don’t necessarily require skill but are more effort-based. This helps to create a strong team where everyone feels valued, regardless of their role or pay grade.

You might see the big flashy plays on the highlights reel on all the sports channels but in-house they’ll be focusing on the small things that are important to that team. These small things form key components of success. As a spectator you may not notice them but internally, they value them highly.

Developing a corporate culture

In the corporate world, teams often have their values written up on their walls but in many cases that’s as far as it goes: they don’t refer to them regularly or review against them. They prioritise their outcomes/results well before their values.

But at Leading Teams, I have noticed that the corporate groups that choose to put a high value on their culture reap the rewards.

Those businesses have absolute clarity in their purpose. They have identified what the team stands for in terms of agreed behaviors. They work on cultivating professional relationships to create a safe place to have genuine conversations about performance.

Corporate groups that can master the art of feedback benefit in many ways, both financial and cultural, including:

  • Higher performance
  • Increased accountability and responsibility
  • Higher morale, job satisfaction and employee motivation
  • Better customer service
  • Leadership with empowered staff
  • Increased communication, teamwork and co-operation
  • More responsiveness to change
  • Reduced absenteeism, injuries and claims
  • Better working relationships
  • Improved staff recruitment and retention.

A well-developed company culture brings so many benefits that complement each other. When staff are enthusiastic about collectively solving problems and completing work tasks efficiency gains and bottom line improvements result. Work teams that genuinely recognise each other for their special contributions to the group’s success, regardless of their role, build real momentum. And equally, those team members who care enough to challenge underperforming staff to improve are vital to preserve the expected standards.

My experience is that some leaders in corporate organisations flag a variety of excuses as to why they can’t have a good working culture: poor attitude of staff, can’t get good people, current staff are selfish / stubborn / won’t change. My immediate question to these leaders is, ‘what type of environment are YOU creating?’

Since I started with Leading Teams I’ve witnessed examples of businesses and teams that actively decide what kind of team they want to be and then proactively follow through on that commitment. It is very satisfying to see these companies improve and ultimately prevail.

Culture goes hand-in-hand with high performance. Some of the things being done in elite sporting environments are, in my view, a great place to look for clues to improved corporate performance.

 

Do You Recruit Against Your Culture?