A Lesson in Culture from New Zealand Rugby

Last weekend New Zealand became the first team to retain the World Cup. They have been dubbed ‘the Winningest Team’ as statistically the most successful team in sporting history. In the past four years they’ve lost just four matches – a staggering 93% win rate.

Back in 2003, they were a completely different team. Conduct off the field regularly involved being drunk and disorderly. In response, senior management called a meeting and players created a new phrase – ‘Better people make better All Blacks’. A culture that elevated the importance of off-field behaviour above on-field performance and would lead the team to greatness. It includes:

  • Sweep the sheds: After training sessions and matches, senior players ensure the changing rooms are left in the same state as when they arrived. By literally sweeping the floor.
  • No d***heads: An unofficial policy, where players agree that no one is bigger than the team. This means no binge drinking and no bringing women back to the hotels. Put the team first, yourself second.
  • Pass the ball: Management hand over a lot of responsibility to players to build their character off field. When it comes to game day there is ‘One Captain and 15 Leaders.’
  • Never moan: Players are instructed that whatever happens, to never moan, not about others players or to yourself. Mistakes happen.

The outcome is a high performance culture that they practice every single day in matches, training and their personal lives. Discipline and humility became ingrained in their behaviour, as Jonny Wilkinson perfectly summarises:

“They don’t have to try to play, they go out there and just behave. It’s not skills and effort, it’s their behaviour. It’s what they do.” – Jonny Wilkinson

In the video above, New Zealand facing defeat to Ireland demonstrate the discipline and belief that defines them. Organisations can use the same principles to create their own culture of success:

  • Lead from the top: Senior leaders must live by the vision and set an example. But most importantly, their actions must be visible to others throughout the organisation.
  • Personality before performance: A team member who gets individual results but damages the team’s performance, doesn’t support long term success. Recognise and reward values, not just performance.
  • Distribute responsibility:  Giving employees more autonomy creates a sense of ownership. Peer pressure creates accountability and less requirement for controls or punishments.
  • Tackle negativity:  Specifically set aside time for open and honest discussion. Build trusting, human relationships so issues are tackled proactively before negativity can spread.

In short, focus on behaviours which support the organisations’ mission and values. Then promote these values through leadership and rewards until they become habits. It may take time, but once everyone is moving in the same direction the results can be the best in the world.

My name is Andrew Shortland. I blog my thoughts on the future of work, corporate culture, employee engagement, and more. I’d love to connect and hear your views.