What business can learn from rugby about teamwork

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  • High fliers: The same principles of teamwork that exist in rugby can also help businesses rise high

    High fliers: The same principles of teamwork that exist in rugby can also help businesses rise high

  • Rugby qualities: On this trip to the Island, Mr Loftus (right) was serving as public relations officer for the visiting Montreal Irish Rugby Football Club of which he is a former player and president. Also pictured (from left) are Trevor Lane, tour manager and Mark Gallagher, captain.

    Rugby qualities: On this trip to the Island, Mr Loftus (right) was serving as public relations officer for the visiting Montreal Irish Rugby Football Club of which he is a former player and president. Also pictured (from left) are Trevor Lane, tour manager and Mark Gallagher, captain.


The motivation to write this article came from attending a lunchtime talk in Toronto on Friday, August 5, in PJ O’Brien’s Pub. The event was organized by the Toronto Chapter of the Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce and the guest speaker was Eddie O’Sullivan, manager/coach of the United States rugby team.

Eddie is the former coach of the Irish team during one of its most successful periods ever. I was in Toronto on business, conveniently timed to coincide with the international rugby game between Canada and the United States at the BMO Field on the Saturday, August 6.

When I heard Eddie talking about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for his team I realised how closely his job was related to mine. I help companies set these up for their performance appraisal/management systems. In rugby these KPIs are deciding factors in who plays in the next game.

This entails a lot of pressure as rugby players are always fighting for their place. They are constantly being appraised by their coach and captain. The following are examples of KPIs used in rugby: tackles, missed tackles, defenders beaten, scrums won, rucks won, lineouts won, ball turnovers, possession, penalties conceded and converted tries. KPIs in business include such factors as sales, cost containment, departmental turnover, absenteeism, productivity increase, new business, etc.

Cohesiveness and synergy are essential components of an effective team. Peak performance is expected from every team member to achieve the goal of the team. Decision making under pressure is a necessity for the team to be successful.

On the rugby pitch it could be to run, pass or kick whereas in the corporate team it could be to go ahead or not with the impending project whose deadline is now.

When a scrumhalf gets the ball from the scrum he has to be decisive. He can decide to pass, kick, run or go down with the ball. There are different types of passes and kicks. The decision he makes will be in the best interests of the team achieving its objective, i.e. match victory. Increasingly people are working in teams in business. In the workplace there are many different types of teams, such as research teams, cross-functional teams, ad hoc teams, project teams, cross-cultural teams, etc., but they’re all there for a purpose: to achieve the team’s mission.

Another example from rugby is ball turnovers, i.e. turning things around to your advantage. When a team in business can do this it is proceeding successfully to its goal. There are many transferrable skills that can be brought from the rugby field to the work environment. Some well known business leaders are also well known rugby players such as Tony O’Reilly (Ireland), former CEO Heinz and Chris Liddell (New Zealand), CFO General Motors.

Rugby requires total commitment to the team, endurance, dedication, stress tolerance, clear thinking under pressure, etc. It also requires respect for the opposing team and the willingness to forgive and forget after the game. How do you think this relates to and is transferable to a team in business?

Each player has a position on a rugby team. This relates to a role on a workteam. Today’s workplace is representative of the diversity in society. Rugby also has that diversity. Whereas business has policies and procedures rugby has laws and tactics.

If you have rugby players in your organisation consider yourself lucky. They have what it takes to help your organisation achieve its mission and vision while remaining loyal to its values.

Paul Loftus is a frequent business visitor to Bermuda where he conducts both public and in-company management development seminars for various organizations. One of these seminars is team-building.

For more information contact Paul Loftus at (514) 282-9111; e-mail ploftus[AT]colba.net; or go to his website, www.paulloftus.ca

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Published Nov 8, 2011 at 7:23 am (Updated Nov 8, 2011 at 7:21 am)

What business can learn from rugby about teamwork

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