We all understand the importance of teamwork and collaboration in the workplace – and – if you read this blog – you’ll understand how to establish and maintain a high performing team. But how do we take our teams from performing well, to being world class?

With the Six Nations tournament sweeping rugby fever across the country, it didn’t take me long to start looking at successful sports teams for inspiration!

Corporate teams have multiple measures for success: productivity, ROI, OKRs etc, but sports teams tend to have just one – did they win?! So when I had the opportunity to chat to England’s most capped rugby player of all time, Rochelle ‘Rocky’ Clark (who was an essential part of the very successful  2014 winning World Cup team) I was pretty confident that she’d have some team tips we could all learn from. I wasn’t disappointed!

By the time we finished talking, not only had I become a bit of a Rocky Clark fan-girl, but I couldn’t wait to share my new found knowledge:

Here is the first instalment of Rocky’s inside guide to creating teams that work together, win together and grow together:

Strong teams need a strong structure

And not necessarily the one you’re thinking of!

Rocky talked me through the way her rugby teams have been broken down into teams within teams – creating four individual units, each with their own leader and their own clear purpose – allowing for a more targeted focus on what’s needed on each area of the pitch.

Instead of trying to make 15 people work as one and follow the same instructions, the focus now becomes about the collaboration of smaller units.

Once you accept trying to work as a full team might slow things down and restrict your success, many different methods of play open up.

This approach also shares the leadership responsibility. The Captain no longer has the burden of trying to see everything and instruct everyone, instead they can depend on their leaders to manage their own areas and deliver their own results.

Leaders can then take the opportunity to make every second count by gathering their units for 15/20 second micro chats: Rocky said “we might just huddle behind the posts for a few seconds and that would be long enough for me to raise one point about offense and one point about defense – you don’t need to go into details about how to fix things – just flagging the main issues and getting the players thinking is enough.”

Leaders must be aligned and prepared

Rocky explained that before any match, those playing in leadership positions meet with the coaches multiple times to really ensure that they all understand the game plan – and their role within it.

Leaders will also instinctively group together when the opportunity arises during a match, giving them a chance to realign on any adjustments that are being made in their respective units.

The golden rule for these ‘micro chats’ is that that you HAVE to listen to the other leaders. Your peers are seeing things from different angles and may have spotted something that wasn’t possible for you to see. whether or not a leader chooses to act on that advise is up to them – but they have to hear it. It could be game changing.

Rocky went on to say that this commitment to listening to others is something she uses when coaching: ‘’listening to players’ ideas – however crazy – earns their respect and makes them more likely to follow you as a leader. And there is always the chance that a crazy idea will lead to the most successful tactic of the season”.

Your game is only as good as your game plan

The game plan is carefully briefed into the captain and the pack leaders at the pre-match meetings. Time is taken to make sure the plan is understood and accepted by everyone – it becomes the bigger picture that the whole team works toward. The individual units have their own jobs to do, but every player must focus on same overall plan.

It then falls to the leaders to be agile and ready to adapt their play, based on what’s happening in the moment.

The pre-match game plan meetings are also used as a chance to work through ‘what if’ scenarios’. “What if the opposition are faster than us…What if they dominate possession?…What if we go down to 14 players?…”

Making succession planning part of your original game plan drastically limits the chances of your play being disrupted.

You can’t move the goal posts – but you can change your goals

There will always be occasions where things go wrong. From a sporting perspective, you might be getting beaten 70-0, or in the office there might be product issues or crashing markets – sometimes winning stops being an option.

But, as Rocky pointed out – you always have the chance to leave the pitch feeling like you have achieved something – if you change your goals accordingly. Instead of playing for the win, set smaller, shorter targets:

“Let’s just score once before the end of the match”

“Let’s keep the opposition out of 22 for the next 15 minutes”

“Let’s just look at five minute chunks of the game”

When you can’t control the situation around you, focus on the things that are in your control, build your confidence back up – and try again! Aim for small positives all of the time.

The better the bond, the better the team

The understanding of company culture and engagement has taken strides forward in the last few years, but there is still much debate around the value of team socialising and bonding activities – especially when the costs start adding up.

If we want to lead, build and work in teams that are striving for world cup success, we need to listen to Rocky and really work on ensuring teams know each other and genuinely respect each other.

And yes, socialising is a massive part of that – but there is also a strong element of psychology involved. Rocky played in teams that use personality profiling systems to teach each player how to get the best out of their teammates.

These systems identify what personality traits specific types of people show on a good day and what they look like on a bad day – letting you adapt your management style appropriately:

“Sometimes people need an arm round the shoulder, other times they need a kick up the backside – but knowing which technique to use at which time is crucial to leadership and team success”

If your company isn’t already using one of these, it’s well worth the investment, or even finding a free online version.

I have no doubt that as you were reading the above, you were immediately thinking about how these techniques could quickly and efficiently be applied to teams within your business – and probably kicking yourself for not thinking of them sooner.

Rocky has lots more to share with us, so keep an eye out for her forthcoming tips on leadership and motivation!

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From Katie O'Leary

Katie Heads up the UK Marketing at Hibob and has been working in B2B Marketing for both start up and corporate brands over the last 12 years. Katie is a firm believer in using creativity and communication to get brands noticed and champions great marketing as an essential part of the business strategy.