Business and sports teams aren't all that different really - people coming together to achieve great things. So it makes sense to look to the world's best sports teams when building high performing teams in our own workplaces.
I admit it. I’m what you'd describe as a "sporadic rugby fan". And by sporadic I mean, every four years for the final two games of the World Cup.But at 5am on the morning of the Rugby World Cup final I was sitting in the dark, dressed in black, glued to my tv along with the rest of New Zealand. And what we got was the perfect example of a high performing team in action.The seamless way they worked together made the game look almost choreographed.Nehe was right where Richie needed him to make that first try - like magic. And how was Dan getting that drop goal away while being charged down by the Aussie front line. Insane.Individually, they’re all incredible athletes, there's no denying it. But that's not what won them the cup. What they displayed was teamwork in its truest sense. It’s what wins World Cup finals – and what business people everywhere are breaking their backs trying to replicate.Because, let’s face it, if our teams operated with that kind of seamless singularity, we’d all be driving heaps fancier cars.Nice black uniforms and a shared mental modelIt’s not a coincidence that sports metaphors feature so heavily in business-talk; things are par for the course, we don’t drop the ball, we make a game plan, we touch base… Businesses know they’d like to be more like winning sports teams.So what is it that the All Blacks have that most businesses don’t? Well, other than nice black uniforms and motivational messages written on their wrists, the All Blacks have only one goal. They need to “stop the other team from scoring points, while we ourselves score many points”.
That clarity and simplicity of ambition means they’ve developed what scientists call a Shared Mental Model. This gives team members a clear understanding of the task, what part they need to play and what everyone else will be doing. That’s where they get that choreographed feel. It also gives them instinctive flexibility – when Ben Smith was sin binned, the AB’s shifted immediately to their one-man-down plan.
Like a sports game, your business needs a bunch of people who aren’t just skilled, but who also want to play your way.They agree on your definition of “winning" and are emotionally invested in pushing towards it. And, to be honest, that’s the trickiest part. What if a few of the All Blacks viewed success as “trying our best”, “giving the fans a good show” or “being spotted by managers of other, richer teams”. These are all valid ideas of “winning” but would mean the individual All Blacks would be playing quite different games of rugby.That’s what happens a lot in organisations. You might think winning is turning a profit while also protecting the environment. Meanwhile your sales team are off trying to rake in the conversions at any cost. Maybe winning to you means being number one in sales – but the marketing team are focussed on producing ads that make consumers love your brand (but don’t necessarily push them to buy). Again, all valid ideas of winning that would see your company pulled in opposite directions.Building high performing teams with a shared mental model is hard, but not impossible.The key is to consider a candidate’s personal values, goals and personality as carefully as you do their skill set. Think of questions that will give you a clue to what they really care about, what motivates them and how likely they are to get onboard with your company’s game plan. Because in the business world, you need people who aren’t just wearing your colours, but are actually on your team.
Want to recruit some All Blacks? Or at least, some awesome people who'll help your team win their own World Cup? Use Weirdly to start building your own high performing teams with a shared mental model.