Entrepreneurial Rugby

By Darrell Cook

Business and sports are often compared for their similarities in preparation, team collaboration, winning spirit and competitiveness. The sport I find most closely related to an entrepreneurs’ business is rugby. Rugby is a highly fluid game with little stoppage in play and a great deal of imagination required during chaos situations. Unlike other sports where players possess a single specific skill, rugby players must possess a multitude of talents and athleticism, including aerobic fitness, anaerobic power, anaerobic endurance, running, passing, kicking, tackling... sound familiar, entrepreneurs?

The main similarity between rugby and entrepreneurism is the absolute necessity for proper team execution. As a business owner, it’s not only hard to find good talent to support your ideas, but also challenging to align to your vision with your team members’ so they can execute well. Moreover, coaching team members to play nice and support others in your company can become a taxing exercise.

To alleviate the burden of these challenges, I have a few simple “best practices” your team can follow, using the basic principles of rugby:

Rule # 1: Don’t pass your troubles. Rugby players are meant to read the flow of the game and never pass the ball into a troubled situation that can cause injury to another player, or a breakdown in the play. Standing order is that if the situation is chaos, you protect the ball and take the tackle. Think about how your business works. Your customers with legitimate complaints can feel lost or neglected while employees pass them off to other team members. Customers who feel they are getting the runaround will walk away with negative feelings. Companies that adhere to responsible customer service practices are the ones that will sustain growth year after year.

Rule # 2: Innovate, Improvise, Adapt. The US military places great efforts on planning battles, while knowing one thing is certain—the enemy always has a vote in the outcome. The same applies in rugby, when the competition outmanoeuvres a team. Improvisation must be incorporated to adapt to the challenge, otherwise the team will be on the losing end of the game. There are two lessons for entrepreneurs here: a) you can’t control everything, as the competition will always interfere and technology will always improve in ways that will give someone else an advantage; and b) doing nothing about it will eventually cost you revenue. The speed at which you can innovate, improvise and adapt will determine your competitiveness for winning.

Rule # 3: Communication is critical. A rugby team is largely comprised of two main groups: Forwards and Backs. While Forwards are usually the big burly men you see on TV in the many pile-ups, the Backs are the speedy track athletes that form a line spread across the width of the rugby field. Each group has a very diverse role, but when combined, they work collaboratively to score points. The main difficulty is to ensure that everyone knows the play that is being orchestrated is the wide distance of each player. To alleviate this problem, players pass along the next play down the line, using hand signals or whispers so the other team does not read the play. Everyone must participate in this ritual or the play is broken before it begins. In business, the common internal breakdown in workflow is communication. Think about your office setup and ask yourself how your company can improve communication flow to increase productivity. Once established, teams can appreciate the other groups’ job functions and work toward understanding ways to improve the total company experience.

Rule # 4: The high motor experience. The one defining character of a rugby team is that each player possesses a high motor at the beginning of the game, to the final whistle. Rugby is punishing for teams with players who lose that high motor during the game —that extra effort needed to get the job done. Entrepreneurs compete daily against big companies with million-dollar marketing budgets and deep resources. To differentiate, entrepreneurs use this skill of high motor to prove their agility and commitment to customers. The moment a company takes its finger off this buzzer is when customers begin to doubt the performance of the company. Setting immediate weekly goals and teaching employees that the little things matter will increase your chances of winning against the big competitors.

While the game of rugby shares many qualities with the game of running a business, it still remains up to the entrepreneur to set the pace, game plan and vision. Moreover, the entrepreneur needs to select good talent to help carry the day, while off handling other activities. Using some basic principles can save a business a whole lot of trouble and heartache. Whatever the sport you choose to compare your business to, remember, it’s all about winning within your definition winning.

In rugby, they teach you to remain responsible for the ball until the person you’ve passed it to passes or kicks it away. The theory behind this: protection and backup of the ball in case things go wrong.

Darrell is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Conversys. His focus is to steward the North American growth for Digital Promotions Marketing. His career spans a wide range of technology and Internet companies throughout North America and the UK. From small start-ups to Fortune 500 firms, Darrell excels at bridging offline business processes with effective online channels. He is currently a Board of Director of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Club of Canada (RAC), and former Board of Director of the Internet Advertising Bureau of Canada.

By Adam

June 15, 2011