Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Photosport / NZ Herald

Business is more similar to rugby than you might think. No, I’m not referring to scrums, shared showers and alcohol abuse! In this series of posts I’ll use lessons from 20 years of playing and coaching rugby to make you a better CTO.

I’m a long-time subscriber (and fan) of Dan Cottrell who has a great article on 7 things that make a great coach.  I shan’t paraphrase that here — it’s a short article, go read it!

In addition to the points that Dan Cottrell raises above, which are a great foundation, I’d also encourage you to think about your role, breaking it down into three major areas:

1. Social

A team is a collection of people, with their own fears and desires. You need to create a social structure that supports the team. People will be working hard, and the more fun you can make the environment, the better it will be for all. Now, rugby teams have a bit of a “reputation” when it comes to the social aspect of the game (some of which should not be replicated in business!) but the goals are serious: getting to know and understand one another on a personal level, irrespective of race, class, sexual orientation, gender, while respecting boundaries.

Rugby coaches often organize events to promote team building, especially at the start of the season when new players arrive. Social events to celebrate victories, or blow off steam after a defeat, are an important part of building a culture and sustaining the team through good times, and bad.

Coaches also often help with the personal challenges of their players: births, deaths, divorce, marriage, employment, etc. Players are not one-dimensional robots, and to really understand a player you have to look beyond the mechanics of how they play the game.

Gregor Townsend:

2. Organisational

A coach needs to ensure that the logistics work and support the team. In rugby this is things like: getting the shirts washed, making sure the medical kit is well stocked, booking the bus for away games, ordering new training ground equipment, making sure there’s a good match ball, working with the federation on scheduling, enrolling players and refs into training programs, ensure safeguarding, wrangling the budget etc. The list is long but is important to get right. Organizational errors can have a big impact on the team’s ability to deliver results, and can quickly erode morale.

In business the parallel might be ensuring good office/meeting space, high-performance laptops, displays and peripherals, good chairs, managing software licenses, approving expenses —basically removing anything that detracts from the core mission and that adds friction.

3. Technical

A coach often also brings technical expertise and experience to the team. A coach should have a vision for how she wants to play the game, and she may also bring a set of contacts, such as trusted lieutenants she has worked with in other clubs. Some coaches have played the game to a very high-level themselves, while others are more analytical and have become great coaches through years of coaching experience.

Eddie Jones:

Self Awareness

No coach can be strong in all aspects of SocialOrganisational and TechnicalSelf-awareness is key. If you know you are weak on the social side of things, appoint a social secretary. If you know you need help with technology, then hire a really strong Technical Leader …

Analysis of the Whole

Your role as coach is often to look at the WHOLE, rather than the just the individuals and the details. How is the team functioning as a cohesive unit? Review the previous articles on trustroles and responsibilities and decision making: what could be improved? A coach should be continually asking herself (and the players), what three things can we improve?

“What three things can we improve?”

Creative Ambiguity

I’m personally a big fan of leaving space for creative ambiguity. Don’t push your vision or game plan too hard, or make all the decisions before the players have even entered the field… Magic happens in the gaps! Make sure you provide direction and vision, but don’t micro-manage. Focus more on the “What” and “Why” than the “How” whenever possible. Your players may solve problems in new and exciting ways. Embrace the uncertainty, and trust them.

Coaching Points

  1. Where are your strong and weak points, across social, organizational and technical? Have you got the lieutenants you need to fill in any weaknesses?
  2. How much time do you spend thinking about the WHOLE, versus fighting fires? 
  3. Can you identify three things that would make the team function better?
  4. Do you have a clear vision and does your team understand it?
  5. Can you use creative ambuiguity to better advantage?