In New Zealand we have an interesting obsession. I am not referring to the understood wisdom that the collective mood of the nation rises and falls on the basis of the performance of the All Blacks; I am talking about our obsession with using the cultural footprint of our beloved rugby team as an analogy for business. It is rare for any culture or values workshop to progress without the obligatory remarks about at least one of the many golden nuggets of wisdom gleaned from sporting experience to pervade the scene.
Now, let’s be clear; there is undoubted value in many of these cultural pillars, but it is important to be cognisant of the ways in which our sporting lives and our working lives are different. The vibrancy and healthy adrenaline buzz of a good sporting experience is rarely replicated in our working environment. In fact, I have found that at times, the use of the sporting analogy can be demotivating, in that is reveals to you just how boring and mundane some of the tasks we have to undertake to keep our businesses ticking over really are.
Sport is immersive in a way work struggles to replicate. During a match or a training you are able to forget about all other responsibilities knowing they can be returned to without too much impact, having experienced your 1-2 hours of reprieve. Your teammates are all equally able to immerse themselves in the purpose you share, without a care in the world for that short period. Interruptions are almost impossible as your phone remains on the sideline and your laptop remains closed.
Sport and its associated trainings are necessarily short and sharp, except maybe for you cricket fans out there. As a product of this, we are rarely sick of the activity before it passes. There are few 8 or 10 hour days in my sporting experience, certainly not without an opportunity for a significant break if there are more than one training or game on a particular day. I recall an ex-professional rugby player reflecting at the end of a long day working as a graduate engineer on a project: “This work thing is hard, I am still here at 17:30 and I started at 7:00!” Shortly after, he attempted a comeback.
We are always encouraged to exercise for the natural adrenaline high that is created. Sport is intrinsically good for us, helping our mobility as we age, keeping our bodies fit and healthy, and giving us a great mental health payoff. There are great relationships and close bonds formed in these environments. There is easy distraction and great possibilities for banter and support. If you have been lucky enough to play in front of large crowds, there is an incredible and addictive emotional payoff, rewarding you with significant highs and sometimes equally low disappointments. Again, it is difficult to replicate this type of payoff in a traditional work environment.
Each training or game occurs in a lovely bite sized, repeatable and assessable form. What this means is that it can be tidily reviewed, analysed in an individual and collective way, then solutions and strategies can be immediately tested and attempted at subsequent trainings or games. Some work environments, such as the Police and Fire Departments offer work that mimics this, but the opportunities for such an easily placed review and debrief are rare in other types of work. We can endeavour to identify the opportunities to take this approach to our work. This could include after a presentation, meeting or workshop where it is very useful to take a few minutes to review the session and see where improvements can be made.
Lastly, not everyone loves sport, or the All Blacks. It may be hard to believe. Recently it dawned on me that our traditional way of celebrating work achievements, that is with a function involving alcohol, does not work for an increasing number of our colleagues and employees. With cultural diversity in the workplace increasing, so too is our need to adopt values that can be owned and endorsed by all, not just those who choose to have a drink, or those who can relate to sporting analogies.
So, with that in mind, I am going to “clean the sheds” (ensure I don’t make servants of those around me, while having a deep and honest review into my performance), “pass the ball” (create leaders of those around me) and ask for some great feedback on the well-defined and short activity I have just undertaken by writing this blog.