Sweeping the sheds

A few years ago, my spouse was living in Paris. And, of course, we wanted to make the most out of staying in such a beautiful city. As we both have a passion for sports, we decided to learn more about rugby as this is big in France.

In England, where the sport originated, there is an old saying: “Football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”

To learn more, we decided to follow the Rugby World Cup. Besides the intensity of the game and the total commitment and passion from everyone involved, what stood out to us was the strong team spirit and how the teams came across as united and harmonized collectives. This has very little to do with individual strengths or someone’s “unique qualities”. It became clear that in rugby, no-one is above the team. It is all about cohesiveness and collaboration, about standing shoulder to shoulder, reaching out, helping, supporting and carrying the burden together.

What is equally clear is that the collective effort is there for a clear purpose: to win!

In rugby, no one is above the team. It's about unity and cooperation - and winning!

In “Legacy” by James Kerr, the author describes some of the key leadership principles of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s wildly successful national rugby team.

One of them is not being too big for the small things:

Sweeping the sheds.
Doing it properly.
So no-one else has to.
Because no-one looks after the All Blacks.
The All Blacks look after themselves.

The All Blacks is perhaps the most successful sports team ever. Over a period of one hundred years, they have achieved a win-rate in excess of 75 percent. Systematic and conscious decisions and priorities are behind the success. They have, for instance, worked hard to establish a culture based on both individual character and personal leadership. Their philosophy is: “Better People Make Better All Blacks.”

One of the ways this manifests itself is in their practice of “sweeping the shed”. The shed is a figurative name for the locker room. Before leaving at the end of the game, the highest profiles in world rugby tidy up after themselves. They literally “sweep the shed.” This is described as an example of personal humility, one of the most important All Blacks values.

Is the management team walking the walk or just talking the talk? Are we sweeping the sheds?

The All Blacks is one of the strongest brands in the world. I think we can all learn from this. What is my “brand” as a leader going to be? What characterizes my leadership, and how can I work to become an even better version of myself? How do I ask for and receive feedback that makes me see myself through the eyes of others? These are essential questions for us as leaders on an individual level, but equally important for management teams.

In many organizations, there are negative and cynical stories about the management team. I guess we all have heard them: “the ivory tower”, “detached” and “derailed”. I think the critical question is: Is the management team walking the walk or just talking the talk?

My promise is to put this discussion on the agenda for my team. Are we “sweeping the sheds”? Are we really engaged, are we sufficiently collaborative, and do we do what is necessary to increase the knowledge of others?

If we get this right, I believe we become better human beings and create better companies. And not to forget, our win-rate may become just as good as the one demonstrated by All Blacks!

Best, Klaus-Anders

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