Now that the dust has settled on a fascinating Autumn International Series, I thought I would take the time to reflect on some lessons from the games. Without a doubt, the two teams that have emerged from the series with most to be satisfied about are New Zealand and Ireland.
The All Blacks followed up their brand-building exercise in Chicago and a facile win over the USA with three hard-fought victories in the UK, beating England, Scotland and Wales in close encounters. In each case, they were stretched and had to dig deep late in the game to grind out their wins. The fact that they did reinforces the belief that the most impressive feature of this current All Blacks side is their mental toughness in test match key moments,
Ireland will reflect on an Autumn Series that saw them win three out of three and in the process secure valuable morale-boosting wins over Southern Hemisphere opposition in South Africa and Australia. Joe Schmidt’s side will rightly feel they are making significant progress in the lead up to the Six Nations and next year’s World Cup.
Organisational resilience and high performance
Throughout the Autumn Internationals, each side displayed a capability that is fundamental to any team’s success: organisational resilience. This feature was at the fore of both New Zealand and Ireland’s successful campaigns and I believe is an area that every business should be paying attention to.
Our research into high-performing organisations has shown that a business’s ability to remain resilient is a critical defining characteristic that sets them apart from their competition. However, much of the discourse in the business world around resilience is focused on the individual rather than the corporate entity itself. My view is that institutions that invest in developing stronger organisational resilience will thrive in the current market.
So, what can we learn from the All Blacks and Ireland about organisational resilience?
1. Organisational resilience is a capability that can be developed
New Zealand have spent the last seven years working hard to develop resilience as a capability within the organisation. When they reflected on the bitter disappointment of losing to France in the World Cup quarter-final in 2007, this was one of the key learning points for them. In the white heat of test match battle, when a game is in the crucial closing period, they need to make sure their players remain calm as tension heightens. It is no coincidence that in the last two years almost every time they have been in a tight game they have won out in the final ten minutes by sticking to what they know best and avoiding the natural instinct to panic. The self-assured manner in which they have closed out these games points to a collective strength which they have consciously cultivated.
When the pressure is on, their players stick to what they know best. They continue to go through the phases, trusting their processes with the confidence that if they do the right things, it is likely the outcome will look after itself. You don’t see an All Black trying something spectacular as the clock winds down. Relentless repetition of the basics at pace is their modus operandi and they stick to the script especially when the game is in the balance.
The message of ‘don’t panic, stick to the process, trust the plan’ is a powerful one for businesses.
What if leaders instilled this same belief and discipline in their business teams as the pressure intensifies? The message of ‘don’t panic, stick to the process, trust the plan’ is a powerful one for businesses faced with a tough marketplace and increased competition.
2. People’s ability to make smart decisions under pressure is a fundamental feature of a resilient organisation
Ireland’s victory over Australia is a case in point. In the opening quarter Ireland raced to a comprehensive 17 – 0 lead after 14 minutes. They were then hit with a surging Aussie comeback and as half time approached were behind 17-20. The second half saw a change in the game dynamics. Ireland tightened it up knowing that an open, free-flowing game was playing to the Australian strengths. Having regained in the lead, they closed out the game and won an epic encounter by a narrow three-point margin.
The ability to read the game situation and react accordingly is key. I am certain the message from Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff at half-time would have been to keep the game more disciplined and tight. The players understood how to do this and executed it well. They didn’t allow the pressure of the occasion to override their decision-making processes. International teams like Ireland and New Zealand increasingly prepare for this. They put their players under intense pressure in training situations to ensure that their on-field decision-making capability does not crumble when pressure peaks.
The same principle applies to business. When the heat is on, are your managers capable of making smart decisions? Have you cultivated that capability within them, or do you leave it to chance and hope that they are made of the right stuff?
3. Continual improvement is at the heart of organisational resilience
The All Blacks and Ireland, like every other top international side, have sophisticated processes for conducting after match reviews and identifying the areas they can improve upon.
The analysis breaks down every aspect of the game and highlights where the opportunities for strengthening or sharpening can be found. From this process, continual improvement focus areas emerge. For example, there has been a noticeable difference in the defensive organisation of the Irish team under the tenure of Joe Schmidt. A year ago when Ireland agonisingly conceded a late try to the All Blacks to deny them a first ever victory against the World Champions, Schmidt studied in minute detail the closing phase of play that led to the winning score to New Zealand. His analysis identified six ‘system’ errors in the final sequence before Ryan Crotty’s try and eliminating these system failures has been central to his work in making Ireland a stronger defensive force. The players understand better how to eradicate such lapses and this was strongly evident in the South African win and the second half display against Australia.
How effective are the review and continual improvement processes within your business? Do you and your team as a matter of routine conduct ‘after action’ reviews to assess what can be learnt and are these reflected in efforts to make constant incremental steps to getting better?
In the lead up to the Autumn Series both Ireland and New Zealand had potentially justifiable reasons for under-performing. Ireland were missing a host of key players due to retirement, in the case of the talismanic Brian O’Driscoll, or injury to high impact players such as Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. The All Blacks were coming off the back of an intense and gruelling season and could point to fatigue as a possible mitigating factor. But resilient teams don’t curry favour with ready-made excuses. In fact, the more the cards are stacked against them the more likely it is that they will redouble their resolve to overcome any obstacles to achievement.
A ‘no excuses’ approach permeates the culture of these groups and the extent to which business leaders foster a similar culture and outlook has a direct link to the success of that business.
Understanding the importance of organisational resilience, and more particularly how to develop it, is an essential skillset for high performance leaders. You can learn a lot from the Autumn Internationals in helping to understand where you need to focus to improve this within your business.