In the build up to this year's Six Nations Championship, the spotlight was on last Friday's opening game between England and Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Despite their victory in last year's fixture at Twickenham, the memory of the English team's 2013 collapse in a cauldron of hearty Welsh patriotism was widely touted to be a potential deciding factor in the match up. Like most Welshman and many others besides, I believed that Wales would prevail this year. While I don't want to dwell on the eventual result, I have been thinking about the role of communication between players and their coaches in Friday's English victory, and also in the matches to come.
Whichever team is to triumph in this year's tournament, their collective engagement is certain to be one of the keys to their victory. Watching the game on Friday night, I found myself concentrating on the constant communication between the players and with their respective coaches and reflecting, regretfully, that the vital role of communication is something that is often neglected in other walks of life. Despite us living in a time when, thanks to technology, communication is easier than ever before, all too often we forget how we can collaborate in a way that brings about as much success on the pitch as it does in the office, or any other setting.
I believe that it is only through communication that true leadership is possible. I've never yet come across a coach who led his team to victory in silence. But, although communication is necessary if players are to be effectively instructed and inspired, it should also be remembered that it is not a one-way street. We all know that without listening to his players, a coach can't keep in touch with morale or feedback with solutions to the problems affecting the team. And the same goes for business.
However, communication is only part of creating an engaged team. Collaboration is also important. Half of the battle in rugby is understanding your opponent. When England goes against Italy, what are the nuances each team needs to understand? And how can they then work together to achieve their goal? The same goes for working with geographically disparate teams - making an effort to understand what makes them pull together, and giving them the tools that enable them to do that will ultimately win them over.
A truly successful team combines both communication and collaboration to become fully engaged. Collaboration is about getting people to work together. Engagement is about generating value from that collaboration, by encouraging team members to take an active role in working towards a shared goal. It's also about ensuring consistent, reliable communication is in place to support innovation and problem solving. Engagement is the result of strong communication and collaboration combined with shared experience between team members, leaders and other stakeholders. In rugby this is much wider than the team on the field. It might include physiotherapists, coaches, even fans. In the world of work, they could be customers or colleagues outside your team. Regardless of the location, my experience says that at the point at which individuals become truly engaged the outcome is usually greater than the sum of its parts, be it on the field or in the office.
The above should seem obvious enough, particularly to those of us who've been involved in team sports at any level, but substitute the rugby pitch for a different setting and you'll likely find less evidence of it. Leaders in all fields must remember that engaged teams are proven to be more successful. Here's hoping that the Welsh team doesn't forget this next weekend when they play Scotland at Murrayfield.