When Stuart Lancaster managed England Rugby into the 2015 World Cup, the coaching team’s mantra was ‘Culture Underpins Performance’. Many other successful sporting teams share this philosophy and place significant emphasis on culture. However when Eddie Jones became manager of England Rugby, his philosophy for success was different: ‘Winning Breeds Culture’. But who has got this right?
Whenever you assemble a group of people together in teams, there should be tangible outputs of their work together. A rugby team scores tries, makes tackles, prevents the opposition scoring tries and in the process wins or loses. Their actions can be measured (tackles, trys, line breaks, chances created, player positioning, etc.) both in terms of their match performance and their week’s training. With ever more sophisticated biological measures, the physical condition of players can also be considered and understood in relation to performance outputs.
What is behind these measurements?
Behind these measurements are a range of critical, yet subjective intangibles such as how players behave, how each individual engages with the group, how everyone communicates, what the group values and the impact of each person’s personality on each another. How much they fight and give for one another. These intangibles are often called culture.
Different leaders place varying degrees of importance on culture. For Stuart Lancaster it was the bedrock of everything that happened both on and off the field. Players were expected to behave according to the team rules whether they were psychically present with England or at their club, and whether they were on the pitch or off the pitch. When a number of players transgressed these rules, some on the pitch and some off the pitch, they were ‘punished’ by not being considered for selection for England. However, this did create problems for the England management team as some of their high performers could not be selected due to disciplinary issues at club level.
In this instance, it could be argued that culture and performance became divorced. Selection on discipline issues at club level might not be considered the responsibility of England Rugby. Yet, so important was culture to the England management, they were prepared to sacrifice (or ignore) players performance and risk the team’s winning chances by excluding some players who would have been first choice in their role but had fallen foul of the culture rules.
Does winning breed culture?
Conversely, Eddie Jones focused on winning and that results breed ‘good’ culture. On a winning streak of 18 consecutive matches it looks liked his philosophy was an extremely successful one. Yet, no team can win all the time, and inevitably Eddie Jones’s England have now lost a number of games. So what happens to culture in the event of a defeat in this case? The conversations between players, management and the analysis and implementation of changes after a defeat can be made easier or harder by culture. The common mantra of ‘working for your teammates’ is what you fall back on in tough times.
Believing the relationship between culture and performance to be a one way path, where one creates the other is also likely to run into trouble when under pressure. Performance and culture is a dynamic two way relationship. One feeds off the other and it is unlikely that performance can be sustained with a poor culture, infighting or the disengagement of players or management. Conversely, being good friends with your team mates does not guarantee a winning performance and the best results.
What both Eddie Jones and Stuart Lancaster really share then is the understanding that culture is critical to performance but differ in their philosophies on how you achieve, measure and enable a ‘good’ team culture. Most sports teams and businesses we have worked with place an emphasis on communication, values and behaviours of their teams. Can these things be measured, tracked and improved on? Of course!! Please read our blog on measuring culture to explore this further or visit our website for more information.
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