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What Rugby Taught Me About Growing A Successful Startup


A rugby team is dynamic and varied; some people are speedsters, others are powerhouses. Whilst every rugby player needs to possess core skills, it’s the specialised qualities that make them better suited for different positions. It’s the same principle in business.

There are probably few similarities between your workplace and a rugby pitch, but the tactics you use and the values you uphold in rugby can teach you a lot about growing a successful business. From the moment you kick off and launch your startup, the choices you make about your strategy, team and culture will define what you accomplish as a company.

Here are five lessons I’ve learnt from rugby about business leadership and company growth:

Play to your position

A rugby team is dynamic and varied; some people are speedsters, others are powerhouses. Whilst every rugby player needs to possess core skills, it’s the specialised qualities that make them better suited for different positions. When Jonny May breaks the line and all he has left in front of him is a 20-stone prop, he’s going to feel confident that he can touchdown between the posts. But if you put him in at Number 8, there’s going to be a whole world of problems.

It’s the same principle in business. Different people have different expertise, so identifying an individual’s most prominent abilities is key, then you must match that skill set to the right position in your team. Every member of your staff should feel confident that they possess the necessary skills to tackle the obstacles in their path.

Scrum-times things change

When people are playing out of position, you aren’t going to win the game. But this doesn’t mean that you have a bad player. As a manager, you need to be constantly working with your team to understand their motivations and their strengths.This can mean moving people to new roles.

Look at Jamie George. In his last game in high school, he played fly-half, now he’s one of the best hookers in the world. Provide the support to help your staff evolve their style of play. A real failure is when a good player is lost because you didn’t play them to their strengths.

And change doesn’t just happen at an individual level: your team as a whole must be adaptable. The playmaker doesn’t play the same game for every opponent because, just like your customers, each one is different and requires its own strategy.

As Eddie Jones said, “you always have to be physical, you always have to be tough, but there are many different ways to win a game”. Our end goal is the same with every client, but our method of getting there varies tremendously.

The game is never over

Even when you’re on the back foot, you’re under pressure, you’re tired and everything feels like it’s broken – there’s still an opportunity to turn things around. How many times have we seen the All Blacks steal a victory when the other team has been relaxing in the last 20?

Use this exact approach with your business. Your focus must be on maintaining value for the entirety of your customer journey. It’s when you stop that the relationship will fall apart. Stick to your plan and, most importantly, have faith in your team’s ability.

Work in synergy

Rugby is the ultimate team game – you can’t win unless every function is working well. For there to be a good relationship between the backs and forwards, they must be heading towards the same goal. This principle is fundamental for startups.

The first step is ensuring that everyone in your company understands your mission and what you are trying to achieve. What are you building? Why are you building it? What value are you giving to your customers? When you execute that plan, combine the strengths of different skill sets within your company through effective communication, ensuring the objective of each team is aligned, from your sales staff to your techies.

Create a culture of respect

Even if a rugby player is the best in their position, they might not get picked because they aren’t a good choice for the team. Keep this in mind when growing your business. Choosing the right team and creating a culture of belief for them to work in is half the battle. Respecting others’ decisions and opinion is paramount on the rugby field – encourage this same respect within your workplace.

In summary, like rugby, you should build your startup on the foundations of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, and discipline. Choose your team members for their attitude, not just their abilities. And finally, build a team with diverse skill sets who value these foundations and will work together with passion and determination to make your business thrive.

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