Rugby: the new MBA strategy module?

The full stop on a fun-filled Saturday was watching Wales beat France. I couldn't be in Paris but I enjoyed the next best thing. Watching the game with an avid fellow Welsh supporter, and two Dutchmen, newly converted fans of Welsh-rugby.  

I had been invited to spend the earlier part of the day with a small international group of strategy and leadership consultants. The aim of the seminar was to construct a scalable, naturalised method of strategy generation. That is, a strategy method that exploits the preferred modes by which humans  think and act and therefore should be more accessible and have greater utility than current determinstic approaches. However, any method should also exploit computing technology to ease data gathering and analysis—making the best of carbon and silicon as it were.

You will hear more of this in due course, but back to the rugby.  

Both teams came to the game bearing heavy expectations. Armchair coaches, whose BMI scores resemble the high-scoring matches, lambasted both teams.

International rugby players are more susceptible to media pressure than their footballing counterparts; they don't have the buffer of the gated house, Bentley, and bank accountant. When not on international duty, rugby players represent local clubs whose fan base falls within a tight geographic area and broad demographic range.  The players eat, sleep and shop within the community. With a string of eight international losses, they encounter disappointing looks and comments daily. 

For most of the game, the standard of play mirrored this burden; neither team wanted to lose, and played accordingly. But, as stated before, you can't win a game by playing not to lose. And the game turned on the introduction of one capable player who was determined to win.

The player, Lloyd Williams, understood how to solve a complex problem.

1. Detect a change; in this particular case, by following the Welsh ball carrier player closely, Williams was able to detect quickly that a tactic was failing ie the player was tackled!

2. Speed of response; once the ball-carrier was tackled, Williams retrieved the ball quickly and passed to another player, and thereby initiated an new safe-to-fail tactic. (Note: Williams passes the ball in half the time taken by other players)

3. Appropriate excess of resources; because Williams is constantly surveying the opposition, and maximising the learning from the safe-to-fail experimentation, he is able to minimise the resource requirement in the area of predictable contact, and thereby free up resources to probe in the plausable.  That is, he is able to deploy his players into parts of the field where the opposition are weakest, and so maximise the chances of scoring.  

4. Motivation; the key driver.  With practiced deployment of complex problem-solving skills comes success.  With success comes positive affirmation and confirmation, and so the virtuous cycle commences.

Note: this analyis is in sharp contrast with the current coaching methods in international rugby.  Most measures focus on time in terriority and time with possession—all output measures. Easy to measure—nothing actionable. The above focuses on impact—improvement is actionable.   

Clearly the 4 items above are ingredients for success, not a checklist. And, like ingredients, some will be available in more quantities and at better quality than others.  Hence the need for a chef as the leader and not a receipe-follower.

A leader has to respond to events in order to drive them.

So there you have it. The essence of an MBA strategy module on the rugby pitch. 

Simon LuntComment