RATHBONE: Why building a strong team culture is so vital

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Brumbies player Stephen Moore is tackled. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

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Culture can be defined in a number of ways. But for the purpose of this column, I refer specifically to the following definition: ‘The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group’.

Team culture fascinates me, partly because my business helps organisations enhance their corporate culture by investing in the health of its team members.

And also because I’ve seen first hand how significantly a strong culture impacts on team performance.

In rugby, team culture is the intangible quality that seems happy to slip into the background when it’s in good order but equally willing to punch you in the face when it’s out of sync.

No team of any sort has ever achieved significant success without first developing a winning culture.

Culture is that important.

During the most prosperous era of Brumbies rugby, it’s fair to say that the organization had developed a culture that was conducive to winning performances. Unfortunately, by the time I left in 2009, it was clear that a culture once the envy of teams across the globe had become withered and frail.

And whilst it’s usually sad to see something great dwindle and fade, it almost always provides an insight not possible without the inevitable lifecycle of success and failure.

In simple terms, the Brumbies were a great team because they earned their culture. The players, management and support staff pulled together and performed the hard work first.

And in doing so, they formed habits that ensured success.

The team I left (and I’m not ducking my own personal responsibility in the role I played within it) wanted all the benefits of a culture of success without fully committing to the hard yards required to earn it.

A winning culture can’t be borrowed, stolen, faked or taken for granted. It must be manufactured via action.

Last year, boasting a squad dubbed the “Real Madrid of rugby,” the Brumbies reached their nadir. A coach fired two games into the season, followed by a string of ‘records’ no team desires, left fans despondent.

But it also left the remaining players desperate to turn things around.

Which makes the early form of the 2012 Brumbies all the more satisfying. This is a team lacking a register of big names. yet they have qualities all teams aspire to: a willingness to play for one another, to work hard and to believe.

Nothing breeds belief in a team (or a person) like being rewarded for hard work.

Jake White and his support staff deserve credit for instilling attitudes previously lacking in Brumbyland. But credit, too, must go to the players. It’s still early days in the competition, but there can be little doubt now that this team of Brumbies will play 80 minutes, will be ready to earn wins, and will place team ahead of self.

This team has a strong culture.

But like anything worth having, a successful culture can never be taken for granted. Culture is as organic as the people who produce it, and as such, it is always in flux.

Standards, practices and values must be of high quality and they must remain consistently high.

All members of a team, regardless of seniority, must acknowledge their role in developing and maintaining a wining culture. Ultimately, culture is a reflection of people, so it’s imperative that any new faces coming into a team recognise their responsibilities as part of something bigger than themselves.

These are some of the messages I’ll be relaying to the team on Friday night when I head to the captains run to present the jerseys to the team.

It’s a young group, a hungry group, and I, like most other supporters in the nation’s capital, very much appreciate the way they are going about their business in 2012.

Former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone has returned to Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies, following an injury-forced retirement from all forms in 2009. He writes guest columns for The Roar, and will blog his journey back to professional rugby in 2013.

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