RATHBONE: Why building a strong team culture is so vital

Clyde Rathbone Columnist

By Clyde Rathbone, Clyde Rathbone is a Roar Expert

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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.

    Clyde Rathbone
    Clyde Rathbone

    Former Wallaby & Brumby Clyde Rathbone retired from rugby in 2014. Clyde is a writer, speaker and technology startup founder. A Roar columnist since 2012, you can follow Clyde via his Twitter page.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • Roar Guru

      April 12th 2012 @ 7:06am
      Who Needs Melon said | April 12th 2012 @ 7:06am | ! Report

      Here here! Great insight. Especially this: “A winning culture can’t be borrowed, stolen, faked or taken for granted. It must be manufactured via action”. The word ‘manufactured’ made me stumble – I think it’s got negative implications – but I get your talking about generating a culture via what you DO rather than whiteboarding mission statements and just talking about it. I think Mowen deserves a lot of credit for this alongside White.

    • April 12th 2012 @ 8:42am
      Riccardo said | April 12th 2012 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      As a Blues supporter Clyde I can relate. Good read…

    • April 12th 2012 @ 10:45am
      Go_the_Wannabe's said | April 12th 2012 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      Since professional rugby began in Oz I believe a lot of players started playing for themselves. That tends to breed the “I – strain” culture. I got the ball, I’m running it, I’m on TV now, I need the exposure to be able to ask for a pay rise when it comes to negotiation time – therefore, I need to look good now – so go and get your own ball.

      What a lot of individuals don’t seem to realise is if they all try to make each other look good then they will not only look good themselves, but the team will start winning which will lead to higher rep honours for team members which will increase their bargaining power at negotiation time.

      It’s all about tribalism, not individualism.

      I believe this is why the Tah’s have never won a SR championship, despite having incredible playing rosters – too much “I” strain.

    • April 12th 2012 @ 10:51am
      millard said | April 12th 2012 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      clyde,good honest article either not fully comprehended by all ,or too close to the bone for others.
      more posters interested in colours of jerseys.lol

    • April 12th 2012 @ 11:16am
      redsnut said | April 12th 2012 @ 11:16am | ! Report

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

      And that’s why it is called a TEAM.

      A good team will always beat a group of star individuals looking out for themselves.

    • April 12th 2012 @ 1:04pm
      Wilson said | April 12th 2012 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

      Great read and pretty timely. I wonder how the Wallabies are ever going to develop a winning team culture with a leader like Horwill? Horwill has been a targeted thug against his Wallabies team mate at every opportunity this season. How are these guys then going to turn around and want to support and play in tune with that guy? He has lost the respect for his team mates and they won’t have any for him either. Not to mention the disillusioned fans. As a Force member I have had to witness him punching Pocock in the face and chocking out Hodgson all after play and in a spiteful way that goes beyond the usual aggression for contact sports. It is personal. It is pathetic. Horwill doesn’t employ these tactics against the NZ or SA teams, he saves if for the Aussies and in particular the Wallaby players. He needs to be called on this thuggery. Otherwise there is no chance of a healthy culture in the Wallabies, the single most important team Australians have.

      • April 12th 2012 @ 5:22pm
        millard said | April 12th 2012 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

        wilson,you obviously know what youre talking about but my feedback on horwill is a hardworking,give it all captain with no ego compared to some wallabies in the reds.

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