As the Six Nations returns, it might be hard to see what HR departments can learn from the grown men and women whose jobs involve physically assaulting one another for 80 minutes at a time, says Ben Stocken.

In a normal workplace, every match day would involve too many conflict resolution meetings to count!

But the discipline and resilience seen on the field are just a few of the lessons that businesses could take from the rugby pitch.

Sir Clive Woodward stressed the importance of learning and collaboration as he led the England rugby team to lifting the World Cup in 2003.

Like Sir Clive, Ben Stocken has first-hand experience of the training and teamwork that goes on behind the scenes to create top rugby teams.

He spent seven years with England Rugby as a professional coach and national trainer, helping to develop some of the country’s best players and coaches.

Ben is now CEO of West Peak, delivering leadership, personal and team development training.

Here, he shares his top tips on what business leaders can learn from the rugby pros:

Preparation is everything

As a coach, if you don’t prepare your training session, the players will know – and you’ll lose them before they’ve even walked out of the locker room. Knowing what you want your players to achieve, and having that mapped out into developmental sessions that challenge them to be better every day, is critical.

And it’s the same in business. Everyone in your team needs to know what they need to do to get the company where it wants to go. The England rugby team knows exactly what their goal is when they’re in a game. And you should know that in your business, too.

Feedback and accountability are the lifeblood of success

There is no hiding place for poor performance in top-level sport. As a rugby player, you either make that pass or you do not. If you do not make it, it is not the end of the world, but you need a feedback loop to make sure you do better next time. In business, this is becoming a lost art – too many leaders are either too afraid or lacking the skills to deliver impactful candid feedback.

But that feedback loop is what keeps your team improving all the time.

Put the team first and you’ll see the rewards

Like rugby, business is a team sport played by individual specialists. Everyone has a different job to do, but you’re all working towards the same goal. The key to success is how well those specialists collaborate to achieve more than the sum of their parts. Playing for yourself instead the team equals failure.

In your business, make sure that every department knows what the others are doing, and that they’re communicating at all times.

Every day is an opportunity to improve

During my time at England Rugby, no day, training session or match was wasted as an opportunity for everyone to get better. This could be one more rep in the gym or one more set of tackling practice. But we were always asking, ‘How can we do that better? How can we dominate that part of the game?’ These questions followed me — and us as a team of coaches — around every day.

Always question your workplace’s processes, and keep an eye on your competitors to see what you could be doing differently.

The score doesn’t always reflect the performance

It sounds strange but it’s true. Sometimes you can do everything right and get beaten by a better team.

It is exactly the same in business. The answer is to set performance-based goals rather than outcome-based goals. That means you run your own race and play your own game. And if you outperform your goals and expectations, then it’s been a good shift.

Analyse what has happened and reflect on what goals to set next.

Know who’s boss

A structured hierarchy in a rugby team ensures that everyone knows who’s in charge, and where to turn. In business, it is equally vital to create a clear chain of command. You’ll reduce confusion and make snappy decisions. Your team will know who to call on, and you can delegate.
No more lone wolves. Elite sports teams know the importance of trust.

Similarly, in business, trust and cohesion win hearts and minds, and are the secret to high performance. So it’s vital to create a healthy environment where your team trusts you – and each other.

Build a team that’s a cohesive unit and they will repay you by going the extra mile to reach common objectives in your business.

Make meetings count

In rugby, briefings are kept concise and to the point – they only include the important stuff.

Businesses need to do the same. Make meetings focused, ensuring everyone knows the game plan, action items and expected outcomes. Not only will this save time, but it’ll also help boost productivity and employee engagement.

Communication is a game-changer

In rugby, excellent communication is more valuable than any ice bath to keep a team at the top of their game. It also makes good business sense because staff who consider themselves as having a say in company decisions are more likely to feel valued and happier, which in turn helps with employee retention.

And keeping your top talent will put you in better shape to tackle an ever-shifting business landscape.


Ben Stocken is CEO and founder of West Peak.