Monday, October 26, 2015

Teams Are About People - Lessons From The All Blacks

It has been an exciting month or so.

A potent mix of adrenaline, passion, drive, commitment, leadership, and raw power splashed with a dash or two of testosterone.

What is this wonderful excitement she speaks of, I hear you ask?


Not the grass roots garden variety, but the real (Richie) Mcaw kind. 

Over the last month of so the New Zealand All Blacks have been playing their way through the stages of the Rugby World Cup in England. These games have given me pause to reflect on the links between rugby and leadership - in particular, how it relates to being an Educator and the intricacies involved with Principalship.

The All Blacks are undoubtably known around the world as a championship team.  Loved by many, feared by some and loathed by a handful.  Something Education can relate to - domestically and globally.  The similarities don't stop there - here are my key comparisons.  No doubt other more 'die hard' rugby fans who happen to be in education can draw more parallels.  

Being Humble Is An Admirable Trait

There is an excellent article in the Herald about how the All Blacks, despite being a champion team, remain humble irrespective of the outcome of a match. How you conduct yourself during the good and the not so good, is an important lesson leaders can take from the All Blacks.  The All Blacks coach Steve Hanson, talks about the importance of enjoying the game and taking time to have fun.   It could be all to easy to be arrogant and think they are better than other teams, but by taking the time to respect the other teams (by inviting them to their dressing rooms afterwards) and to pay homage to the game, is a powerful lesson.  An example of staying 'real' is that the All Blacks clean up after themselves - they don't leave an untidy dressing room and they are expected to take pride in such things.  Educational leadership is not so different.  Working in education is not only a privilege but it is more often than not, a real pleasure.  Knowing you are part of something bigger than yourself, and seeing a child experience success is amazing.  Most importantly, it is fun.  Where else do you get to do the crazy things we do, but in education?  Take the time to remember why you became an educator and share the successes (and the failures) with your team and other educators - this helps you to grow!

Reflective Questions:
How do you and your staff remember why you got into education and pay homage to the 'game'?
How do you celebrate the good, even on the bad days? 
How do you show respect for the other 'teams' (your local colleagues)? 

Stick To Your Knitting

Passing, tackling, supporting the person with the ball and mastering the scrums and line outs are essential.  Just as an excellent rugby player and coach must understand rugby, and excellent teacher and principal needs to understand education, pedagogy and how to improve their 'game'.  

Reflective Questions:
How do you improve the skills of your team? 
What systems and structures do you have in place to support your 'players' so they grow and improve? 
How do you help your top 'players' specialise and keep them on the 'top'? 

The Team Is Stronger Than Any One Individual

The better the team, the more likely the team will succeed.  This requires practice, support, and training, good leadership, a strong culture and coaching.  It is no different in education.  Teachers who continue to refine their practice, reflect and modify what they do with support from leadership and coaching, grow and strengthen the whole team.  Opportunities to collaborate and co construct the team culture assist in fostering the team spirit.  This in turn produces improved outcomes for students.  It is all very well to have several 'super stars' on your team, but if the overall goal is improved outcomes then all members of the team need to continue to improve. 

Reflective Questions: 
What do you do to actively promote collaboration? 
What opportunities does your team have to grow team spirit and culture? 
Is there a sense of 'collective efficacy' in your team where your 'players' are in it together?  How do you know? 
How do your 'superstars' share their knowledge and leadership skills with others on the team to improve overall capacity and capability? 

With the Great Comes the Not So Great (or There But By the Grace of the Universe Go I)

I heard once on the radio that the All Blacks are the only team in the world to have as many wins as they do (World Cup fiascos aside).   Despite this, when they lose, the public seem to suffer temporary rugby induced amnesia and promptly forget the successes and instead focus on the failure.  At this point the virtual pitch forks appear and calls for the coach to be sacked ring through the land.
The cynical message here is that like the All Blacks, the community will always judge a Principal's (and or school or teacher's) performance on any losses or minor speed bumps encountered- not on the overall performance, reputation and wins they and the school may have had.   Add decile, perceptions, and school type into this mix, just to complicate matters more.  It is the ugly side of humanity, and harkens back to the primal urge to seek revenge when things don't go the way you want it to.  The All Blacks ability to rise above this is testament to the carefully crafted culture of reflection and working as a family, that they have built up over the years.  Their resiliency skills and belief in themselves are worthy of reflection.   Sometimes policy or the public knock us down - but like the All Blacks, we just need to pick ourselves up and know that tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to improve. 

Reflective Question: 
What processes do you have in place to build the culture of resiliency and well being in your team? 
How do you manage the dark times? 
What do you do to grow your teams emotional intelligence?  What about yours?

Coaching Makes A BIG Difference

The All Blacks, even under the leadership of Richie, would not be the team they are without the development they receive from the coaching team.  It is no different in education - educational  coaching has the power to lift capacity and capability in a school.  

Reflective Questions: 
How does your team access 'coaching' (at your place this might include mentoring/professional learning networks or an educational coaching model) to improve their capacity and capability?
How do you know it is effective?

Communication Is Important

Knowing who does what, when they do it and keeping the lines of communication clear, open and transparent is a crucial skill - irrespective if you are playing rugby or leading a school or classroom.  Providing constructive feedback is a part of this process.  Good feedback systems allow the All Blacks to build upon their strengths and to minimise and improve upon their weaknesses.  

Reflective Questions:
What structures and systems do you have in place to ensure communication is effective? 
How is feedback provided to your 'players' and is it robust enough to ensure constructive growth and not simply be mere platitudes? 

Invest In Your Team

The All Blacks spend much time, money and people hours investing in their players, coaches and management.  They start this process right at 'grass roots' level, scouring for talent and growing their skills.  Once they become All Blacks they hone players leadership and continue to grow their talents.  They don't just grow them as rugby players, they grow them as people.  There is no room on an All Blacks bus for a Prima Donna, ego laden arrogant hot head.  The All Blacks know they will be supported and grown, and as a result, are a highly skilled team.  In education, growing our teams and investing in our people is a no brainer.  The more you hone the skills of your team the better your team will perform.  

Reflective Questions:
How do you invest in your team?
What opportunities do your team have to grow their skills? 
How are you growing your own skills? What ways does your school invest in you?
How do you find new talent? 

Knowing Which Position You Excel At

An excellent team like the All Blacks knows that to be successful they need to have the right man in the right place at the right time.  Education is the same.  Maximising the strengths of the team means that the leadership of the team has to know their team.  They need to know the strengths, and the needs of the people they are working with, and how to get the best out of them.  At the heart of this is trust and relationships.  These take time and effort to foster and grow - and sometimes it can be tough.  

Reflective Questions:
Are your people in the right place on the 'waka' doing the right thing at the right time? 
How well do you know your 'teams' individual strengths, 'where to nexts' and what do you do to grow their leadership? 
How to develop relationships?

Data Makes A Difference

The All Blacks spend hours looking at their data, and making changes based on what they find.  They analyse what they do, their performance and how each game went.  They look for commonalities, strengths and weaknesses.  Coaches make changes to the team based on what the data shows, and put in place training to combat or strengthen what the data highlights.  This is applicable to the classroom and the school.  Knowing what is happening means you can make an informed and deliberate decision on what to do next.  Neither educationalists or the All Blacks are out to lose.  Data helps success thrive.  The All Blacks use data to look at their performance and to work on how to make each players performance even better. 

Reflective Questions:
How well do you use data to inform what happens in your school, especially around targeting professional development and student support? 
How well do your teachers use and analyse data to improve outcomes for students? 
How well do your teachers know how effective they are as teachers?  What data do they use and how do they act on this data?

Successful Champions Do More 

The All Blacks are most successful because they go above and beyond their job as a professional rugby player.  These players are ones you will find spending longer honing their skills and improving their game play.  They will do whatever it takes to be on top of their game - even if it means longer sessions in the gym, at physio or building their skills.  The All Blacks have a focus on continuous learning and improvement.  They know that to stay on top they have to work harder than the average player.  Successful schools, teachers and leaders do the same.  

Reflective Questions:
How do you encourage a culture of continuous improvement and learning?
How does your team share their learning with other team mates?
What things do your team do to show they are 'on top of their game'?


New Zealand is a small country and it never fails to amaze me how well the All Blacks do on the world stage.  They always punch well above their weight and are a testament to the number 8 wire mentality of what it is to be a kiwi.   They are innovative, hard working and constantly seeking ways to improve and perform at higher levels.  Their dedication to the game, leadership and culture is second to none.  Most importantly, the All Blacks maintain a humility and sense of family that allows them to work together as one.  I see this same tenacity and ethos in our schools and in our educators.  Just like the All Blacks, our ability to innovate and hold fast to what it is to be excellent providers of modern education means we have and can still, lead the world in effective and successful educational practice.  Most importantly, perhaps as educators we need to emulate the self belief that the All Blacks have in themselves.   

We are just on five days out from the RWC final against Australia - a game that will no doubt be seeped in rivalry and a fierce battle of Australasia.  Whatever the outcome (I have my heart focussed on the All Blacks - just saying) I know that the All Blacks will continue to show the world their leadership with humility and humbleness.  

A thing to aspire to indeed! 

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