5 Lessons Change Managers Can Learn From the Springboks
We use many rugby terms as Change Managers. We’re agile like Cheslin Kolbe. We enter scrums to achieve project goals. We Sprint when we need to. While we might not be giant, sweaty – sometimes bloody – rugby players like the Springboks, we have another thing in common: A need to win. We’re not competing for a glorified beer glass – but we want to complete a change project to the best of our ability; to close it off as a ‘win.’ Change Managers might not need to worry about cauliflower ears, but we can learn a lot from the Springboks’ journey to World Cup victory.
1. Meet an offense with a solid defense
One of the main reasons for the Springboks’ victory was that their defense was unassailable. When meeting our defenders, the English looked more like pigeons flying into windows: crashing into our defenders and then crumpling into a heap. In classic warfare, once the defense has been breached, the attack has all but won the battle, which is why it was essential that the Springboks formed that unbreakable wall of muscle and bone. In this way, South Africa’s defence became an attack.
Change Managers sometimes need to approach obstacles in the same way. On almost all projects, something (or someone) will take aim at you, your team or the project itself. And if the attack is constant, it becomes harder to defend against it. It’s important that, like the Springboks, you hold the line with confidence.
2. Bind. Set
The most obvious comparisons between the Springboks is when it comes to an Agile project management approach. If you’re using this methodology, you’ll be familiar with Scrums and Scrum Masters. South Africa dominated the English scrum which led to up to five penalties as a result. This should give you an indication of how effective a good scrum can be.
Even if you’re not following an Agile approach, you can apply a scrum mentality to your projects: Back your team, put your heads together and resist pressure, take advantage of opportunities and keep pushing even if things get messy.
The game that South Africa played in the final was different to the game they’d been playing before. England prepared to meet the kicking game that the Springboks had displayed in earlier rounds, but an unexpected switch in tactics – playing a running game – caught England off guard.
The first important lesson here is that to meet an objective, sometimes you need to switch it up. The second is that once you have, to believe in your new strategy and stick with it until you’ve met your goal. And there’s something you can learn from England here too: Be prepared for things to change unexpectedly. We’re Change Managers, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fall into the same trap England did.
4. Put time into talent
We’ve already mentioned how South Africa’s defense played an essential role in their victory – and this is attributed to the team’s defense coach Jacques Nienaber. He started as a physiotherapist for the Cheetahs. Rassie Erasmus recognised his talent and nurtured it taking him with to work alongside him with the Stormers and with Munster.
Talent doesn’t always come from where you’d expect it to. On every project it’s important to keep an open mind because it could come from anywhere. And those individuals, like Nienaber, are frequently the key to a project’s success.
5. Show up when it matters
It must be frustrating to be a Protea at the moment because, while the Springboks are being praised for performing under pressure, the Proteas are notorious for being ‘chokers.’ The key here is that there is no flawless path to victory – there are always setbacks. In rugby, setbacks are also known as “All Blacks.” Despite losing to New Zealand, the Springboks kept moving towards their goal without holding on to their loss.
As Change Managers, we encounter showstoppers, resistance, delays and problems in most projects. They’re called Springboks because they’re agile and ‘spring’ with energy – away from danger. We should try to do the same.
BONUS: Have a trick up your sleeve
After their victory, Faf De Klerk spoke about how, even though they had a very specific strategy to stick to, they were encouraged to – when possible – apply out the box thinking and take action that was unique to each player. Each team member has a ‘circus act’ that they bring to the field and these can be the difference between playing it too safe and making something special happen. As a Change Manager, recognise what your circus act is – that thing that’s intrinsic to you alone – and use it to your advantage.