So what does it really take to build a winning culture?

Published: 15/09/2020
Author: Vidatec

John Barclay shares his five winning tips in his latest blog as our Engage4 brand ambassador.

  1. Break down barriers for social connections to thrive with new teams and newcomers
  2. Create an environment that is open, honest, fun and enjoyable, where relationships are nurtured and people take care of each other especially when times are challenging
  3. Lead by example from the top on how to communicate, behave, trust and respect each another
  4. Take time out for emotional connections on a personal level every day
  5. Encourage team members to invest time in all areas of life, resulting in happier teams and unlocking their full potential both physically and mentally

Throughout my career I have played with guys from Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Canada, Argentina, the list goes on. Creating a winning culture – but equally importantly – where everyone could contribute and feel part of something bigger was undoubtedly a challenge. Language barriers but also cultural barriers were often present, but often knocked down by a culture that was inclusive from the top down. Frequently, I played with players from Fiji, where the lifestyle could not be further removed from the UK way of living. Helping these guys adapt, and ensuring they felt connected to the team was so important if the team was to benefit from their abundance of natural ability. Conversely, it was clear as mud when a player joined the club and did not feel that connection, that sense of team. Their performances on the pitch struggled in direct correlation to that. invest in the person, and the sportsman benefitted, and so did the team.

“Creating an environment whereby your staff not only enjoy their work, but are excited to be at work is the ultimate.“

It is not uncommon for me to hear tales from friends in the corporate world where this is not a clear priority for the business. The sausage factory approach where employees are numbers on the spreadsheet does not sit well with me as I have first hand experience of the impact it can have on the team. Invest into this, and placing emphasis on this can only provide benefits to any organisation. Creating an environment whereby your staff not only enjoy their work, but are excited to be at work is the ultimate. And in a world where time is our most precious commodity, I appreciate how quickly the adherence to an unrelenting pursuit of excellence in this area can wane.

As players, we had our own lives, stresses and issues to contend with on top of our rugby, and the old adage went that a happy rugby player was content both on and off the pitch. The importance of ensuring players felt part of a community, a family, became increasingly recognised as almost equally important as training, diet and conditioning. The best teams have seen true value in investing in their culture and environment. In my opinion, you cannot have one without the other and you never truly unlock the potential of your group until you harness the power of team.

Not only do you create a sense of family and greater purpose, but you create an environment with shared leadership where players are comfortable to contribute both physically, mentally and verbally. Psychological safe environments where players felt like they could be themselves, be honest and speak up and down the chain of command created the most rewarding groups I was part of.

There is no question in my mind where this looks good and where it needs to have it’s roots; at the heart of the organization. The very top, the top dogs. As a younger player I looked to the older players for guidance and as an older player I began to realize the impact my words and my behaviours would not only have on the immediate group, but also on the future behaviours of the young and impressionable in the group. It was vital that they learned the right habits from a young age, learnt what good looked like.

“And good sometimes meant asking for help“

And good sometimes meant asking for help. I never had all the answers. Far from it. But the longer I played the game, the easier I found it to ask for help. Rather than seeing this as a weakness and an admission that I was out of my depth (an imposter syndrome side affect we often all suffer from), I realized that showing some vulnerability and showing others that I had the requisite self- awareness to ask for help when it was required added to the group dynamic.

Rugby is a ruthless environment, but the good teams look after their own. They forge and nurture relationships that are truly valued and valuable. Looking after your own players after a bad performance, looking after players after a bad loss. You learn far more about your culture when things are going badly results wise or outside adversity is affecting the group (like CV19). In a good environment, the external noise remains external. Media noise, social media, hype (good and bad) are ignored and the value is created within the room, by the people in the room.

In a long career, sadly I suffered many setbacks and disappointments. Thankfully because of this, I believe I developed the necessary skills and attitude to deal with them effectively! Understanding that you haven’t become bad overnight. It is also worth remembering that you haven’t become a rockstar overnight either and it has to work both ways. Resetting the dial was a crucial element of the week to week grind of a rugby season. Big win, big loss…it didn’t matter as you had to start again at zero. The best teams I played in didn’t fluctuate emotionally from week to week. Maintaining an even kneel with an appreciation for the inevitable ups and downs of a season were understood and accepted. Collectively embracing these fluctuations made us more emotionally dependable and stable throughout the course of a long season. Individually, the highs and lows are more profound without the comfort of the teams success to guide you.

“The importance of team and rallying around individuals when they struggled cannot be understated.“

Reaching out to teammates, often when they least expect it could have the most powerful outcomes. As a young player there is nothing that gave me more confidence after a mistake than a peer (senior or junior) speaking to me. Taking time out, even if just for a few minutes could make the individuals day and so as I grew and became a leader in the teams I represented, I endeavoured to take time for my teammates. 2 minutes, 5 minutes, an hour; it didn’t matter. What mattered was creating emotional connections from individual to individual that made the team stronger, more robust, more confident.