5 Reasons Why Business is Just Like a Game of Rugby


With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner, it's no wonder that the gossip around the water cooler has shifted from weather patterns to predications of which country will hold the Webb Ellis Cup aloft at the end of the tournament. In fact, the game has more in common with business than office sweepstakes and good-natured banter across desks suggests.

Sir Clive Woodward, who memorably coached England to victory in 2003, is the first to draw parallels. In an interview with startups.co.uk a decade after this success, he explained: "You need the same skills. I make no apology that I’ve brought my business background in to play. Although I played for England, coached and my degree was in sports science, the best experience I’ve had for this job is having to run my own company." Let's find out why...  

Business is a team sport

It's an obvious one, but any successful company relies on all employees working together to achieve a common aim.

To do this, every staff member should be valued and feel valued. A strong HR division is crucial for this, as well as other forums where employees are invited to contribute to company strategy and developments.

Although it might not be quite as obvious as wearing identical team shirts, everything about the firm's ethos and image should filter down from full-time management to the work experience kid who's only around for a week. Everyone should be well-versed in branding, corporate identity and core values.

Relaying these messages is about effective communication channels so you're all singing from the same sheet, right from the start of the game.  

Business relies on the best people for the job, in the best position for their skill-set

Great teams are made up of great individuals, and where to place these people in your company is crucial to maximising their unique talents. Rugby positions can be roughly divided into two main categories: forwards and backs. The main role of a forward is to gain and retain possession of the ball.

Collectively, they're referred to as the 'pack' and in business they're the bedrock of your success - your core staff - the customer service agents who handle complaints, the admin team who makes sure your mailers get posted, or the distribution specialists who get your new product out to the people who've bought it. They're the ones you're likely to take for granted - but who you'll notice the moment they're gone. Backs, meanwhile, are there to create and convert point-scoring opportunities - your marketing and sales teams, for example, who are actively looking to increase your custom base and discover new markets.

Identifying which section of the company can best accommodate your new recruits, and where they can have the most impact, is the job of the coaching staff equivalents - middle and senior management.  

Attention to detail is as important in the office as on the pitch

So says Sir Clive. He's obsessed with the minutiae of the game, and business leaders could learn a thing or two here as well. Whether its clocking on ("I'm neurotic about punctuality," Woodward revealed at a corporate seminar in 2002.

"The guys know that it they're needed at 10am, I expect them to be there in their seats at 9.50am") or concentrating the mind at regular intervals throughout the day (Woodward got his team to change their kit at half-time to focus better on the second half), looking after the little things will help make companies more robust.  

Perform under pressure

As elite athletes, rugby players have to perform under pressure all the time. In business the stresses can be just as severe. Alright, so you haven't got million-strong TV audiences scrutinising your every move, but even a five minute presentation to just a couple of colleagues can be utterly terrifying for some. Woodward told The Times that a key component of a successful team member was an ability to perform under pressure. The good news, though?

Employees can be taught techniques to help them do this. "Are you born with this gene to play and perform under pressure? I would say absolutely not... I think this is coachable." Woodward continues: "What you can do is role-play situations you’re going to get into. If you come across something you’ve never seen before, the chances are you would freeze."  

Set positions can tell us a lot about ways of driving success

There are two main ways of succeeding in business - hard graft and taking the odd risk. The latter is brilliantly illustrated by the line-out. Here, both sides compete for the ball, with players usually lifting their teammates to grab it. In the same way, sticking your head above the parapet in business can bring great rewards.

If you want to be a maverick, however, make sure you acknowledge the people below who pushed you up in the first place.

A scrum, meanwhile, is the slow-burner of success stories. To an outsider, it can look messy and unspectacular, with periods where little advantage appears to be won at all. When it works, however, all that to-ing and fro-ing, effort and sheer willpower can set the firm up for some very favourable results indeed.


An on that note, we'd like to announce that Merchant Money will be giving final tickets to this year's Rugby World Cup.

If you'd like to be in with the chance of winning all you have to do is visit us at the Commercial Finance Expo on 17th June and drop in your business card OR register your details as a broker with the Merchant Money broker network and you will automatically be included in the prize draw. More details here.