3 surprising tech lessons your team can learn from the England rugby squad » SMEInsider

3 surprising tech lessons your team can learn from the England rugby squad

“The first time I showed them the technology there was total silence in the room,” chuckles Sir Clive Woodward, describing the moment that the England team was first confronted with a data breakdown of their on-pitch performance.

The legendary coach, who also led Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics, has long been an advocate of technology in sport, and was the first to introduce data analysis to the team – 90% of whom, he says, “had never seen a laptop before.”

But, after some initial fear (and hostility), he says that the players totally embraced the technology, boosting their performance almost overnight and leading them to an astounding victory over Australia in the 2003 World Cup.

Here are three of the key reasons that Woodward believes data capture and analysis propelled his team to the top… and how you can recreate the same effect in your business.

1. There’s no one to hide behind

In team sports, just as in any office scenario, things move fast and it’s hard to determine exactly who did what or to trace the impact of individual decision-making. By introducing software that tracked each individual player (on both sides), Woodward says that he was able to break this down step by step, spotting mistakes and successes, and pointing out behaviours that may have gone unnoticed in the moment.

This, he says, made a “massive” difference to how much personal responsibility each player took on the pitch and also empowered them to identify the things that they were doing that were/weren’t working and take well-informed steps to improve.

While the Big Brother treatment is unlikely to improve team morale, using data and technology to measure performance helps to keep things objective, makes it clear that individual contribution is valued and important, and increases motivation. Doing the research to find the best options available for your team’s sector and job role will be invaluable, but if your budget won’t stretch that far just yet, you should be doing a (friendly!) post-mortem of every completed project to identify what went well and what screwed up. Just make sure you’re doing this to find solutions for next time, rather than attributing blame, or your team’s resentment will outweigh the benefits.

2. It gamifies the process

As Woodward explains, most of his team took a somewhat caveman-like view to technology. Many were suspicious of incorporating IT functions into their training scheme when they could be out on the pitch doing reps instead. Once they started to see how their behaviour changed their stats – whether this was the amount of distance covered running over the pitch, or whatever the criteria – they began to view the data analysis as a game, and they became more competitive, more engaged and more effective at meeting targets as a result.

Workplace gamification is a major buzzword for 2015, precisely because bosses are starting to wake up to the fact that once something feels like a game, people will take part, they will enjoy doing it and they will have a vested interest in getting better. Major companies including Sun Life Financial, T-Mobile and the US chain Applebee’s have all seen improvements in turnover, motivation and productivity by incorporating game-structured training and performance tracking platforms into their workplaces.

Crucially, “gamification” isn’t the same as just setting targets. Targets are often perceived as arbitrary, unreasonable or a tacit threat of punishment. Games, on the other hand, present a challenge or sequence of challenges which have their own, intrinsic rules and reward structures and which make players feel that they are in control of their own performance. Getting it right takes thought, but it’s worth it.

3. It helps you see things clearly

Woodward says that many of the assumptions about “modern rugby” and how the game is played were swiftly dissipated by a few well-chosen screenshots. For example, a lament commonly put forward by players and spectators alike was that popular tactics (as well as the sheer size of players) ensured that, when playing a decent team, it was more and more difficult to physically break through the ranks. Players spaced themselves evenly across the pitch, cutting off any heroic runs.

However, by showing the team an aerial view of the pitch in a less-than-inspiring game against France, he demonstrated that at some points, all the players of both teams had chased after the ball and ended up in a huge concentrated pile, leaving the rest of the pitch almost entirely clear – if only someone had been poised to make a dash for the line. Faced with incontrovertible evidence, the players had to accept that they opportunity did exist – and focus on strategy, rather than fatalism.

More than anything, this is the message of data analysis for business. When we’re in the thick of a situation, it’s very hard to see what’s actually happening and harder still to see the alternative routes we could have taken. Stepping back and viewing data objectively means that we can draw from real evidence, rather than clichés or complaints.

This can mean tapping into insights drawn from big data that teach us about genuine customer behaviour, but it can also mean finding ways to monitor what your team is doing and the effect that this actually has. Having mechanisms in place to analyse the outcome of a project, process, advertising campaign or any other function of your business, allowing you to adapt accordingly, is not only good for your bottom line. It also gives team members a sense of purpose and ownership that raises energy levels and productivity in the office.

Used well, tools such as Google Analytics or software that analyses performance/cashflow/etc. will have serious benefits for your business. But don’t just rely on external suggestions: every company has a wealth of internal data that it collects on a daily basis. Identify what it is that you spend your time doing and find ways to track and analyse those behaviours to work out whether they’re working and how to improve.

As Woodward neatly summarises: “Whoever wins in IT always wins”.


Next article: Alternative finance opens up funding routes for half of UK SMEs