Five steps to great ‘teamship’

Trust is technical as well as cultural. For example, the key to every defensive system is trust. The second you start trying to cover for your team mate rather than marshalling your own man or your own channel then gaps will appear and the system will break down. You have to focus on your own job, safe in the knowledge that your team mate will do theirs.

This isn’t always easy. It’s why brutal honesty is such an important characteristic of high performance teams. ‘Teamship’ demands that you question, clash and speak up, irrespective of any perceived hierachy, 1 cap or 114 caps. If your team mate is not preparing properly, or is making the same mistake repeatedly, then they need to be told. The team is only as strong as its weakest link.

2. We all different but we wear the same kit

We have talked in this series before about the importance of having a ‘code of conduct’ that is created and owned by everyone. It should help you to police the big stuff and the minutiae. Removing the need for tension and debate because all your terms of engagement are locked down. International sport is hard enough as it is, don’t make it harder by turning up late for meetings or wearing the wrong kit.

Olympic Champion Kate Richardson-Walsh tells a great story about how a small thing like kit can become a source of tension and can grow if it isn’t dealt with quickly:

“One of our agreed team behaviours, as part of our value ‘We are one team’ was that ‘we wear the same kit’. This seems like such an obvious behaviour for a sports team we needed this it for good reason. As we moved through Olympic cycles we would receive new training kit. In one cycle we got a nice white sweater which was perfect for training when it was cold. Unfortunately, in the next cycle we got different jumpers which some players found less ideal for training. One player in particular continued to wear the old comfy white jumper even though we’d agreed not to. It’s easy to think ‘does it matter?’, or wonder, “is this relevant?”. But by one player going outside of the agreed group behaviours they were putting themselves first and the team second. Trust could be questioned and perhaps in some teammate’s minds even broken. If they were prepared to ignore that agreed behaviour, what about the other behaviours? By explaining how this small action was affecting others in the group, and having a conversation about how our behaviours can both positively and negatively impact our teammates, we were able to get back on track together.”

3. Checking in and checking out

High performance teams check in and check out. They take a moment to see how everyone is before beginning the task, the session or the meeting. They endeavour to bring positive energy to the group, but they are also unafraid to share how they are feeling. It’s not always easy to spot the signs of a team mate who is struggling. Too often we find out too late that an individual has been battling with an issue on their own, too afraid or too ashamed to ask for help. The truth of course is that it takes a courageous person to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength not weakness.

All Black and Crusader Richie Mo’unga talks very powerfully about the simple protocol that starts every Crusaders training session:

“The first thing you do when you see a team mate is fist pump and lock eyes. It says that you are present and that you are fully engaged”.