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Culture and the lure of High Performance

Last month I completed my second full season working as a Mental Coach for a High School 1st rugby team. It was a truly special season and arguably the most successful in the school’s history, and I was privileged to have been a part of it.

With a number of significant victories and milestones achieved, many people have asked me since then what my highlight of the season was? But to be honest, my highlight actually came from a moment off the field, and after our very first game of the season. We played away to a powerhouse of rugby in the province, and the history books were rewritten that day as our team walked away with the spoils, and a first ever victory over this particular team at 1st team level. As you can imagine it was news that spread far and wide and earned the team a massive amount of praise.

However a few hours later a video emerged of our captain, with a broom in hand, ‘sweeping the sheds’ and cleaning up the visitors changeroom that we had occupied that day. After such an incredible victory, this moment of humility and servant leadership was an extremely powerful scene. What made it particularly special for me, was that this was a symbol of our team culture; a culture that I had worked on intentionally with the team since the beginning of last year (thanks to the backing of our Head Coach). I had presented the broom to the team earlier that week, and it was wonderful to see it being ‘christened’ on this day, and now decorated with the team colours.

What followed however was rather amazing, as this video got shared privately and publicly on social media platforms and ‘went viral’. The response was profound, and I believe it even surpassed the enormity of the victory itself.

What stood out for me, was just how powerfully people responded to this scene. It clearly impacted others as much as it had impacted me, and showed that what resonates with people even more than a high-quality result, is a high-quality act.

This got me thinking a lot about the idea of high performance, which is a term that gets used liberally in the world of sport and business alike. It has become a catch phrase and goal for teams and companies to achieve, and to be driven by a consistent superior standard of performance. The challenge I have with this concept is that it is generally misunderstood, and prioritises the results themselves and the drive to attain these, over how these results get achieved; which for me is actually the most important part.

The ‘how’, is where we show who we are as people, what we stand for as a team, how we treat one another and the values we live by. It is the true measure of ‘success’ (for individuals and teams) in my eyes, regardless of the results that are achieved in the end.

Unfortunately, I believe that many teams and companies get lured into this intense focus on results, whilst losing sight of how they conduct themselves and treat others in the process. Look no further than Amazon, the multinational technology giant, who despite fantastic results, is currently being exposed and criticised for their cutthroat and ‘bruising’ culture, where people are pushed in the pursuit of ‘high performance’.

What’s ironic about this approach, is that teams that are built on great culture and who focus on the ‘how’ more than the end result itself, actually create a much more meaningful and sustainable pathway to achieving these results.

It took a simple act by a young rugby captain to show me the true power that comes from placing quality behaviour before the simple pursuit of high quality performance, and that the inspiration and respect that follows, is more valuable than any result can offer.

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