Managing a Six Nations team

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I was watching the Rugby last weekend. Coach, Joe Schmidt led Ireland to just their second Six Nations title in 29 years with a heart-stopping victory in France. The head coach’s wisdom and insight has proved a characteristic of his first Six Nations, and his intelligence this time led Ireland to force space around the tackle peripheries which allowed Connor Murray to get through the gap and send Trimble off for a Try.

It got me thinking though, what if I had a business team from all of those 6 nations? And these days that is quite feasible.  How much fun would that be?  How complex would they be to manage? How differently would they think, coming from their different cultural backgrounds; Ireland, England, Scotland, Italy, France and Wales? Would I have the insight that Joe Schmidt has? Could I call the shots?

So to kick off – the animated Irish are a warm and friendly bunch and we’ve all heard of the Irish “blarney”, the capacity to decorate the facts.  In my experience they are innovative and able to conceptualise expertly.  They will, more than likely, break away from the agenda, preferring to pursue an interesting way to solve a problem rather than following the preconceived plan.  They love the spoken word and possess a gentle irony that becomes seductive. Listen carefully though as the warmth and humour may hide genuinely imaginative and creative ideas.  


Meanwhile, the English team member will be using humour, often self-deprecating, to tackle any tension amongst the team. In Rugby, the teams use coded messages for pre-arranged tactics during line-outs and other set plays. Whereas in business, Richard D. Lewis, in his fascinating book,  “Where Cultures Collide”, points to a source of miscommunication which may emanate from the English; that of coded speech – “I’ll call you” = I won’t call you and “Hmm, that’s an interesting idea “ = forget it! 

Nearly 10 million Britons are Celts (Scots, Welsh, Irish, Cornish and Manx).  The Scot is said to be less complicated than their English counterpart. So the Scot will probably get straight to the point if they think the English are side-stepping issues. Our Welsh team member, with their good vision and ability to read the game, will bring us back to the business of the “hard yards” – gaining as much ground as possible in the meeting rather than mauling one another. 

These days, our four nations are used to working together while respecting one another’s heritage.  The more I travel, the more I realise that the thing that glues the Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh together is the need to make a joke out of more or less everything.  At home, in the office, on the bus, at the sporting event, on TV, almost everywhere in life.  We will no doubt see a lot of humour used in the 6 Nations business team and we should embrace it. 

For the Italians and the French the ironic humour may leave them feeling a bit like outsiders, so bring them in.  

The Italians will warm to you if you open up to them about your family, show them photos and ask about their family.  Just like the Irish they will not find the need to stick to your agenda, and your meeting may end up in a bit of a ruck. When I have worked with Italians I have found them great team workers – binding the pack together.  Remember they come from the sixth most successful industrial nation in the world, so catch them doing something right. Their tight five includes flexibility, quickness, people focus, conviviality and opportunism

If you want to bring the French in from the cold then a bit of our self-deprecating humour could gain you territory.   They do like a bit of Briton bashing.  As a nation, they are certainly resisting global influences. Take Pret a Manger, France’s answer to fast food, as an example. Their mission is to civilize our eating. They are more relationship focused than task focused.  They will nip in and out of your agenda like an agile scrum half, thinking aloud as they meander. They have speed, ability and tactical sense.  They will certainly be the non-conformist of your team but if you show you appreciate their point of view, even though it may differ from your own, if you are willing to discuss issues at great lengths and be as lively and imaginative as they are, you will start to gain their respect. Be careful not to criticize Napoleon though, as he remains a national treasure. Charles de Gaulle, on the other hand, is free game!

To get the best out of working with the international team try to put yourself in their shoes.  You will doubtless come across ways of thinking that will be unfamiliar but it is a tremendous way to learn about other cultures and how we can work in a more universal frame of mind and it will give you the advantage.

The basis for managing a strong and cohesive transnational team is to recognise the different viewpoints each member brings and, instead of dismissing it, try to see how it will fit into the overall aims of the team.  You may find each variation more of a strength than a hindrance.

Congratulations to Ireland.  What a great tournament!

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