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Lions, Mathematics & Business Culture

There are many cycles in the sporting world that are quadrennial. The Olympics, World Cups, Euro’s and a Lions tour. Each of these events is a highlight, but there is something particularly special about the Lions, pitching, as it does, the best rugby players from the Home Nations against one of the southern hemisphere giants.

These tours produce some magical moments: Jeremy Guscott’s drop goal in 1997, tries by Jason Robinson and Brian O’Driscoll in 2001, George North’s try celebration in 2013. They have also produced moments from the darker side of the sport: Duncan McRae’s vicious assault on Ronan O’Gara in 2001, the tip tackle on Brian O’Driscoll in 2005 and Schalk Burger’s eye gouging of Luke Fitzgerald in 2009 being particular lowlights. Whatever happens, there are undoubtedly going to be a number of talking points once the rugby starts in New Zealand in June.

One of the phrases used in association with the Lions is “Four [Nations] Into One”. While this shows a unique perspective on maths (my 8 year old daughter having pointed out that four into one doesn’t go!), it emphasises that any team, to be successful, needs to pull all of the various groupings together so that the individuals act as one in pursuit of a common cause. Indeed, it is this pooling of talent from four different countries, over a very short time period, uniting in pursuit of a common goal that most former Lions cite as being a life changing experience, irrespective of the rugby results.

This pursuit of a common cause and the team norms within that was one of the features of the English team that won the rugby World Cup in 2003. The team’s rules weren’t imposed by the coaching staff – quite the opposite. The rules (and fines) were decided by the team. It was the team that decided what acceptable behaviour was and what responsibilities each individual had to the collective. More to the point, it was the team that challenged the individual when behaviours didn’t meet these pre-agreed parameters.

As it is in sport, so it should be in business. One of the features common to a great many frauds is that the collective did not challenge the fraudulent individual on certain aspects of their behaviour or their actions. This failure to challenge resulted in actions continuing to occur that were detrimental to the collective.

As an alumnus of Arthur Andersen, the collapse of Enron is of particular interest. What is clear from watching the documentary, “The Smartest Guys In The Room”, which chronicles the Enron debacle, is the failure of a great number of people to challenge the Chairman, CEO and CFO as to how Enron actually made its money. So long as Enron continued to make money, then everyone was happy. However, this failure to properly challenge Messrs Lay, Skilling and Fastow, amongst others, was one of the reasons why the Enron fraud was able to continue for as long as it did.

Much like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when defining pornography (“I know it when I see it”), we all know what bad business culture looks like. What isn’t always considered, however, is what can happen if this bad culture is allowed to continue, particularly over a longer period of time. As Enron shows, the worst case scenario can result in significant fraud and bankruptcy. It is therefore beholden to all of us, acting as the collective, to challenge a bad culture and help turn it around.

It seems to me, then, that the business world can learn a huge amount from rugby, and the Lions in particular, when it comes to a positive culture. If the Lions show us nothing else, they show that success should not be measured by results alone.

Having said that about results, though, it would be wonderful if the Lions could beat the All Blacks in their own backyard. I, for one, can’t wait for the first test match……

Ben Hobby

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