The corporate world has long used the sporting arena for lessons on building and managing winning teams, and now former Wallaby Ben Darwin can put some science into the relationship.
When Ben Darwin’s rugby career came to an end with a neck injury during the Wallabies’ World Cup semi-final win against the All Blacks in 2003, he switched to coaching. It was a move that, after a decade of experience – coaching the Western Force, Melbourne Rebels and Japanese teams NTT Shining Arcs and Suntory Sungoliath – provided the spark for another career move.
Darwin noticed a flaw in how teams are built and managed.
“There were some teams where I’d do a good job of coaching and the team would do reasonably well and then there’d be other teams where I’d do absolutely nothing and they’d be very successful,” he says.
Interested in understanding what drives performance, he turned to data, founding Gain Line, an analytics business that offers tools and solutions to improve recruitment and management for both sporting and corporate teams.
Drawing from his own rugby experience, in an AFR article, he explained: “People think that greatness is predestined. And what I have experienced is it’s not. There was a fundamental effort that was required on my behalf but the system I was part of was the driver of whether I had success or not”.
How does HR fit in?
Darwin’s research focuses on understanding the dynamics of a team, leading to what he calls “cohesion analytics”.
“We look at how people perform when they change organisations. How long does it take them to hit their peak, what influence does their prior history have and do they have trouble adapting to a new environment? We also look at what happens when you’ve never been part of a particular industry before; do you learn faster or slower?”
His research also delves into how companies hire. Are they constantly bringing talent in from outside? If so, how does that affect morale, performance and people’s ability to understand each other?
Darwin wholeheartedly supports the view that HR should “have a seat at the table”, saying that some organisations incorrectly use the HR team as an afterthought, bringing them in to fix a problem without giving them the time or resources to get to the root of the issue.
In a sense, he says, HR can be thought of as “list management”.
“In sport, list management is regarded as the be all and end all; if you don’t put your list together accurately, you’ve got no chance of being successful. It doesn’t seem to be that way in the corporate world.
“HR should be at the top of an organisation. It should be the first hire you make; the CEO should be more concerned with HR than anything else.”
Underperformance is a natural part of the game
Noting that most employees hit their “peak” after three years, Darwin emphasises that patience is key when it comes to integrating new people into a team.
“How you put the group together is the most important part and once you’ve done that, it’s about having faith in people’s ability to adapt over time, but it does take time,” he says.
He says that if a new employee joins your organisation and brings with them a process of “how they used to do things” then they run the risk of underperforming, but that’s all a natural part of the process.
Looking ahead, Gain Line is using its measurement system to analyse all ASX-listed companies to find signs of “difficulty and disunity”, says Darwin.
“We want to know what the predictors are.”
Hear former sportsman Ben Darwin share his insights on coaching, team cohesion and performance at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition in Melbourne (28 – 31 August). Register now.