What Can the Building Industry Learn from the All Blacks 14

Friday, November 6th, 2015
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In winning the World Rugby Union Cup, the All Blacks became the most successful rugby side in history, and the team’s success can provide valuable lessons for the building industry.

Many contend that the Men In Black (MIB) may well be the greatest team in the history of sport, period. Their success is due to many factors; in Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Ma’a Nonu you had once-in-a-lifetime athletes along the lines of Shane Warne, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt. The side also had wonderful coaching, extraordinary determination and, perhaps most importantly, a “team first” philosophy. Under the All Blacks’ program, the individual – no matter how brilliant – is always subordinate to the team. It was a champion team, not a team of champions, reminiscent of a Rolex watch, where many individual cogs have been finely crafted to work in perfect harmony with the other cogs, the brilliant sum of many brilliant parts.

So what is the take out for the building industry? What can the building industry learn from this phenomenal collective force that is the All Blacks? In a word, everything, but what does “everything” look like? For starters, it means some cultural reengineering, covering all bases, top down, bottom up, right across the board; doing the small things right along with the big.

The quest for perfection

The All Blacks are obsessed with perfection and best practice in sporting endeavour, the “homogenisation” of 15 into one, obsessed with becoming the very best of the very best. Imagine if you will, a building industry where this is the ethos, a culture where the industry is driven by a desire to be the best of the best in the quest for the construction of the perfect as built product. A competitive environment where builders, engineers, architects and sub contractors are obsessed with betterment, the building of the best rather than the most lucrative or the mantra of “close enough is good enough.”

Awesome teamwork

All Black coach Steve Hansen, a brilliant and decisive thinker whose rugby acumen is as great as his capacity for the self-effacing, has opined that the “team, not the individual, comes first.” This differs from Australia’s building industry where the concept of the team is not universally “evolved.” There can be a chasm between builders and subcontractors, and all too often between aspiring property owners and builders.

Instead of being on the same side, too many have an inclination to pit themselves against one another, reminiscent of a classic Wallaby/All Black gladiatorial clash. Builders and subcontractors don’t have to be at loggerheads. Where did that script come from? It didn’t have to become entrenched in culture.

Indulge me by imagining a whole team ethos, with builders, subcontractors and employees pulling together, moving in unified flank, like the quintessential All Black 15-man rugby or the magnificent Wallaby “tight 5.” Until builders and subcontractors get on the same page, until they remove the divide, the as-built product will not realise its full potential and best practice and industry productivity will fall well short of optimum.

Putting the Client First and the Pride in  the Product

The All Blacks put the client first, and the client for an All Black is the New Zealander. The privilige of wearing the Black jersey is that it connotes an extremely high level of service to the public. These men, along with those they pit themselves against, like their Australian brothers the men in ‘green and gold,’ put their bodies on the line for their country. They are honoured to serve. If the building industry were to universally embrace the ethos of service, the desire to serve, the passion of knowing that the customer will be besotted with the as-built product, it would generate a paradigm shift in terms of the demise of disputation and industrial relations discord. Just like the All Blacks have the pride in the jersey, builders, subcontractors and employees from the ground up and top down would serve the client and the public well if they were they to pursue the ideal of the pride in the product.

Were there to be an industry culture of pride in the product, the Leaky Building Syndrome that has cost NZ billions of dollars would not have materialised. The litigation and distraught souls caught up in countless Australian building disputes would have lived better lives, basking in the joys of well-built homes. If a sporting team can do it, why can’t a building industry?

The ability to innovate and stay one step ahead of the opposition

Sport, like the building industry, is about competition, the winning of the job, the quest to become number one. But the building industry can be blemished by those who think winning is about doing it cheaper. This is a very different ethos to winning because you can do it better. The All Blacks are the most succesful rugby franchise in history because they are about winning by doing it better.

One becomes better by innovating, thinking outside the circle, embracing best practice and becoming the benchmark for best practice. If one is driven to do it better, one gets the work and one wins the tenders that matter. Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Ferrari, Louis Vuitton, and Rolex have established their brands by doing it, much, much better. Sure there are cheaper alternatives, but low cost is not what defines these brands. The All Blacks spare no effort in the pursuit of the excellence. The well-built product must also have a zero tolerance approach to staid myopia. Innovation, best practice, brainstorming and benchmarking must be the catchphrases.

No shortcuts

The All Blacks don’t take shortcuts. This All Black team and coaching maestro Steve Hansen started planning the defense of the World Cup immediately after the last World Cup. The planning started before the 2011 Webb Ellis honeymoon was over, the bubbly wasn’t yet flat. And while the rest of the rugby playing nations are starting to feel it’s “safe to go out into the water,” the MIB are already talking about how to win it again. The race never stops; the drive for betterment is relentless. When contractors take shortcuts, use cheaper options, cheaper products, or less than stellar human resources, the dividend is shoddy workmanship and compromised product. This isn’t long-term thinking, it isn’t how you build a brand, it’s not how you get happy clients and a reassured public, and it brings certain sections of the building industry into ill-repute.

A huge work ethic and walking the extra mile

Richie McCaw, the much-feted All Black captain, with a record 148 caps and an 89 per cent winning ratio as captain, is universally regarded as the greatest rugby player in the history of the Game. McCaw (who would be Sir Richie McCaw but for the fact that he turned down a knighthood) had a reputation as the first on the field when it came time for training and the last to leave. The great athlete has an extraordinary work ethic. He doesn’t just walk the extra mile, he runs the extra 10 miles, so to speak.

The take-out for the building industry is that there is nothing wrong with hard work. There is nothing wrong with largesse, with doing that little bit more to help the client, one’s colleagues, the builder, the subcontractors and other stakeholders.

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  1. Johann Scheepers

    Excellent article by Professor Kim Lovegrove wherein he identifies and comment on the fundamentals of a 'winning culture' that the All Blacks developed and followed in winning the world cup. Johann Scheepers – South Africa.

  2. Paul Cott

    Great article and one that is germane to any business, whatever its nature, and for life in general.

  3. Barry S.

    Interesting perspective and suggestions Kim, but the only way to make members of the building sector perform more like star athletes is to reorient and heighten their incentives.

  4. Justin Cotton

    What, no mention of Daniel Carter and his precision? Yes it was good to see such a complete performance and also the "no d*#kheads" policy off the field too.

  5. Bruce Rogers

    The concept of a “champion team not a team of champions” applied to; client, builder and subcontractor appeals and, looking to sport as in the analogy of the All Blacks has a very powerful impact on the national psyche. The forging of a champion team (aka the Building Industry) under competition also raises an important premise: Who or what would be the competition? Well done Kim for intersecting two great passions to generate intelligent food for thought and action.

    • kim lovegrove

      Thank you Bruce for your typically poignant insights. The competition is about firstly competing with one's own standards and goals, becoming say the best people manager, the best craftsmen, the builder that never takes short cuts, the contractor who is true to his word ie when he gives a fixed price he sticks to it. Then one endeavours to out perform one's competitors in the market in the quest to deliver the best as built product. Also with regards to tbe chasm that often exists between builders and sub contractors it is the antithesis of team work. The " take it or leave it contracts" case in point. Subbies often to get the job sign up contracts that are brutally oppressive but the head contractor just says if you want the job cop it mate otherwise I' ll get someone else. The team approach is balanced risk management the divisive or divided approach is "you cop all the risk mate". Whilst the divisive them vs us/contractor vs subbie culture remains there will be industrial discord, insolvency and lower productivity. The industry will retain a primal and macho dimension which will retard the sophisticated metamorphosis of the building industry. The All Blacks provide a useful benchmarking system. An All Black Coach said Good people make Good All Blacks, Good People also make Good Builders.

  6. John Lowry

    Great idea, but the Australian construction industry is driven by risk and responsibility avoidance. They have turned it into an art form. Look at any major subcontract and weep. There you will find no leadership, no teamwork, no collaboration, no management, no support; just minimise risk and beat your team into submission. On the sales side, of course, it's all spin. Will anyone, ever fulfill the dream so well enunciated here? It is of course, the path to productivity and greater success, but even (especially) governments do not have the will to make the smallest changes.

  7. kim lovegrove

    Thanks for taking the time to pen those eloquent thoughts John. We now have a Kiwi, a South African and a couple of Australians chiming in to the conversation. This is important because although I'm and All Black tragic as is plain to see; the piece is really about the importance of having in place the right systems and culture, for if one can do that, one can truly deliver world's best practice. The ideal can become a reality and this team has shown that. Another commentator has remarked that the philosophy that is espoused by this rugby team has apllication to all sectors not only the building industry. And there is something to be said for the humility that is part and parcel of a winning philosophy because great teams and great corporations are all about no individual being bigger than the team or the sport or the corporation. It's a bit like JFK's famous line " its not what the country can do for you, it's what you can do for the country".

  8. David Chandler

    Kim, the comments here show no further encouragement needed. Good analogy,

  9. Robert Whittaker AM FAIB

    Another well written piece.

    As a Wallaby tragic, I might also add that both teams left the field in good grace – and that is another thing our Construction Industry could learn.

    Stephen Moore offered no excuses, but instead congratulated his opponent. No avoidnace of responsiblity he took it on the chin.

    As to the New Zealnd team, they did not gloat and SBW's magnimous conduct to the young lad after the match, refusing the return of the his medal even after it was revealed that he was 14 and not 8 as he had thought is a lesson in itself – a deal had been done, hands had shaken, SBW did NOT welch on his deal with the young bloke – again something our industry could learn whether you are the Client or the Contractor – good grace.

    Great article, even though I didn't want to relive the match.

  10. Victoria Troake

    Nice article Kim. From my experience as a specialist trade contractor there is no doubt that the most productive and award winning jobs we have worked on are when the client, builder and the specialist trades work closely together. We may all individually be good at what we do, but that loses relevance if we are not cohesive and collaborative in our approach to the project. For NZ, this requires a cultural change in the industry but I believe the industry is starting to realise this and will eventually leave behind this silo-focussed, finger-pointing and lowest cost approach that dominates our industry at present. It's time for a change!

  11. Greg Johnston

    Excellent and thought provoking article Kim. Too much now it seems as though the building industry is being taken down to the lowest common denominator. This stems from training (or lack thereof at least in quality), to competition based on price to regulation with an economic incentive. As professionals we all have a role to educate and help each other.

  12. Matt Campbell

    Great article Kim. The AB's are professionals, not simply by 'title', but by their professional attitude to every aspect of the job.