I overheard my daughter being asked by a friend what did her daddy did for a job and her reply at first left me feeling disappointed. All of the hours I spend away from home all of a sudden didn’t seem worth it. I, like you I’m sure,  want my family to be proud of me and the work I do but I suppose if I was a doctor or in the army or dare I say it, even an estate agent, then she would have had a clear reference point. Her reply “I’m not sure actually but he smiles and laughs a lot” was her answer – my immediate response was that isn’t even a job, how does she not know what I’m doing! On reflection, its great and reminds of the sayng that if you find a career that you love then you wont work a day in your life.

Similarly, have you ever been in a team, and you weren’t aware of what a team member or colleague does? That is until they don’t turn up for work that is. “Oh, that’s Geordan” “what does Geordan do?” “Actually, I’m not entirely sure but I think he works in HR or accounts”.

It’s easy to feel that you and your job is the most important part of the jigsaw but in my experience its vitally important to not just understand everyone’s role within your team but you must also genuinely appreciate their contributions.

I once knew a guy who wrote a book about lessons from elite sport to business and he used the following example. In his rugby team he identified some key roles that were instrumental to ensuring the team were successful. For anonymity, he labelled these as positions and not individuals because if individual A was injured then another person would assume that position and fulfil the same duties required to the best of their ability. These positions were broken down into 4 sections, they were (i) Cornerstones (i) Worker Bees (iii) Generals and (iv) Finishers.

The ‘Cornerstone’ is a fundamental position as they set the foundations from which the team can perform. Put quite simply, without a strong cornerstone then the team not only doesn’t win but they struggle to accomplish anything meaningful for others to build upon. In this rugby team, those duties are far from glamourous, often referred to as the dark arts and rarely get the visible recognition they deserve. However, a team full of ‘Cornerstones’ would not be successful due to their limited, yet expert skill set.

The ‘Worker Bee’ performs tasks continuously, they are a grafter and need to be one of the fittest players on the pitch. They don’t stop running, tackling and chasing for 80 minutes. Their bodies are battered and bruised, often receive the most stitches as they put the heads in places I would not put my boots ,but they connect and convert the work that the cornerstones do for other team members to capitalise on. In rugby terms tit is often accepted that they may give away more penalties or make more mistakes that others because they are fast paced, reactive and are pushing the boundaries continuously trying to gain an advantage of the team.

The ‘Generals’, I have used plural here as in sport you have a leader of the team in the captain, but great teams have leaders within the team as well as their captain. This is no different in business with the CEO and their senior leadership teams. This person has the ability and responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the team that will benefit everyone. In rugby these can range from deciding to change from game plan A to game plan B or strategy based on an evolving set of circumstances. In sport that could be the weather, the referee, the opposition, unexpected injuries to key players etc . Making those decisions on the run and providing the team with confidence to follow is a responsibility built on trust and experience – just for the record, I always wanted to be the ‘General’, but rarely was and so I adopted a different role within the teams I was in! 

A team full of great decision makers wouldn’t be successful because someone needs to implement those decisions. Someone needs to do the hard work first to allow the decisions to be made.

The ‘Finisher’ in rugby terms is most likely to be the player with the cleanest kit come the end of the match. Less battered and bruised and ears fully intact, they prowl around the pitch waiting for the right moment to pounce on an opportunity or finish off a well worked move, that had been created for them. They are often strategic and less active, but they need to remain focused even when they are not in action because they may only get limited chances to showcase their skillsets.

As a more glamourous and visible role, they often receive the plaudits and recognition for the hard work that has been done which enable them to play their part.  A team full of ‘Finishers’ who may not be equipped to do the dirty work that the ‘Cornerstone’ is in the team for would not win anything, despite how they may present themselves!

So why is this important? In successful teams, not just elite sport there needs to be an understanding of who does what, why and when. Everybody needs to feel valued and that whilst they may not always be visible to the external world, their efforts are no less important. They may not win awards, bottles of champagne or player of the match. Equally, the person who may receive these awards more frequently due to a subjective perspective NEEDS to appreciate that in order for them to do their job and finish, so much hard work has happened beforehand in order for that to take place.

I have been fortunate enough to have experienced this and the shared appreciation is acknowledged, valued, and provides the catalyst for achieving sustained competitive advantage. When this happens its referred to as finding your state of flow.

Which of the four roles do you identify most with? Equally as important, are you aware of the others within your team that may be cornerstones and might be in need of some recognition or small acknowledgment of appreciation, or maybe the finishers that need to share the accolades. Regardless, I have learned first-hand that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes often provides some missing context. Seeing a situation though another team members lens can improve overall team achievement and at the end of the day, the goal is for the team to be the best they can be and achieve sustained competitive advantage.

The image I have chosen to accompany this text is from when the team I played in achieved our goal of becoming the Champions of Europe. We had long periods of sustained competitive advantage and I firmly believe it had a lot to do with the respect we had for each other and an understanding of the importance of each other’s roles. On such a historic day for the club, who do we see lifting the European Cup…It’s not the formidable team captain, our leader. It’s not the decision maker, who was awarded the man of the match, who at the last minute was brave enough to change a call that resulted in a match winning score. It’s also not the finisher who waited for the moment he was called upon to score the match winner, in injury time. It’s actually two players that had contributed so much throughout that season, which may not have been so visible to the external world.

So, what’s my point, take time to understand and appreciate those around you and before long you may also see long periods of being in flow.