When it comes to high performance, sports and business intersect in fascinating ways. We sat down with Allan Bunting, Director of Rugby for the Black Ferns, to learn more about his unique approach to fostering excellence and performance in his arena of choice. When it comes to leading a successful team, whether a sports field or boardroom, the building blocks for success remain the same. From our conversation with Allan, we’ve distilled five key insights for any business leader looking to create and sustain high performance.
1. Individual clarity
"The starting point for performance is being clear about individual purpose, values, strengths and areas for development."
Allan emphasises that the crucial first step in achieving performance lies in self-awareness and clarity of an individual's purpose, values, strengths and areas for development. In his arena, he encourages athletes to dig deep and discover what truly drives them. This personal motivation becomes the fuel that propels them forward, especially during challenging times. By aligning their individual values with the team's goals, athletes create the critical foundations for individual and team performance. Equally, in a corporate environment, by aligning team members' individual values with the organisation's goals, leaders are laying the necessary foundations for high levels of performance.
2. Create a safe environment
"Creating an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable and share their strengths and weaknesses is important."
It is this safe space where individuals can grow, learn, and ultimately perform at their best. Put simply, Allan creates an environment that allows for learning, failure and honest conversations. In a fast-paced business environment, those honest conversations aren’t always prioritised, but creating a safe space for growth, learning and feedback is foundational to sustaining a high-performance culture. At All Blacks Performance Labs, a common focus area for us is working with business leaders on methods to actively encourage feedback and honesty within their teams.
3. Connection and belonging
"People, we're primal. We need connection…"
When an individual has clarity and the team environment fosters and promotes excellence, we have the bedrock of success. Beyond individual brilliance, high performance is about the collective strength of the team, which Allan believes is underpinned by connection and belonging. This means team members are accepted for who they are and expected to bring their best. Team members will play out of their skin when they are comfortable with the skin they are in.
This can be the catalyst that sparks exceptional performances and drives teams to reach their full potential. In business, when employees feel a strong sense of connection to their team and the organisation, they are more engaged, motivated and productive, which ultimately leads to high performance, translating to business results.
4. Recruitment and education
"Recruitment of the right people and getting to know them is critical."
For Allan, recruitment is not about matching skills to job requirements. It's about truly getting to know each person. What are their interests outside of work? Where do they come from? What has their journey been like so far? Allan can’t stress enough the importance of personal connection. Understanding each individual's unique strengths, but also past experiences, provides insight into how they can best contribute to team success and equally, how leaders can set team members up for success.
By investing time in getting to know employees personally, leaders can better leverage their strengths, foster a supportive work environment, and ultimately unlock the potential of the team. When you have the right people who are understood and valued for their unique contributions, they can propel any team, whether on the sports field or in the boardroom, towards high performance.
At All Blacks Performance Labs, some of the most successful CEOs we work with dedicate time not just to knowing their people by name, but by knowing their story, and their family story. One of our favourite CEOs handwrites Christmas cards every year to his 200-strong team, not with a work anecdote, but a personal one.
5. The journey and purpose
"The journey and purpose are more important than the end result." - Allan Bunting
Finally, Allan's philosophy is that the journey towards high performance is as important as the destination. In fact, in his own words, the “journey is the destination”. In his world, small victories are celebrated as milestones, setbacks are opportunities for learning and constant improvement is the norm. In a corporate environment where it’s the end results are often prioritised, Allan’s approach offers a fresh reminder for businesses. While we need business targets and goals, when it comes to high performance, leaders can stand to put more emphasis on a team's journey. If leaders, and their teams, view high performances as a continuous process, they will find it much easier to sustain it going forward.
At All Blacks Performance Labs, we help teams and team leaders weave proven tools and techniques like Allan’s into their business performance rituals. We have had the benefit of working with some of the world’s highest performers, across a diverse range of industries and domains, and have synthesised these into practical playbooks that are immediately applicable to businesses today.