What Can a CEO Learn from the Rugby World Cup?

England will be hoping they can avoid a repeat of their early exit from the 2015 Rugby World Cup in this year’s tournament.

They’ve had to wait four years for a shot at redemption, and their success will be determined by individual and collective ability, leadership, and determination.

The same is often required in business, and although not quite as physically demanding as rugby, it can be tough to compete in today’s turbulent economic climate. According to Ruby Kite, Talent Acquisition Manager at The PHA Group, there are business lessons to be learned from the World Cup.


Any business, large or small, is only ever as good as its people. The same can be said for rugby, and therefore it comes as no surprise that the winners of recent World Cups have been the best teams on paper.

Ensuring you have the right staff in place is crucial to achieve the results you want both in the office and on the pitch. But who is considered ‘talent’, and where can business leaders find it?

England’s Head Coach, Eddie Jones, faced this dilemma when selecting his final 31 players for the 2019 squad. After a poor performance at this year’s Six Nations, he opted to recruit a raft of fresh new faces, such as Lewis Ludlum, in place of more experienced players, like Chris Robshaw.

Business leaders will also recognise the importance of hiring rising stars to keep existing staff motivated and engaged. New recruits mean new ideas and new focus, but how should they approach the war for talent?

Diversity and team structure

Recruitment isn’t always the answer, but when it is, the way in which new employees fit into an established team is important to consider. Teams can be structured without being hierarchical, as long as a balance is found by incorporating a variety of skills and specialisms, rather than hiring at particular levels for perceived stability.

This collaboration is mirrored in England’s World Cup team and sets a good example of how a business should operate. The abilities of each of the players – whether it’s the pace of the backs or the force of the forwards – combine efforts to become greater than the sum of its parts. Equally, employers should consider different personalities, ambitions, and passions to create a balanced team where individual talents are harnessed in appropriate positions, as well as complimenting those of others.


While it may seem preferable to resort to recruitment to address weaknesses within departments, these gaps can often serve as an opportunity to train, up-skill, and promote current team members to better develop existing skill sets and provide further breadth to a loyal employee’s role.

Rugby players, like employees, can perform above their means with the right support and training. Just look at Japan’s victory over Ireland last weekend.

If employees feel as though there is a comprehensive and transparent path to progression, they will remain engaged and inspired to meet and exceed their true potential. It’s worth remembering that the loss of an employee can cost up to twice the departing employee’s annual salary in terms of time spent on the recruitment and onboarding process, not to mention potential agency fees. Therefore, it’s not only more empowering to train and retain existing staff, but cheaper too. With this in mind, employers should seriously consider investing both time and money into their workforce through structured training and development programs.


None of this can be achieved without strong managers in place who are key in achieving top results from their team. That’s why the most successful leaders are those who encourage their juniors to work autonomously whilst remaining supportive and present. Providing clear objectives and the tools needed to succeed, rather than telling their colleagues what to do and how to do it, will breed future leaders and an empowered workforce.

In rugby, a win doesn’t come from 80 minutes of hard work on the pitch alone, but rather the accumulation of several months, sometimes years, of careful planning. Similarly, detailed preparation is crucial to good business performance. The best managers not only spot individual strengths and weaknesses, but also consider collective challenges and opportunities in the short and long term.

Jones has demonstrated that his experience as a player and coach both grants respect and secures results. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he proved the power of strong management of a determined Japanese side that upset the odds by beating South Africa spectacularly in the last minute of their first match. Let’s hope he can replicate their achievements and lead this England team all the way to the final.

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