Monday 16 September 2019 5:46 am

Lessons from rugby to the boardroom

Matt Perry won 45 caps for England, Barbarians and British & Irish Lions between 1997 and 2002. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Transition 15.

Having been part of several world-class rugby teams, I reached a stage post-retirement when it was impossible to imagine ever being part of a team that was so trusting and technically brilliant again. 

Whether playing for Bath, England, or the British and Irish Lions, I had to adapt to my teammates very quickly. 

But now, as a co-founder of a company, I realise that there are many practical examples of rugby lessons that translate into the business world. 

Rules and rebels 

On the field, if you tell a talented player what to do, they tend to rebel. 

Conversely if you give players a framework, and then coach them to the point that they feel empowered enough to identify new ways forward, the rewards are much greater. 

The same applies in the workplace – employers need to give their talented workers the freedom to excel.

Common goals

In rugby, we defined monthly goals, which would then be broken down into milestones. 

These might relate to style of play in response to our competition, or the physical conditions that we were playing in. To succeed, we would need everyone on the team to be moving in the same direction on the pitch. 

Sharing a common understanding of purpose and objectives, as well as an aspiration of the legacy that the team would want to leave behind, was critical for our success.

Be a good sport

Understanding the personalities of your teammates and how they work is as important as understanding your own role and where your value lies. 

It may be that during the final moments of a game there’s an opportunity to come up with a new idea to help you win it. We had to be able to trust that idea and execute the move. 

The same principle applies in the corporate world. Having the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and understand what they are trying to achieve enables far greater levels of collaboration and productivity.


We always talked about “heads-up” rugby, which is about players having the foresight to seize an opportunity rather than moving to a pattern. 

Players will set out to execute a pre-agreed plan, but once the ball is in play, they need to be able to respond in flight. Similarly, in business there’s a clear advantage in retaining a broader perspective and being able to act intuitively to deal with a situation as it unfolds. The trick is planning for multiple scenarios. 

Victory games

In the sporting world, there’s an opportunity to improve every single day. 

A rugby team will have their next game in seven days, so there isn’t the luxury of waiting for a three-month review. This makes the environment extremely fast-paced. 

There is huge scope in the business world to be more agile when it comes to making decisions and rewarding small achievements in the same way. Just ask yourself every day, how can I make this better?

On the ball

When coming off the field, players should be able to review that day’s performance and have input as to what can be done better. 

It’s important to invite a culture where individuals are able to put their ideas forward, with respect to both what they are doing and what the company is doing. 

The environment that you create, both on and off the field, allows the players to thrive.