Tuesday, 31 January 2012

What aid & development agencies can learn from elite rugby.

No one wants to do a bad job. I honestly, honestly believe this, that isn't to say from time to time that people don't from time to time do things to make others look bad or don't in frustration or boredom sabotage things just for some interest. At the core of our beings though I believe we all want to do a good job and be recognised for it. Nowhere is this more true than in aid work, only the mildly insane would put themselves through cold showers, water shortages, bouts of malaria, poor diet and random sleep depravation to ensure that the did an at best mediocre job. We fixate on excellence, best outcomes, deliverables our language is of targets and goals. Coming back to Haiti I have flown back in to the age old dripping argument about who should have done what, what money hasn't been spent and what is wrong with aid today. After 9 years of this and a further 6 watching it from the safety of The Royal Air Force I can honestly say I am tired of hearing it. I understand the arguments for accountability and greater transparency but playing elite level rugby has taught me something: the team doesn't get better through you identifying other people's faults. At the end of every rugby match the statistician sits down and collates the tackle count, the yards gained, the handling errors and every other possible metric ...... Whilst I was at London Scottish they even needed a metric for time spent with my hands down my shorts rearranging my sports support..... And at the next training session the coach sat you down and went through your stats with you. The emphasis was on improving your own game, we called the adjustments the one percenters, the one percent that makes a game changing difference - everyone can do the 99% but that extra one was the aim. You see elite rugby has realised that to improve team performance you have to concentrate on 15 personal performances. Players who criticise other players are usually hiding their own weakness, as all 15 players reach their peak the team performance gels and the game improves. I think this translates very neatly to aid work, we are a team driving towards excellent performance in serving communities. Our responsibility is to ensure we are achieving excellence in our role, sure we can support others in their roles but our aim shouldn't be to conform them to our standards but rather to support them in their drive to the highest standards they can achieve. I have played with better and worse rugby players over the years, I have gone running with players trying to get back to full fitness, stood out in the rain to receive penalty field goal attempts and sat with players in a quiet corner of the club bar to offer feed back when it was asked for. Strangely this is what I feel like I am doing now on an institutional level, working with teams looking to improve their 'A' game. A team that argues on the pitch is doomed to failure, systems will fracture, relationships will break down and the result will be poor performance. We as the aid & development community could do well to learn this lesson. Let's concentrate on brining our 'A' game and improving that, once we are in that position of excellence people will naturally gravitate towards us to find out how we do so well. For those of you who are interested I spent 4.5 minutes of an 80 minute game (over 5%) with my hands down my shorts, the coach's solution was to wear Lycra cycling shorts which I still do to this day. I mention it not for hilarity, although it still makes me laugh, but because often the route to those one percenters is not in our core business but in some idiosyncrasy that is completely unrelated. Once we solved the hands down shorts equation my handling errors diminished too. The Logistics Project is committed to its 'A' Game but will always have time to go running with you, stand out in the rain to perfect your kicking or sit for some constructive feedback should you need it.

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