• Kim F Vaughan

Smells like team spirit

What is it that creates a great team spirit? What allows a team to flourish, and has the power to bind people together with a common purpose? It's not always tangible, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But, apparently, you can smell it .........


The annual rugby union Six Nations championship started last Saturday. Normally attended by thousands of fans, the matches are legendary, keenly fought and, typically, set the various nations alight. Well, at least those who prefer rugby to the Premier League may feel a flicker of excitement!


Last Saturday, Scotland achieved a historic win over England (the first win for them on England's home turf since 1983), taking home the Calcutta Cup. I expect a few drams were enjoyed across Scotland! But, for me, it is in Wales where rugby union generates a team spirit that fires up a whole nation.


Just out of university, I lived in Cardiff for a while in the mid-1970s. I worked in a tax office a couple of streets away from Cardiff Arms Park, and could hear the crowd's famous singing from the upstairs flat in the house I lived in. Sometimes, we would go to Cardiff Castle and stand underneath the bridge over the River Taff, where the acoustics amplified the sounds floating down the river from the Arms Park. The emotional impact of a few rounds of Bread of Heaven and the Gwlad Gwlad chorus of the national anthem stuck with me forever.


Despite the brutality of the game and a lack of complete understanding of the rules that continues to this day, I am and always will be an ardent fan of the Welsh Rugby Union team. I sing, I shout, I paint my face with a dragon, and I send vibes - mostly through the TV, but occasionally in the stadium itself. The power of a team spirit that brings a nation together, even in a stadium emptied by Covid-19, is awesome. A state of 'Team Spirit Nirvana' envied by many a leader wishing to engage their people in delivering its vision for success.


In the mid-1990s, Professor Sumantra Ghoshal spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos about culture change in large corporations. It was a transformative input for many and, more than twenty-five years later, remains valid.


Professor Ghoshal spoke about the context in which employees operate and the need to engender positive culture change to deliver business success. Many leaders did not understand that their tone and the expectations they set were putting constraints on employees rather than liberating them to deliver innovation.


He compared the debilitating atmosphere of his home town Kolkata, India in July - humid, hot, tiring - with the exhilaration of taking a walk near his recent workplace in the forest of Fontainebleau in Spring, where the air is fresh and the smells of the forest make you want to run and jump.


Professor Ghoshal believed that you can smell the culture of a company within a few minutes of arriving. Some companies create an energised environment, with employees alert, empowered and engaged. Others feel dull and constrained by compliance with rules, acceptance of long-practised processes and a fear of new ideas. I am pretty sure Professor Ghoshal never attended a Wales v England Six Nations match in Cardiff, but he would have picked up the smell of the place well before he arrived at the stadium, the whole city lit up with anticipation and driven by common purpose.


The smell of the place, team spirit, emotional as well as intellectual engagement; they may be intangible and intuitive, but they have a deep impact on you and your business.


What does your business smell like? What do people say about your culture? Are you a Kolkata summer or a Fontainebleau spring? I would love to chat to you about how I can help you set the right context, what you can do to clear obstacles, encourage new ideas and collaborate to build your own Nirvana. Or simply to compare notes on this year's Six Nations championship whilst singing Bread of Heaven! Give me a call........... +44 7391 668526.


With apologies for some awful puns, here are those links again (thank you YouTube).

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana - Seattle, 1991

Cwm Rhondda (Bread of Heaven) - Queen Street pre-match flashmob 2015

Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau - Principality Stadium February 2019

Professor Ghoshal at the WEF, Davos

Photo: © Francisco Javier Gil / Adobe Stock


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