Why You Should Hire a Scrum Half


“Man on!!”

“Pick him up!!”

…And of course, Tony Adams marshalling the Arsenal back four of the late eighties, arm aloft and yelling “Out! Out!” like a fervent Brexiteer.

Yes, communication in football has always been a simple affair. But still, it appears, too complicated for today’s young players. You may have seen this story in the papers last week: Southampton boss Ronald Koeman is so dismayed by the amount of time his young team spend with their headphones on and/or playing on their mobiles that he’s sending them back to the classroom – to learn how to talk to each other.

So much for football: let me switch sports. When I read that article about football I realised how much time we spend with my son’s U14 rugby team bellowing one basic instruction: “talk to each other.” It’s simple: the more they communicate, the better they play.

I spent most of my short rugby career on the wing: but I was occasionally switched from that splendid isolation and thrown right into the thick of it. “Need you to play scrum half today, Ed.”

The scrum half’s job is simple: he’s the communicator, the instigator. You see it in nearly all school teams: the chirpy little livewire with no. 9 on his back.

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…And of course thinking about communication in sport set me off thinking about business. I read a great blog post recently from one of TAB York’s members, looking at the different roles and personalities within successful teams. The post referenced the work of British management theorist Meredith Belbin and looked at the nine different roles he identified within teams.

Was ‘scrum half’ one of them? No, not quite. Probably the closest role that Belbin identifies is the ‘Shaper’ – someone who ‘provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team keeps moving and doesn’t lose focus or momentum.’ And you don’t need to watch many games of American football to realise that’s an exact description of the quarterback’s role.

So does your business need a scrum half/quarterback? Or in business terms a ‘shaper?’ Someone whose strengths – according to Belbin – are that they’re challenging and dynamic and have the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.

In my experience what every business – and/or team within that business – really does need is someone who’s enthusiastic, who’s focused on the objectives and, above all, who communicates well.

That might well be the owner of the business – but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve seen plenty of successful businesses where it was the second-in-command, or simply one of the team members.

There’s another strand to good communication that is perennially important in business. Fortunately it’s one that Ronald Koeman doesn’t need to worry about. Footballers may occasionally telegraph a pass: there’s no evidence yet of them needing to e-mail each other.

But how many times have you received an e-mail from someone – especially one pitching their services – and thought, ‘you must be joking. If you can’t even write a coherent e-mail, how can you possibly expect me to do business with you?’

There have been plenty of times when I’ve quoted from Rework on this blog. A sentence that always stays with me from that excellent little book is this one:

If you’re trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. That’s because being a good writer is about more than just writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

Substitute the word ‘communicator’ for ‘writer’ and that exactly summarises my thinking. Communication is more important than ever in business – and good communicators will increasingly be at a premium. It’s not just footballers who are growing up with an addiction to headphones, mobiles and – as we saw last week – emojis.

So when a natural scrum half walks through your door – someone who’ll communicate your message inside and outside your business – tie him down to a long term contract.

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