Congratulations to South Africa for their Rugby World Cup victory on the weekend!
Much has been made of their brutal physicality, their suffocating blitz defence and set-piece dominance. But it seems to me their perennial ace card is their strength in depth, the quality of their ‘bench warriors’ or ‘pine riders’ or in specific reference to this team, the infamous ‘Bomb Squad’.
It would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago for a team to have effortlessly and seamlessly absorbed the replacement of half of their team – including their captain and vice-captain – and still go on to win the World Cup final. Not only is this now a fully accepted aspect of the game, but it is also an actively deployed tactic to change the shape of a game or to react to a new or unexpected set of circumstances.
Parallels to the world of business anyone? Of course, there are plenty.
Strength in depth is fundamental to the resilience of a business. For every role, there should be a backup ready to step in. Not just as a substitute but with the mindset to raise the game
Strength in depth provides fresh eyes and minds on a seemingly intractable challenge
Strength in depth also affords the ability to pivot when stuff happens (as it always does). The specific skills of individuals who are on the field of play right now may not be the best skills for the new scenario. Diversity is king and the diverse skills coming ‘off the bench’ may be the ones that will carry a company forward in the new reality.
Strength in depth allows a leader to experiment – testing players in unfamiliar contexts during moments when it is safe to do so. It can also uncover future leaders and hidden gems – skills which otherwise may have lain unnoticed had they not been thrust into an unexpected or unplanned role.
A downside is of course the additional investment. Elite rugby teams of course absorb their benches into their budget. In business, the ‘bench’ may seem like a needless waste of profit margin. Personally I beg to differ.