Keeping Traditions - Building A Culture That Endures

I know nothing about rugby, that needs to be stated out of the gate so if I have any rugby enthusiasts reading this I hopefully won't offend them. But I need to talk about rugby and probably the most famous rugby team, the New Zealand national team called the All Blacks. I recently finished Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr, which talked about the culture and changes the team made over the years to maintain their elite status and rebuild when they weren't meeting their own expectations. You don't have to know anything about rugby to recognize their dominance. They hold a 77% winning record against their international competition. Since the inceptions of the World Rugby Rankings they have held the number one ranking longer than all other teams combined.

Part of what is intriguing about the All Blacks is their deep sense of culture and tradition. To wear the All Blacks jersey isn't something to be taken lightly. As a player you are responsible for maintaining the over 100 years of tradition that came before you. You are expected to leave the jersey better than you found it. You have to earn the right to wear the jersey and you have to keep earning that right every day.

Their most famous ritual is the haka they perform before every match. The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge from Māori culture, the  indigenous people of New Zealand. It was a common event that was part of battle preparations of the male warriors. The All Blacks have adopted this as part of their team culture, it not only unites their team, it unites their country. As James Kerr wrote in Legacy, "When the opposition faces the haka, they face more than a collection of 15 individual players. They are facing a culture, an identity, an ethos, a belief system - and a collective passion and purpose beyond anything they have faced before." You can't really explain it, you can only experience it.

This is Ka Mate, the traditional haka performed that is from a poem written around 1820.


This is Kapa O Pango, a newer haka written specifically for the All Blacks and performed on special occasions since 2005.


One of the funniest was when the New Zealand basketball team did the Ka Mate against the USA and their team of NBA all-stars who starred dumbfounded, unsure of what they were witnessing.


I'm not saying that you need to start performing the Ka Mate with your team, what you need is a ritual or tradition that is your team. Something that you hand down to every new member of the team and reinforce often so everyone understands every day what it means to be a part of the team and what the expectations are upon them.

If your team has traditions - learn them. If your team doesn't have traditions - create them, then teach them. Build something that is meant to last for decades, something that outlasts you.

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