Cohesion is the core

Ahead of his keynote at the HIA 2019 National Conference, former Wallaby turned team dynamics specialist Ben Darwin, discusses how to create team success and why cohesion is far more important than core talent.


Anne-Maree Brown

Ben Darwin
Former Wallaby turned team dynamics specialist, Ben Darwin, now heads up Gain Line Analytics and will be speaking at the HIA 2019 National Conference. 
Image supplied

When it comes to understanding what it takes to make a stellar team, Ben Darwin has experience in spades. The former Wallaby and coach knows only too well the drive to win, but what separates Ben from his contemporaries is his belief that great teams are built from cohesion rather than cherry-picking the best of the best.

Moving from player to coach to commentator, during his time on and off the field Ben questioned why some teams succeed beyond others, and if indeed these results could be tracked and analysed. 

As a result, his consultancy business Gain Line Analytics was born, providing proprietary tools and solutions based on a unique system of data analytics and quantitative research.

Learnings from the Mafia

Along with co-founder and motor industry design visionary, Simon Strachan, Ben began to observe patterns in what made some teams win and others fail to flourish. Together, they started to find and record patterns in more than just the sporting field, and assessed them in unexpected places – for example crime syndicates, organised gangs and paramilitary groups. 

But could their data analytics crossover into the corporate world? 

Turns out it could.

In the corporate world, as well as in the sporting arena, the data showed that money might buy talent but it doesn’t necessarily ensure success. Talent flourishes in a familiar environment, and time and team cohesion creates real greatness.

‘People believe building a team is putting together talent, [but] it’s actually analysing and working on their understanding,’ Ben says.

Their observations, derived from their ‘teamwork index’, takes into account the shared experiences a set of people have over various periods of time, and predictions are then drawn from the results.

‘No matter the level of skill, everyone has habits, preferences and nuances. Put a new team together and you are bound to have friction, and under duress people are less likely to use newly found skills,’ he says. ‘But, once you have a bunch of people who know each other and have an unspoken language, they can create shortcuts without losing the detail. You can start to predict outcomes and act accordingly.’

Professionals working on laptop

Companies primarily focused on the fight for talent are missing out on the ‘unspoken interplay between people that understand each other well’

The right fight

Ben says that those companies so focused on the fight for talent are missing out on the ‘unspoken interplay between people that understand each other well’.

Putting this in the residential building industry context, he pinpoints the fact that many family-run businesses outperform their corporate competitors.  

‘Family businesses often smash listed companies,’ Ben says. ‘You don’t need psychometric testing to know what each person’s strengths are; they already know how they communicate, co-operate, their body language and moods. Just as importantly they aren’t afraid to fight, to be honest and to push back. You don’t feel comfortable having robust discussions unless you feel assured in the other person’s company.

‘Show me a company where there are no disagreements and I’ll be inclined to predict a lack of decision and growth.’

Take care of your academy

When it comes to finding and nurturing talent Ben reflects back on his sporting career, in particular the need for clubs to spend time and energy on young recruits – even if their chance to shine might be years away.

‘If you take care of your academy, your academy will take care of you.’

Take apprentices for example, he says: ‘It takes three years in a role to reach your peak, especially in the early learning stages. Stick with who you are mentoring, [and] their instinct will kick over time.’

Ben adds that jumping between people is just as damaging as jumping between decisions. ‘If people are together long enough they will build a collective outcome. It takes more energy to burn and replace than it takes to be patient and nurture for the long run.’ 

Ben Darwin

‘No matter skill level, everyone has habits, preferences and nuances...but, once you have a bunch of people who know each other and have an unspoken language, they can create shortcuts without losing the detail’ 

Be patient and take your time

Ben also points out the advantage of taking on changes slowly. ‘If you go on the hunt to find the latest and greatest – technology, processes, whatever it might be – it creates chaos, [and] chaos that can take a long time to recover from.’ 

Equally important, he says, is maintaining your corporate ‘memory’. He uses an example of the reaction he received from a sporting board member after revealing the results of his teamwork index review. ‘They exclaimed, “Wow, we wished you’d been here two years ago!’’’ The irony was that he had, but the whole board had turned over during that time, taking all their learnings with them.

When it comes to knowledge Ben also emphasises the importance of respecting older team members. He says they may not be as quick to adjust to change – but they have an invaluable amount of corporate memory that should not be underestimated.

‘The slow burn is much more conducive to long-term success. Be patient with the staff you have, allow time and run parallel systems for a while if you need to,’ he says. ‘The more you churn the less memory you have, so you often make the same mistakes over and over again.’  

When it comes to cohesion, he believes leaders should put their need for short-term results aside.

‘Listed companies are about the quarter, not long-term results. The really successful companies are looking at the decade, and beyond,’ Ben says.

However, in very personal terms it’s also about the people at the top keeping their egos in check. 

‘Self-interest is very powerful and what it takes to build long-term success doesn’t often fit with peoples’ short-term narrative. The reason you are winning is not because of you, it’s the sum of all the parts connected overtime and the cohesion created.

‘It takes time to truly have the awareness needed to build a great team. A cohesive team is profitable and sustainable, and that is what you should be aiming for.’

HIA members can hear more from Ben Darwin at the upcoming HIA 2019 National Conference, 23–25 May in Perth. Spots are booking up fast, so contact HIA today to register. 

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