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If the All Blacks were an IT team

If the All Blacks were an IT team

Sports provides great analogies for preparing the IT team and the wider organisation for the competitive, fast-paced digital era, says Westpac CIO Dawie Oivier.

We should be trusting people and setting the right boundaries in the field and letting them out.


"The All Blacks are the most intimidating rugby team in the world. They are tough, they are huge. They are bonded, they are like a machine with a singular mindset.”

Dawie Olivier, CIO at Westpac NZ, uses the All Blacks as a model for building an ICT team that can hold their ground in a fast-paced, competitive digital era.

“Sports can bring amazing analogies” for ICT teams, he says at the recent CIO100 events in Auckland and Wellington.

He likens the All Blacks to a cross functional team that is prepared for the long journey ahead and for a particular moment, the Rugby World Cup Final.

In contrast, an ill-prepared team looks scrawny across the field; and not even armed properly. Yes, like the rugby player holding a tennis racket, who obviously practiced for a different game.

In the same manner, when CIOs are organising their teams, they need to find the best technicians that they can possibly source. The members should have the aspiration to be part of a world class unit, and be willing to share what they know about their craft, says Olivier.

Going back to the sports analogy, the team will train to play harder and harder opponents, learning repeatedly from each game. Every couple of weeks they will play with a new team and after every single game, the team gets together and has a thinking conversation (aided by analytics) on what went well, what worked and what didn’t.

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Photo by Sean Gillespie
Photo by Sean Gillespie

Let us go and experiment with as many different practices as we possibly can, figure out what are the appropriate practices for us to get there, whether it be agile or lean.

Dawie Olivier, Westpac NZ


The key is that the team plays together all the time, says Olivier. They understand each other’s roles to a point where it is possible for someone else to step up and support a struggling player without having to be asked.

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“The team will self-heal as they play together.”

It is a team effort you can mould over months and years, until they are fully entrusted and empowered to get on with the World Cup, he says.

Communicating through broken telephones

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Olivier likewise shares lessons from another popular game, ‘Chinese whispers’ or ‘broken telephones’ as it is known in his native South Africa.

A child is asked to memorise the details of a picture. The child then relays the details to the next child and so on. The last child on the line describes what was passed on. “Invariably you get some description of something that has no resemblance to the original picture,” says Olivier.

He says an interesting thing that does not typically happen in this game is having the ability to ask questions, to turn back up the line and say, ‘Is this what you mean?’

He says this is because the players are caught up in the performance, in the fear of conveying the message that they feel they do not have the right to go back and ask the questions.

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And yet, he says, 50 years of software development have been done this way.

'50 years of software development have been done this way.'
'50 years of software development have been done this way.'


He describes the process” “I have a great idea. I pass it on to somebody. It gets elaborated on down the chain but everybody is only responsible for this little piece of work….20 per cent here, 20 per cent there, which means at the end of the day, no-one is married to any piece of work at all.”

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Juxtapose this with joining one’s mates in a barbie gathering. One of them approaches you and says the banking app developed by your team has changed his life. It has given him more time to decide on his mortgage and essentially changed the way he interacts with the bank.

“You feel a warm glow and satisfaction because you know exactly how you got there,” he says.


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He says this is why culture plays a critical part in building the team. “If the team feel they are contributing to this great outcome, they start gravitating towards respect, towards trust, towards conversations and collaboration, and the ability grow and learn from others...and towards having a bit of fun at work.”

“When people are exposed to concepts that feel better than the ones they have, they start talking about it, learning about it, and experimenting with these concepts,” he says.

“We need to let our team explore their way to the right things. Once we have created this concept of safety of experimentation and respectful process of collaboration, the teams can evolve into doing what they are good at as opposed to being managed by time sheets.”

“Our job as leader is not to be the smart guy but to make it possible for our teams to be the smart guys,” he explains.

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We should be trusting people and setting the right boundaries in the field and letting them out.

The key is that the team plays together all the time… They understand each other’s roles to a point where it is possible for someone else to step up and support a struggling player without having to be asked. The team will self-heal as they play together.

Dawie Olivier, Westpac NZ


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His clarion call for CIOs is this:

“Let us go and experiment with as many different practices as we possibly can, figure out what are the appropriate practices for us to get there, whether it be agile or lean (‘they are very seldom waterfall practices’).”

“It will be quite a long journey and it puts a fair burden on us leaders, but the results are startling,” he states.

In a previous role, he recalls a conversation with the CEO who asked him for advice on this new team that they had built.

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“Be careful with what you ask for because the combined [IT/business] team will deliver it really quickly,” he told the CEO. “You will not have time to change your mind. Make sure we are testing those things with our customers so we know we are delivering things that they value.”

“The killer app for today’s CIOs and their teams is the ability to build a culture and for the team to learn to experiment and iterate forward,” he concludes. When this happens, “Any technology can be your oyster.”

Copyrighted image use only with permission
Copyrighted image use only with permission


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Dawie Olivier of Westpac NZ talked about ‘the killer app for today’s ICT teams’ at the 2016 CIO100 events in Auckland and Wellington.

Photo by Jason Creaghan
Photo by Jason Creaghan
At the 2016 CIO100 event in Auckland (Photo by Jason Creaghan)
At the 2016 CIO100 event in Auckland (Photo by Jason Creaghan)
Photo by Jason Creaghan
Photo by Jason Creaghan
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At the 2016 CIO100 event in Wellington (photo by Sean Gillespie)
At the 2016 CIO100 event in Wellington (photo by Sean Gillespie)


Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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