Revealing the true nature of winning habits in business and sports

In February this year, Rakuten People & Culture Lab advisor Ryuji Nakatake published Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits. “Winning Culture” is one of the Lab’s research themes and we have often discussed the common essence of winning teams around the world, including Spanish professional soccer club FC Barcelona.

But how do you create a strong organizational culture with a winning habit? Mr. Nakatake is currently publishing a series of articles entitled “Ryuji Nakatake’s Winning Culture” on Diamond Online. In this column, we will present select articles from the series.

When you hear the expression “winning habit,” what kind of scenarios do you think of?

Perhaps a sports team that wins game after game, or a businessperson who consistently wins contracts through his persuasive presentations, or maybe a salesperson who always hits her monthly sales target.

Both the sports and business worlds are often compared with battle or war. Within this context, the expression winning habit may call to mind the image of someone quite strong, a person who never loses.

But in reality, having a winning habit does not equate to consistently winning.

In the world of organizational culture, “habit” refers to the sensibilities that people in an organization take for granted. Organizational culture reflects the values, atmosphere, and habits that are unconsciously shared by people in an organization.

Furthermore, there is a tendency to view a winning habit based on the evaluation of facts, leading to such conclusions as “that team wins game after game, so they have a winning habit” or “she always achieves her targets, so she has a winning habit.”

This, however, isn’t the case.

A winning habit is the way in which you perceive winning and losing.

Take, for example, the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby union team.

Although they didn’t win the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks are recognized as the best team in the world in terms of winning percentage. There is no doubt that the team has a winning habit.

In the world of soccer, I have visited FC Barcelona in Spain to gather information about the team.

Among all the European soccer clubs with some of the best teams in the world, FC Barcelona is said to be one of the strongest with a winning habit.

But again, having a winning habit doesn’t mean that a team continuously wins. Rather, in essence, having a winning habit is to view winning to be a matter of course.

To make this a little easier to understand, I’d like to introduce an episode from when I was the coach of Waseda University’s Rugby Football Club. It was my second year in the position.

That year, I wanted to instill the team with a winning habit, so from the start of the season, I wanted to ensure that they continued winning every game they played, including practice games, without a single loss. We recorded 50 straight wins, including the final match of the University Rugby Championship, to become the No. 1 university team in Japan.

At the time, winning throughout the season became the norm for the team and, as a result, the members began thinking not about whether they would win or lose, but rather how they would win, and also felt that wins wouldn’t be meaningful unless they were overwhelming victories.

When we took the university championship title, at the moment that we won, rather than screaming with delight with my arms raised high, I recall feeling a sense of relief. I’m sure that, as was the case with me at the time, when a team with a winning habit wins a game, its leaders will also initially feel relieved by the result rather than jump up and down with joy.

Instead of pumping my fist in the air in a celebration of victory, I savored the win deeply, on a personal level. Since winning had become commonplace for me, I had a strong aversion to losing, so felt a sudden rush of relief when we won, as if the burden I had been carrying on my shoulders had suddenly been lifted.

Once again, having a winning habit does not mean that winning is a given and you become overjoyed when you win. Rather, I believe that having a winning habit refers to an attitude of looking back on victories with humility, thinking about the ideal way to win, and applying oneself diligently through friendly rivalry.

The leaders of any organization want to instill a winning habit in their team.

If you would like to make winning the norm, you must feel a strong sense of disgust at the mere sight of factors that lead to losing and be motivated to overcome them. I believe that to be the first step in developing a winning habit.

What is a winning habit for your team? And how do you go about creating a team with a winning habit?

Let’s consider winning habits together through my new book (in Japanese), Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits, and the Winning Culture Lab, an online community where we can learn about organizational culture and grow together.

This article is an English translation of an article from the serialized DIAMOND Online series Ryuji Nakatake’s Winning Culture, printed with permission by DIAMOND, Inc. The original article (in Japanese) can be viewed here.