Structure Design Strategy Environment and Culture of a National Level Sporting Organization Essay

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Rugby -- a Lot More Complicated Than You Might Think

It would be the rare Australian who has not seen a rugby game. Indeed, it would be the rare Australian who has not seen dozens of rugby games. But most of the time when a person is watching a game, s/he is concerned with the score along with how well one's favorite player is doing. but, if one steps back a pace or two, rugby takes on a range of meanings: Rugby is an important part of the culture of Australian and therefore worthy of serious analysis as a way of understanding the national culture.

Culture does not refer simply to was gets put into a museum or acted out on the stage, although these are certainly examples of culture. Rugby is culture in the sense that those who study society define it: It is a complex set of behaviors and meanings that are important to a number of people. It is this meaning that I am using in this paper as I examine five different aspects of Australian rugby.


The organization of Australian rugby is similar to that of other rugby teams, such as that of England, and other important national sports such as football. Rugby has been played in Australian for just over a hundred years and in this time has developed a number of levels, each with its loyal following. The top echelon of the sport in Australia is the national rugby union team, which is the representative of the country in international play.

From here on down there are regional and then local teams and then school teams as well. The entirety of the organizational structure is bounded by the environment in which it exists, an environment that allows for changes as necessary. This is one of the most important aspects of any social structure as well as one of the most important aspects of any theory of social organization (Structure, n.d.)

A key element of any organization is how it is arranged hierarchically and how this translates into power relationships (Structure, n.d.) There are two major relationships in terms of power in the world of Australian rugby. The first of these is the hierarchy of teams, which has as its top the Wallabies, which is the national team.

Second is Australian a, followed by Under 20s and then Under 21s and Under 19s, which can be considered to be a sort of farm system that feeds into the Wallabies. The hierarchy ends with Australia Spirit, which is the men's rugby union seven-a-side team.

Women have a similar, but truncated hierarchy, reflecting the fact that women's sports are given a second-class status, not only in the chauvinistic world of Australian sports but across the world.

This vertical hierarchy translates into funding, the largest fan base, more fan knowledge of and attachment to particular players, better playing facilities, and a higher reputation. These are the standards by which athletes in all sports judge their importance and value and so are important to Australian rugby players.

There is a second important power structure in Australian rugby, one that exists in side of each team. Unlike the ranking of teams, which is generally agreed upon by all of the stakeholders, the division of power within each time is less consensual. The owners and management of each team argue that they are the most powerful stakeholder. The stars of each team (especially at the national level) tend to see themselves as the most important members of the organization because they bring in fans, which bring in money, without which the team would fold. The players' union, in turn, would argue that it is the most powerful player in any rugby organization because it determines if a season goes forward or not.


Our text's definitions of culture (Chapter 10, "Culture") are extremely useful in our examination of Australian rugby. These definitions are "the taken for granted and shared meaning that people assign to their social surroundings" and the "amalgam of beliefs, ideology, language, ritual and myth" (p. 2). A simpler way of stating this definition of culture is that culture is what people share with others in the same group.

Indeed, the most basic level of culture is the fact that people see themselves as belonging to the same group. This is certainly the case with Australian rugby: Team members identify themselves as belonging to a team, the fans identify themselves as belonging to each others' group as well as belonging to their team. On a broader level, the fans and the players identify themselves with the national sport, and then (on a diluted level) as part of the international rugby community.

A culture can be analyzed along seven different measures (Culture, n.d.) the first of these is innovation and risk-taking. Australian rugby ranks relatively low on these measures. The structure of the national organization and the relationship between the teams is highly stable, with changes coming slowly and on a less than definitive level.

And while risk-taking exists on some levels -- such as the selection of a relatively untried player -- overall the teams seek stability more than risk. This should not be surprising given that most organizations are more inclined to seek stability than risk. If this were not the case then they would not be able to remain organizations for long.

On the other hand, Australian rugby scores high on the cultural vectors of attention to detail and attention to outcome. A well-run team is defined by its attention to detail, which includes everything from training procedures that ensure the fittest athletes to smooth-running travel arrangements, to programs that encourage ongoing loyalty from the fans (even when the season is not going well).

The attention to outcome is more obvious in the culture of a sports organization than almost any other type of organization. Winning is pretty much all that matters for a sports team, although there are other outcomes that a well-run team is highly sensitive to. These include playing in an ethical way that avoids censure and makes the fans more proud and loyal and training players so that they do not suffer serious injuries.

The next important vector along which a culture can be measured and assessed (Culture, n.d., p. 4) is whether or not the organization has a people orientation. This can be defined as "the degree to which management take into consideration the effect of outcomes on people within the organization." Australian rugby ranks in the middle on this measure of its culture.

Team management are concerned with how the culture of the team affects the ability of the athletes to perform their best and are concerned with how the culture of the organization affects fan loyalty. However, it is also likely to be the case that the management are not overtly aware of the ways in which the culture of the organization functions, since this is most likely not a way in which they conceive their teams.

However, in terms of how concerned the management are towards keeping the athletes happy, this is a limited measure. If management have to induce stress and even hostility to make athletes play better, there will rarely be any hesitation in doing so.

The next cultural factor is how team-oriented the organization is. At first glance, it would seem to be that Australian rugby would measure very high -- indeed, at the highest rank possible -- on this measure. However, as described above, there are certainly organizations that can be designated as more team-oriented than rugby teams.

While team members unite on the field because winning a game benefits all of them, there is often a high degree of competition among players and between players and management. Teams are highly cohesive on the field, but when there can be discord without reducing the chance for a winning record, this discord is common and rarely criticized or penalized.

The cultural quality of aggressiveness, as suggested above, is certainly one that is valued in Australian rugby. Indeed, aggressiveness is valued in most cases above teamwork. The game itself is based on aggressive behavior, and individual athletes succeed or fail in large measure because of their ability to use aggressiveness to their advantage.

The final cultural marker is that of stability, or an emphasis on stability vs. change. Given that fans prefer that their teams are consistent from season to season, stability is of greater value.


Is conflict good? That depends on which theory about how a structure works that one adheres to and -- even more importantly -- the degree to which the conflict occurs and the consequences of this conflict. In our text in the chapter on conflict, the most interesting way in which to examine conflict in the context of Australian rugby is the interactionist model. This a relatively new model of organizations, and is based on the idea that:

conflict can be a positive force and that in some instances it…[continue]

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