When is a Haka Workshop Most Effective?

group of people doing a Haka
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Recently, I was in Scotland to see the rugby match between New Zealand and Scotland. It was a birthday present from my lover. Since I have been facilitating Haka workshops since 2014, it was extra special to see the Haka of the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, live. It strengthened my conviction that the Haka can be effective for many organizations. But under the right conditions and objectives. This blog tells you when a Haka workshop is most effective and for whom.

What is the Haka again?

The Haka is a traditional expressive dance performed by the Māori, the original inhabitants of New Zealand. It is an essential part of their culture and tradition. The Haka dance is performed on several occasions. For example, there is the powhiri Haka to welcome visitors. Women perform this Haka. Then there is the Peruperu Haka, a battle Haka done by men using axes and spears to challenge the opponent. Finally, there is the Taparahi Haka to enthuse or encourage people. These Hakas are most found on YouTube and are performed during weddings, anniversaries, sporting events, or other gatherings such as funerals.

The All Blacks received this sacred ritual as a gift from the Māori, and they do the Haka before each match. For the Māori, the Haka is a ritual to remind them of who they are and who came before them. The Haka is about connecting with the life energy, Mauri, or Mana.

All Blacks performing the Ka Mate Haka before their match against Scotland (picture: A. de Bree)

For the All Blacks, it’s a ritual that gives them extra strength to play with their heart, body, and mind. And it shows. The All Blacks have won three of Rugby’s nine World Cups and have never finished lower than second place. The team has won more than 75% of all matches!
Despite their mediocre performance, the All Blacks also won the game against the Scots. And even though the Scots were verbally present with a resounding ‘Scotland, Scotland, Scotland!’ from the stands. I am convinced that the Haka plays an important role in their success. And that this powerful dance can also have a positive effect on organizations; If it is applied properly.

The Haka is not mere a party dance

The Haka is a dance accompanied by a song. It is used to impress and challenge others. Expression is essential in the Haka. You use the whole body. There is stamping on the ground, beating the chest, and singing. The facial expression, the pukana, is perhaps the most characteristic of the Haka. The men stick out their tongues, and the women widen their eyes and use their lips to impress. Of course, people have fun, but that is not the workshop’s main goal.

=> Reading tip: The Haka is more than a little dance

The Haka is more than a little dance. My experience and belief are that the Haka workshop is unsuitable for bachelor parties, company parties with partners, or student parties. Of course, these may be great occasions to celebrate something, but I believe the effect of respect for the Haka is less apparent.

In line with this, alcohol does not fit a Haka workshop either. I experienced that the glasses of champagne were already ready before the workshop. But with alcohol in your body, you cannot experience the purity of the Haka and the energy. In doing so, it does not respect the Haka. The same goes for other stimulants, such as mind-altering drugs.

The Haka is also not a success after a sporting endeavor. A few years ago, I gave a Haka workshop to people from a company who had just bicycled from Rotterdam to Amsterdam (about 70 km). A tremendous performance, of course, but there was no energy left to do the Haka well.

Cooperation with respect

The Haka workshop is most effective for people who consciously choose to learn the Haka, dare to step out of their comfort zone, and want to do the Haka with respect. This makes the workshop a sustainable experience and can contribute to various aspects, such as:

  • Connection

The Haka helps with team building. A Haka is only successful if there is a connection between the people. Just as it is important in our daily work. We are all neurobiologically programmed for connection, and during the Haka workshop, participants experience real connection so that there is more empathy and compassion. When there is a connection, it is possible to communicate, collaborate and influence a certain situation.

  • Self-confidence

I did a Haka workshop with a drum band (without drums) a while ago. Their goal was to experience more self-confidence and new forms of expression. During the Haka, they learned to come into the here and now through a breathing exercise. Then there is more peace and focus. At first, they started the Haka hesitantly, but eventually, participants went all out because there was no longer any fear of what others thought of them.

  • Leadership

Successful leaders help others to be successful. The Māori knew that all too well. After a battle, the victorious tribe was allowed to re-enter their village after a purification ritual. The chief entered last and sat remotely watching his tribal warriors. He knew he had done his job as a leader well when people congratulated each other on their success.
Persuasive body language is important to gain the trust of a group. Everyone has leadership qualities, both personally and professionally. Through the Haka, the participants experience that they can use their leadership qualities to achieve their goals.

  • Mission

One of the purposes of the Haka is to impress through expression. If participants experience connection and self-confidence and are aware of their leadership position, they can live their mission, vision, or purpose. I regularly witness that participants of the Haka workshops recommit themselves to their values and those of the organization. I also often hear people becoming aware of why they do their job.

  • Pride

When you do the Haka with respect and conviction, pride radiates from the participants. I see people who allow themselves to be present and proud.

“Successful leaders balance pride with humility: absolute pride in performance; total humility before the magnitude of the task.”

—James Kerr, Legacy

I enjoy working with teachers, healthcare workers, engineers, and other professionals. They are often proud of their work and aware of the importance of connection. It is wonderful to see how expressive they can be when they are aware of the connection, self-confidence, and responsibility for their performance’s success.

=>Reading tip: Experiences with the Haka

The group must be ready

It must feel good to do a Haka. If a Māori elder feels that the group or the environment is not good enough for a Haka, then he (or she) will not do a Haka.

That is why it is important to prepare in advance. It is important to me to know where the group is going and how the Haka can contribute to it in the best possible way. I also need to know what is currently going on within an organization. I recently gave a workshop for a company on the eve of a major reorganization. The Haka then focused more on personal responsibility and leadership. Then it is not useful if the Haka focuses on connection and team building.

The right setting: safety first

Can a Haka workshop be given anywhere? In principle, yes. I was able to give a Haka workshop in the Olympic Stadium, in gyms, and in parks. The main importance is that it is safe for the participants.

That means if a Haka workshop is done in a public area, someone should be there to answer any questions or comments from passersby. I want to stay with the group and not be distracted by people outside the group.

This also applies to Haka workshops in meeting rooms (of hotels, conference centers, cafes, or restaurants). There is a lot of noise (screaming and stamping). Other groups will suffer from this. Employees of the venue invariably say that it will not be too bad. It doesn’t! Recently, after fifteen minutes, a waiter ran into a room and asked if we could move to a room in the back of the venue. I had warned them the interruption costs time to escort the participants to another room and to get the setting right again so that the Haka could be experienced powerfully.

That also means that the space for a Haka must be good. People should preferably not walk in and out. It should (also) be quiet. There should be no chairs (people will sit on them) and no (bar) tables (people will lean on them). That causes a loss of energy. Finally, the acoustics must be good. There must also be sufficient ventilation for fresh air. Last week I was with 100 people in a room that was too small with many windows. Even though I brought a sound amplifier, not everyone could hear me.

That is why it is important to prepare and discuss the right setting in advance so that participants have an optimal and safe experience of the Haka.

Duration and group size

Does a Haka workshop take a lot of time? That depends on your goals and how much time you want to spend on it as an organization. I once gave a Haka workshop of 2.5 hours. That was very valuable because there was enough time to talk more about the origin of the Haka, the meaning, and the experience of the dance. The participants can also experience the Haka more intensively.

But I also have facilitated Haka workshops for 200 people for 20 minutes. Then the participants can taste what the Haka is.

I prefer to work with a group of up to 30 people for an hour to an hour and a half. During my workshops, I talk about the background and the meaning of the Haka. I believe the Haka is most powerful when the participants know what they are doing and why. A Haka is successful if there is connection and unity. That doesn’t work well with large groups and within a short time frame. The ideal duration of a Haka workshop is one and a half hours to practice the Haka. Then the participants can experience the power of a Haka as they give and receive it.


Do you want to learn a Haka with your team? Depending on the length of time and the objective, I may teach you unique Hakas for more connection, to let go, to increase self-confidence, to become aware of energy, and for more inspiration for leadership on a personal and professional level. I give the workshops in Dutch, English, German, or French.

Contact me today to find out how the Haka workshop can work best for you.

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Have you seen an error in this article? Let me know! I am grateful!

-James kerr, Legacy, 15 Lessons in Leadership
-Wira Gardiner, Haka: a living tradition

Featured image credits: Leonard Silvis

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