This month I was privileged to hear Sir Clive Woodward speaking to an audience over dinner in the Isle of Man. The man most famous for leading the England Rugby team to victory in the World Cup in 2003 and then overseeing the outstanding performances of British athletes in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games shared some inspiring insights into the building blocks of people, teams, and the culture created by their leaders. I was struck again by how much business can learn from sports, a topic we have touched on before.

Those that win at IT tend to win

Many people mocked the tactics of Sir Clive when he introduced laptops for every England player as he took over the squad in 1997. But central to his thinking was absolute clarity on performance. Clive bought Prozone software to give data on every single player’s performance metrics in a game and to complement what traditionally was seen purely through the human eye and on videos. Further, the players couldn’t hide from the truth, so not only would they contribute more in every game but they would own their analysis of performance. From the players being hugely sceptical of such scrutiny at the outset, it created an honesty that underpinned their high performance culture.

The team created a four stage process:

  • capture information about their performance
  • identify winning moves
  • practice executing winning moves
  • benchmark how they were doing

This whole approach was driven by having better data than any other team. Those that win at IT tend to win.

Great teams are made of great individuals

Were the All Blacks or Australians better individual players than the England team? Or did they have a different mind-set? Sir Clive focused incessantly on the character of his players. From taking his players on drills with the Royal Marines to encouraging them to come up with their own Team Rules, Clive was looking for the right attitude. And if a player, however good on the field, didn’t display the right attitude off the field then that player was removed from the squad. The team would turn up 10 minutes before every meeting. No-one was ever, ever late, because that was a commitment they had made to each other. But top of the list of things that Clive expected around attitude was obsession. Being obsessed with details, with planning, with performance and with standards. So when England were down to 13 men against the All Blacks in 2002 with a scrum against them 5 metres from their line, they didn’t panic; they had practised this scenario before. They were obsessed with details – and they won the game.

Talent alone is not enough

To move from being a talented player to a champion, Clive focused on 4 things. Talent, learning, thinking, and hard work. He wanted players with a ‘sponge’ between their ears not a stone, to soak up the information, the feedback, to be open-minded to new ideas and ways to improve. He mocked up pressure scenarios that the team might encounter so they would make correct decisions when under pressure in a game. The lead up to Jonny Wilkinson’s winning drop goal in the world cup final against Australia had been played out before. It was the right call, it was executed perfectly. It came from thinking correctly under pressure.

So the man that made his name in creating sporting excellence is now sharing his experience and wisdom in the business community. From coaching executives at Google, to developing teams in business, Sir Clive guides his audience to unlock extraordinary performance. An inspiring evening with the great man.

And now it’s time to turn these lessons into action…