Clive Woodward’s Teamship
22nd of November 2003. In the Telstra stadium the Australian Rugby team faced off England in the Rugby World Cup final. Australia, the hosts, took an early lead in a physically brutal match but England gradually pulled ahead towards the end of the first half. There then followed a nail-biting second half. Australia equalised, England pulled ahead and Australia equalised again in the last minutes, forcing the final into extra time.
As if the tension couldn’t get greater, Johnny Wilkinson and Elton Flatley went toe to toe, each kicking a penalty in extra-time to once again level the scores. In the final 21 seconds of the match, in the 100th minute, England pulled together in an outstanding example of a team working as a single mind.
The match-winning play was a combination of the tried and trusted as well as a flash of inspiration from scrum half Matt Dawson. After Mike Catt’s burst upfield from Lewis Moody’s lineout take, Dawson dummied and darted forward to take England to within 15 metres of Australia’s line. Neil Back and Johnson combined to gain England more ground. Dawson retained possession and at the perfect moment fired the ball to his fly-half who calmly finished off the determined Wallabies after almost 100 minutes of breath-taking rugby. Scrum.com
I watched the game in Kenya at the end of a long exercise in Archer’s Post. If you’re a rugby fan, you probably remember where you were when you watched it.
Don’t Bother Asking Simply ‘How Can We Be More Efficient?’
The hero of the game was Wilkinson. But far more influential in securing the World Cup was Clive Woodward. Woodward coached England from 1997 to 2004. His philosophy for the team is widely credited with turning them into the winning team in 2003. It was a process that took 6 years and a failed World Cup attempt on the way
Sometimes leadership inspiration comes from unexpected places. In a second-hand book shop this summer I came across a copy of Winning! The Story of England’s Rise to World Cup Glory. It’s a real gem and I’ve since found it on a military leadership reading list. I can see why.
Woodward believes that great performances come from great leadership. It’s a theme he constantly repeats throughout the book. He thinks the most important question a leader has to ask is not ‘how do I make my team play better?’ but rather ‘what and where must my team be to win?’
Other coaches before me had asked themselves ‘How can we be victorious with what we’ve got?’ or, in other words, how could you coach and manage the players effectively to earn victories. To me the question was flawed; I took a different view. Instead, I started with an end in mind – winning – and then worked out what it would take us to get there. I asked myself, ‘if our goal is winning against the best teams in the world, what would our organisation need to have in place in order to succeed consistently?’
This is a great definition of the difference between leadership and management. A manager will ask how can we optimise and be the best with what we have. That’s important; in fact it’s critical. But it limits what you can achieve because you aren’t asking the question ‘how do I correctly define success and once I have, what do I need in place to achieve it?’
Even if you improve your team so it’s 20% better at what it already does, unless you’re willing to ask yourself exactly what the team needs to be doing and what skills it needs, you risk being highly efficient at the wrong thing. That’s true in business, sport and combat.
The most difficult thing, both for Woodward and for a military leader, is that it takes time and effort to ask yourself that question. Time to think, time to get the best ideas from everyone, and time to get everyone to buy in.
Teamship and the Long Term View
But for me there is another factor that shows Woodward was right on the money: He took a long term view.
On the second day we brainstormed new ideas … We eventually agreed on forty key improvements which would take almost two years to implement.
Forty improvements that would take two years to implement? Given that your command tour will probably only be two years long you might ask whether it is possible to set two-year goals and, even if it is possible, why you would even bother.
Well park your ego. I’d respond by saying that a leader needs to measure his success by how good his team are after he’s gone. One long-term method Woodward used was using what he calls teamship. He talks about it in this video.
He thought that winning performances required an effective influencer at the helm but, importantly, the influencer needed to create a sense of ‘being as one’ in vision, culture, values, standards and strategy. Once he’d got the team and the leader ‘being as one’ Woodward got the team to write their own set of standards that everyone had to buy into and accept.
In the England rugby team they were enshrined in the Book of Teamship Rules. Every new player signed up to when they joined. It meant everyone knew the standards, the team enforced it themselves and new players could understand the standards from the start. It also had a very important long term effect – even if the leader wasn’t around, the combination of being at one with the team and the team having written its own rules meant the effect was long term. Something that would last beyond the leader’s tenure.
For me, this is a winning leadership plan:
- Ask not ‘how can we do better with what we’ve got’ but ‘what and where do we need to be to win’
- Ask ‘what changes do I need to make over the long term of my tenure’ in order to leave the team in the right place, even after you’ve left
- Get your team to buy into the vision, culture, values, standards and strategy. Then get them to write their own Book of Teamship Rules
How do you do all that? I can’t pretend I’ve managed it every time I’ve been in command. But Woodward’s book is a great description of how he did, culminating in an outstanding World Cup win on the 22nd of November 2003 (and a suitably outstanding hangover for me on the 23rd of November 2003).
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Media Credits: Images © Crown Copyright under Open Government Licence v3.0 and © Doha Stadium Plus Qatar under creative commons licence 2.0