Take The Three meets … Sir Clive Woodward – Part 1: Teamwork and Coaching

Famed for masterminding England’s victory at Rugby World Cup 2003, Sir Clive Woodward was a pioneer of many tactically brilliant systems which put the England team ahead of its rivals. 

At a recent event hosted by Sharp Business Systems, Take The Three had the privilege of getting Sir Clive’s thoughts on a range of different topics from his experience at the reigns of England Rugby to Eddie Jones’ current set-up. In the first of a two-part interview, Sir Clive talked about his coaching experience and gave us his thoughts on how to build the perfect team. 


Take The Three: Sir Clive, how would you summarise teamwork?

Sir Clive Woodward: Teamwork is fundamentally about trust. In some of the most successful teams I’ve run in sport and business, sometimes deep down people within that set up don’t necessarily get on well together. That doesn’t matter. What you need to do is determine how these people can really collaborate and work together and then a huge amount of trust comes through. If you trust the person either side of you, if you know he/she has put in the hard yards, and you get a trust and respect, teamwork happens.

TTT: How do you bring people together with different agendas to a common goal?

SCW: I used to encourage everyone to think about what they’d do if they were writing their own book in the context. It doesn’t matter what area of specialisation – whether it’s players, coaches, a range of sports scientists, IT people, all with different skill sets – the idea is to break down their book into chapters and then look further at how they’d break down their chapters.

I would ask them to put all their knowledge into this ‘book’ on a regular basis. The idea of writing this book is that you had to be able to articulate it to anyone reading it and everyone could look at it and this information could be shared. It was important for me as head coach to see what was happening on the IT side, for example and unless they could articulate it properly to me, it wasn’t going to work. It was the same for me – all of my stuff went into my book and anyone was able to look at it.

The whole idea of this was that we had our main objective of being the best team in the world and winning the Rugby World Cup but, if you’re going to make the objective more achievable, you need to be able to break it all down and look at all the different areas.

The other thing that I used to say is that this is a book that will never end. Everyday you’re adding more thoughts, more information, more knowledge, more learning and that’s the way I think you get collaboration – by having everybody able to read it, even if they’re not in the same area.

TTT: What results did you see from this across the team?

SCW: The result was that we were quite pleasantly surprised when people who had nothing to do with the main coaching set-up would ask, “Have you thought about this?” So you’d get a doctor or an IT person coming up with a different point of view. You never dismiss them because they haven’t got the same skill set – in fact some of the best ideas came from people who had nothing to do with coaching the rugby team but who could look at things through a different lens. You have to be able to share – even if it might open you up to a bit of ridicule – and that in turn develops trust.

TTT: How do you deal with mavericks in a team?

SCW: I’m a huge believer in the individual, that great teams are made of great individuals – often asked how you manage so and so characters – people you may see as a bit maverick and high maintenance. I always choose on talent – I want the most talented people in my teams and my job as the leader of that team is to work out how best to get those individuals to work well together. If there’s an individual who is not going to work well as part of a team, then they’re not going to stay in the team very long.

TTT: How do you get the most out of players of different levels?

SCW: In a rugby team you’re never going to have the 15 best players in their respective positions – and if you did that would be quite a challenging scenario to manage – but you can nurture players who are going to aspire to become what I coined ‘champions’. Through experience and talent certain players will naturally rise out of the group to be leaders of that team.

Rugby is a team game but the secret is to do everything you can to make the individuals better players – if you get dragged too much into the culture of the whole team then you can end up forgetting about the individuals. Invest your time making the individuals better and the elements of teamwork like collaboration and trust naturally kick in.


TTT: How did your business background help steer your management of England?

SCW: I was lucky enough to play for England and the Lions but the best preparation for running the England team was 16 years in business after I left university, including eight years working for Xerox and five years in Australia as a sales director in Sydney. When I came back from Australia I set up my own leasing financing company based on the skills I’d acquired and you learn to take the hits, take the risks, avoid wasting time in meetings, etc.

I saw the England team as a small business and we used to, to a fault, be quick to identify what would work – if you can’t do that in business, you’ll run the risk of failing.

So I’ve worked in sport and business and running a sports team is no different to running a business – there are different people with different skills.

I come back to great teams being made of great individuals. You should invest as much time, money and resource as you have into recruiting the very best talent and skills but the key is to then spend your time continually getting them to improve.

TTT: Did you ever rely on external input from the world of business?

SCW: I used to bring people from the business world into the England rugby team environment. I’d ask them to spend 24 hours sat at the back of the room and when you leave you have to provide at least one new idea of something, anything, that we could do better and we used to implement them. It used to drive me nuts because it would take the likes of a hedge fund manager to come up with an idea, thought or process that we should have thought of ourselves. Of course, in true leadership style, I’d take the credit by saying, “Listen, I’ve had this great idea!”

TTT: How can a leader impact the team around him?

SCW: The current England team is a great example. Eddie Jones has changed things round completely and what he’s done is come in with an absolute clear direction. I’ve known Eddie for a long time – we competed against each other – and he’s a great coach with a clarity of thought and a clear mission for the team. Every player knows where they stand; there’s an element of honesty.

He’s set a clear vision to win the Rugby World Cup in 2019; he knows what he wants to do and how the team will get there and his selection has gone to a different level.. The way of playing hasn’t changed dramatically but there’s a clearer goal. The players are completely different people rather than seeming like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They’re not sidetracked. They’re getting back to basics.

Sir Clive Woodward was speaking at an event focusing on teamwork, hosted by Sharp Business Systems.



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