Optimist Performance

England and the rest of the Guinness Six Nations squads head into camp this week and one thing is certain: they’re all bloody good rugby players. So what’s the job of the coaching staff?

Tactics and organisation are important at this stage but I would argue that two things stand head and shoulders above everything else. Both can relate to every one of us in our daily lives: leadership and team culture.

leadership and team culture

To take England as an example, reflecting back on 2003 there’s always a temptation to focus on Clive, Johnno and Jonny. The mastermind, the captain, the kicker. All three were exemplary in what they did and their work ethic on and off the field of play and practice constantly set a benchmark for all the others to follow. But around them in the dressing room stood yet more leaders, role models, army officers, former captains, future captains.

We’re talking about guys like Jason Leonard, Lawrence Dallaglio, Phil Vickery, Richard Hill, Matt Dawson and Neil Back. Or Lewis Moody, Mike Tindall, Mike Catt, Will Greenwood, Ben Kay, Jason Robinson and Josh Lewsey. Do you think they needed to be told how to train or what to eat? Probably not, but neither did that happen by accident.

Together they were an exceptional generation of players, but over a period of time they installed a set of guiding principles by which they trained, ate, slept, drank, recovered, met, spoke to each other, spoke to the media, all before even stepping onto a rugby pitch. Out of respect for each other, they were living common values and that is what we call building a strong team culture.

Of all the teams heading into the Six Nations, Ireland are probably closest to this at the moment. It’s no coincidence that their coach Joe Schmidt is a kiwi. In rugby, the All Blacks have pretty much stood out on their own in terms of living a team culture, certainly over the past 10 years. I’ve experienced the trickle-down effect of playing them in sevens. You only need to read about their ‘Sweeping the Sheds’ mantra in James Kerr’s great book Legacy 15 Lessons in Leadership. “Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done” is just one great quote that comes to define their powerful blend of pride and humility.

Same principles can apply to any environment

Living by a common culture is essential in elite sport but the same principles should apply to any team or environment. Getting the best out of people is the same, whether they’re playing in the Six Nations, competing in the Square Mile or running a pub in the Lake District.

Cycling across the States and sailing around the world I was part of a team made up of very different people, like any business. That in itself required us to adopt a common set of values, a culture, without which we would almost certainly have failed.

So whoever you support over the next couple of months, ask yourself this: Is our team culture what it needs to be in order to reach and exceed our targets in 2019?