There’s no room for ego driven Machiavellians in your startup team

One of the key drivers of an effective startup is the alignment, collaboration and shared values of the team. There is no room for slackers, know-it-alls, passengers, backstabbers or Machiavellian egos. But what happens when the behaviour of one individual puts themselves and their personal interests above the business and team?

We all know the damage and acrimony they can cause to a team’s morale and reputation, but how do you repair and recover from the destructive action of such an individual? Boris Johnson is a good example of such a renegade. He’s always stood outside from his collective responsibility, even at the top table in Government as Foreign Secretary. With his cultivated air of toffish buffoonery, he was a man out of time and place with C21st team oriented culture.

Last week he saved us further damage from his grotesque incompetence, showing flagrant disregard for cabinet collective responsibility and exposing himself as a self-serving charlatan, making even his resignation a set piece of rhetorical bombast for the British public.

A man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience or scruple, his ambition and superficial charm far outstrip his judgment or principles. Characterised by a calculated appeal his own self-worth, he will always be remembered as the man who made promises on the side of a bus that he had no intention of keeping. The casual dishonesty has had devastating consequences.

His resignation serves as a perfect metaphor for the tragedy and hypocrisy of Brexit, leaving the Government and its strategy up the proverbial creek, a recklessness that looks like courage in the eyes of his supporters, but which destabilises and sabotages the work of policy making and diplomacy.

Johnson has a long-proven record of mendacity, duplicity, dishonesty and careerism – he merely saw another opening in his Ophidian career and took it, never knowingly taking a leap into the abyss. Just as a fragile basis for Brexit negotiation emerges, his selfish drive for attention threatens that.

So how do you counter this sort of behaviour if it was to happen in your startup team? Say your maverick sales leader, always temperamental and prone to doing their own thing and frequently at loggerheads with you, storms out over a spat over pricing on a sizeable deal – the final act of a dysfunctional relationship, claiming a ‘disagreement over strategy’ yet in reality, the intimacy of a startup required more humility and collegiate thinking.

It creates unrest and destabilises the team – just like the Government, a bunch of people who are individually all smart and competent, but somehow as a team just aren’t together. So why is it that things come off the rails? The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to ‘row together’. He explores the fundamental causes of organisational politics and team failure, and identified five dysfunctions of teams:

  • Absence of trust: an individual is unwilling to be vulnerable within the group, and creates a sense of self-imposed isolation from the team
  • Fear of conflict: seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate, ultimately is not bought into the team based decision making process or outcomes
  • Lack of commitment: feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organisation – everyone knows it, but it remains unspoken, thus creating discord and fractured trust
  • Avoidance of accountability: ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour, which sets low standards – again, looking to protect their own position and not sit alongside colleagues
  • Inattention to results: focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Recognise these traits? So how do you regroup and reunite the team when a rebel causes such a self-destructive explosion? For me, whilst it’s the individuals operating with different mindsets within the team that causes the dysfunctional schisms, the place to start is with results.

Talk to your team about the results that they need to be getting that it isn’t getting, removing discussion about the disruptor, and you develop agreement among the team on the outcomes, which is what a team is all about – working together to achieve something. And then you get to ask the question, what’s happening in our team that prevents us from getting the results that we all believe we need? You need to instigate a transparent dialogue on performance.

So, you start to work backward, and from results you go to the question of behaviours: how are we acting in a way that is preventing us from getting the results we need and the work relationships we need? You start to identify the behaviours that are associated with an ineffective mindset.

Then you work backward one more step, which is to help the team identify how the mindset that they’re operating from is generating these behaviours which is getting them the results different from the results we’ve agreed we all want. So it’s a two or three step process, but it starts with the results.

Leaders are generally better at being transparent than they are curious in terms of looking to address these mindset issues, better at sharing their point of view than expressing curiosity about how other people think about the situation, or what they think about what the point of view is that they’ve just expressed.

The reason that it’s so important to ask questions is that’s the way in which you begin to surface what is on everyone’s minds, helping shape and opening up the new team culture as to what their concerns and motivations are. If you don’t do that, you’re just guessing that what you have in your head about your team is right, and if you plan a strategy based on that, it’s very easy to be off the mark and for your strategy to fail.

Part of being transparent is sharing what you’re thinking, and sharing how you got there, essentially, making your private reasoning public so people can share their reasoning with you and react to yours. Having removed a poisonous ego from the team, don’t replace that ego with yours. Leadership is about helping the team identify where they need to go to next, not imposing your own solution.

Having started an open dialogue to repair the broken culture, you are on the way to reestablishing trust in the organisation. Trust is everything, it is the bedrock when building a high performing startup team. Trust is the knowledge that people can be trusted to do the right thing when things go wrong.

Creating a culture where bravado is absent builds a continuous self-appraisal and peer review of how things are being done, and is a powerful way to increase accountability that will drive performance and trust. As the leader you want to get the balance right – you are taking charge without taking over, giving a sense of purpose. There are some specific actions to accelerate the recovery into your startup, such that the walk out of a big ego is soon forgotten.

1. Set the vision, and establish milestones to achieving the vision As leader, it’s down to you to set the goal for the group. It doesn’t have to be a vision with a capital ‘V’, just paint a picture of what you want to accomplish over the next few years.

You don’t want you’re team saying what the heck are we doing? Where is this leading us? The vision also needs milestones. People want to know how they’re doing in relation to their goal. Milestones let you tell them.

2. Agree on ‘rules of the road’ Basically, how are we going to run his business now we’ve got the bad egg out of the way? Try out new ways of talking and listening, routines and styles. Refresh to remove the old chunky ways of working, put some personal freedom of voices, choices and space into the working environment and set a new rhythm, whilst also focusing on the results everyone has signed up to deliver.

3. Build new structures and processes that enable creative collaboration When attempting to carve new realities, explicitly encourage your startup team to start experimenting again with different thoughts, relationships, and actions in order to learn what happens and what works. The emphasis is less on getting things right the first time and more on being attentive to feedback, adjusting, and trying again. Put learning back into the heart of the business agenda.

4. Think of your work as a craft, not an assembly line Maybe things had got tense and too serious, and the pressure valve opened up as a result of pent up anxiety. In describing China’s transition toward a socialist market economy, former Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping used an evocative image of discovering, rather than planning and solidifying everything before starting: We are crossing the river by feeling for stones.

This is a lovely analogy of thinking about progress, so maybe take a step back and refocus more on creativity and innovation than simply ‘getting stuff done’ and scaling.

5. Sense and respond In a startup it’s important to ‘feel the pulse’, being in touch with everyone to have a sense for the hidden and silent things. Schedule regular informal face time with each of your team, don’t underestimate the importance of ‘checking in’. When it doesn’t happen, you can see the team start to gradually drift into their own quiet corners.

In a startup team there is a high degree of flux at any moment in time. There is no paradigm, no precedent, there is nothing. You have to carve it. To carve a new world means to bring forth something new by patiently and gradually working, with a sensitive hands-on connection, with the particular reality in front of you. It means the opposite of imposing a fully formed idea of what you think must be. Don’t lead the metaphorical charge, lead the thinking.

When we collaborate, by sharing ideas we strengthen relationships, joined up thinking creates momentum and a sense of purpose. Working together, we achieve so much more. Losing a Machiavellian personality, no matter how selfish and destructive they are, will cause immediate challenges and uncertainty, but in reality, many like Boris Johnson are energy sappers, not energisers to the team. But you can recover, and move forward.

Everyone matters in a startup. If you’ve got a Boris Johnson in yours, just reflect on their real impact on results, morale and teamship. Read the signals above the noise. Remove the egos. For Boris, what passed for disarming eccentricity was ultimately exposed as cringemaking incompetence. Long ago, it became that the veneer of faux levity and badinage encased no hidden depth in a constant night of the long knives. His ego saw himself in Churchillian terms, whereas for me, I cast him as a character for a remake of Blackadder, in a blond wig.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: building your startup team

Lean startup thinking is based around the concept of a MVP as a means of sharing your product vision with your target customers, containing sufficient value to attract early adopters. Asking the right questions of your MVP is key, it’s as much a process as a pilot version of your product, and guides you broadly around your business model assumptions, many based on your hunches.

Testing all aspects of the business model, not just the product features, is vital, and this applies to developing your ‘Minimum Viable Team’ (‘MVT’)?  As Steve Blank states, a startup is a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Having a talented team is an essential ingredient to startup success and scaling, as any aspect of the business model.

Most startup founders work on the basis that they will find the folks they need to scale their business either by word of mouth within the startup community, or within their own network, when they need them.  Alas experience tell us those serendipitous moments don’t always occur. The route of chance isn’t always successful, or even best financially in the longer term.

So what are the key considerations in your startup team building strategy, when seeking to create a key part of your business growth engine? Here are some thoughts.

1. Hiring Philosophy

What is the vision for your MVT in terms of its purpose, values and principles held as underlying attributes that will make a difference?

Rockstars gives leverage You’re looking for rockstar starters who can create 10x more leverage – ‘moonshot thinking’ –  than an average employee. The effectiveness gap between employees can be multiple orders of magnitude. In startup hiring there are few shades of grey, go for those that can add rocket fuel to your momentum.

Culture-contributors are better than culture-fitters A startup culture is part of the business model and customer experience. Just like we want people to contribute new skills and ideas, we want people to contribute new culture. Hiring culture-fitters does not make your culture better. The founding team will soon be outnumbered by new hires. They will decide your future culture, not you.

Hire for potential & learning not experience & experts Potential and experience are not mutually exclusive, but potential is far more valuable. Everyone usually hires for experience, but for a startup my view is to hire those whose potential will explode when they join you, pulling you along with them. Interviewing for experience is easy because you are discovering what someone has done. Interviewing for potential is hard because you are predicting what they will do. How do you do this? They get excited talking about what they could do rather than what they have done.

Static expertise quickly becomes obsolete. To survive and grow we must be a learning organisation. The clearest signal of a learner is curiosity. Curious people, by definition, love to learn, while experts talk about what they know.

Experimentation is a crucial mechanism for driving breakthroughs in any startup. If you want to create a successful, hyper-growth company, you’ve got to focus on empowering your teams to rapidly experiment.

Hire for difference not similarity There is a natural bias to hire people ‘like us’. Fight this bias. Hiring similar means we value repeatability and efficiency over creativity and leverage. Hiring different brings new skills, paradigms, and ideas, which are the sparks and catalyst of leverage. You will naturally want to hire people you connect with. Fight your instincts.. Don’t default to ‘she’s like one of us’.

2. Focus on Personality

Simply, what sort of people did we want in our team alongside us on our startup journey? I’ve developed this simple framework, a combination of attitudes, character and behaviours, to check for ‘togetherness’. They are:

·     Openness: We look for free spirits, open-minded folk who will enjoy the startup adventure and new experiences – the highs and the lows.

·     Conscientiousness: A startup can be a bit chaotic and disruptive, so we look for people who are organised and dependable.

·     Extraversion: We look for energisers, live-wires who tend to be more sociable and keep noise and energy levels up – not office jesters, but people who can keep the lights burning

·     Agreeableness: High scorers for this trait are often trusting, helpful and compassionate. Empathy is an invaluable trait to have when building your startup to balance the searing ambition.

·     Emotional stability: People with high scores for this trait are usually confident and don’t tend to worry often.

We are social creatures, and a deeper understanding of who we (and others) are can provide a valuable tool for working with others. You can build a more effective MVT using personality traits as part of your hiring decision.

In terms of the attitudes and behaviours we sought, these maybe summarised as follows:

They would much rather act than deliberate Generally, startup business plans are less useful than the planning process, as things change so quickly. Before the plan shoots out of the printer, things have already changed and ‘the plan’ is already outdated. Stuff happens.

Very few startups resemble their original plan, and that’s a good thing, because it means they’re pivoted and reshaping their businesses to meet the needs of their customers. Great startup employees are the same way.

They have an appetite to get out of the building Great start up people obsess over the customer, they understand calories are best spent making a real difference for customers. Every business has finite resources. The key is to spend as much of those resources as possible on things that matter to the customers. Fretting over trivial things doesn’t help anyone. It’s just a waste of energy.

They don’t see money as the solution to every problem One of the key lessons founders learn in a startup is resourcefulness. How do you take limited resources and turn them into something remarkable? That’s also true of the best startup employees. They’re remarkably resourceful. They’re constantly looking for creative ways to make the most of the resources they have.

3. The concept of ‘Tour of Duty’

Start-ups succeed in large part because their MVT is highly adaptable, motivated to go the extra mile and create something different. However, entrepreneurial employees can be restless, searching for new, high-learning opportunities, and other startups are always looking to poach them.

However, if you think all your MVT will give you lifetime loyalty, think again. Sooner or later, most employees will pivot into a new opportunity. When Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn, he set the initial employee engagement as a four-year ‘tour of duty’, with a discussion at two years. If an employee moved the needle on the business, the company would help advance her career. Ideally this would entail another tour of duty at the company, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.

A tour of duty has a defined end, but that doesn’t have to be the end of an employee’s tenure. One successful tour is likely to lead to another. Each strengthens the bonds of trust and mutual benefit. If an employee wants change, an appealing new tour of duty can provide it within your company. This is a more effective retention strategy than appealing to vague notions of loyalty and establishes a real zone of trust.

The tour-of-duty approach for a startup works like this. The business hires an employee who strives to produce tangible achievements and who is an important advocate and resource in the MVT. A tour-of-duty is established, either two or four years. Why two to four years? That time period seems to have universal appeal. In the software business, it syncs with a typical product development cycle, allowing an employee to see a major project through. At the end of this ‘tour’, the business could pivot to a new direction, and thus the MVT needs to pivot too.

Properly implemented, the tour-of-duty approach can boost both recruiting and retention for a startup. The key is that it gives both sides a clear basis for working together. Both sides agree in advance on the purpose of the relationship, the expected benefits for each, and potentially a planned end.

The problem with most employee retention conversations is that they have a fuzzy goal (retain ‘good’ employees) and a fuzzy time frame (indefinitely). The company is asking an employee to commit to it but makes no commitment in return. In contrast, a tour of duty serves as a personalised retention plan that gives a valued employee concrete, compelling reasons to finish her tour and that establishes a clear time frame for discussing the future of the relationship. Personalised tours produce even positive feelings.

Thus when working with MVT employees, establish explicit terms of their tours of duty, developing firm but time-limited mutual commitments with focused goals and clear expectations. Ask, ‘in this relationship, how will both parties benefit and progress in the lifetime of the MVT?’

4. Lessons from Google

A company’s culture and core values are the bedrock of innovation and effective teams, and Google has established a suite of practices for you to use when building your own effective startup team.

Back in 2013, Google conducted a rigorous analysis deemed Project Aristotle to identify what underlying factors led to the most effective Google teams. Over 200 interviews were conducted across +180 active teams over the course of the two-year study. More than 250 attributes were identified that contributed to both success and failure.

Their hypothesis was that they would find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team. Turns out they were dead wrong.

The researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together. Here are the top five keys to an effective Google team, in order of importance:

Psychological safety Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking a risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question or offering a new idea.

Dependability On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs. the opposite – shirking responsibilities). Perfection is not optional. The enemy of great is good. Always strive for the best possible product, service or experience.

In a decentralised team working remotely, this core value is extremely important. Always trust your teammates are doing their best work with good intentions. Don’t jump to conclusions or judgments.

Structure and clarity An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short- and long-term goals.

Meaning Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary – financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example. The self-directed employee takes responsibility for her own decisions and actions. Having a team that can constantly say “We can figure it out” creates a competitive edge.

Impact The results of one’s work, the subjective judgment that your work is making a difference, is important. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organisation’s goals can help reveal impact. The world’s most precious resource is the passionate and persistent human mind. Get your team to embrace long-term thinking.

Every member of the team needs to embody a growth mindset: the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere.

That media fervour for the unicorn startups and their celebrity founders can suggest that it only takes the one or two entrepreneurs to build exceptional companies on their own, or with a co-founder. I think that’s rarely the case.

Henry Ford once said, Why is it that every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a mind attached? In a startup, minds dramatically amplify the value of hands and they become even more powerful when they’re able to engage with like-minded, stimulated other folk in the team.

Lessons from The Accrington Pals for effective business relationships

Friday morning saw a nationwide two-minute silence at 7.28am, the time when the British, Commonwealth and French forces went over the top a century ago on the first day of The Battle of the Somme.

After this silence, the emotion and poignancy of the #Wearehere tribute evoked a truly human response. Created by Jeremy Deller and Rufus Norris, it was a ‘human memorial’ of the battle, sending silent ‘ghost’ soldiers into cities and towns.

Young men, immediately conspicuous because they were dressed in the dull-green uniforms of World War I mixed with people going about their Friday morning business. They were just there: not speaking, not even moving much. Waiting, expressionless, for who knows what.

A small crowd gathered, taking photographs. A woman caught the eye of one of the men. She tried to speak to him. Without speaking or dropping his gaze, he pulled a small card out of his pocket and handed it to her. It gave the name, rank, age and battalion of a solider who died at the Somme, as well as their place of death.

There was no narrative. They were a presence. Shortly afterwards, the men, as if by some unspoken sign, began to sing, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here – a song of weariness and resignation that was sung in the trenches, and they moved off.

Fought between 1 July and 18 November 1916, the Battle of the Somme was one of the defining events of the First World War. It was the largest battle on the Western front. It saw over one million wounded, killed or missing on both sides of the battlefield – affecting the lives of millions more back home.

There were 19,240 British dead as night fell on the Somme frontline on 1 July 1916, a human catastrophe on an unthinkable scale. The British plan had been that heavy artillery rained down on the enemy defences for days beforehand would make it possible for the British to walk, starting at 7.30am, across no man’s land to take German trenches in time for a good lunch.

The plan failed. German defences were far better than anticipated. German troops had hidden safely in deep dugouts during shelling the previous week and emerged quickly, catching the Allies by surprise and shooting them down in vast numbers.

The Battle of the Somme continued for another 140 days as Britain’s attempts to consolidate its gains quickly degenerated into a series of bloody piecemeal fights for scraps of woods and villages. There was an average British casualty rate of 3,000 a day. Finally, winter weather brought it all to a sodden halt on November 18. The net gain was a strip of land twenty miles wide and six miles deep.

Over the years, it has become the defining symbol of the First World War – of horror, stupidity, and futility, a pessimistic narrative bubbled up through the memoirs of old soldiers and the provocations of writers and artists. A German officer, Friedrich Steinbrecher, put it succinctly:  Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.

Its key moments – the charge ‘over the top’, the waves of men cut down, the stupid optimism and the shattering disillusion – are the central images of the conflict. Look no further than the moving final sequence of Blackadder Goes Forth, in which the protagonists charge into the camera and into nothingness. The battle is never named, but it is unmistakably a picture of first day of the Battle of the Somme.

On 1 July 1916, as cricket was being played in Accrington, 584 men from the town were dead or wounded on the Somme. Several British ‘pals battalions’ – units made up of men all from the same local areas – suffered losses that were devastating for their communities at home

The Accrington Pals is the best remembered of the battalions raised in Lancashire in the early months of the War back in 2014 in response to Kitchener’s call for a volunteer army. Groups of friends from all walks of life in Accrington and neighbouring towns enlisted together to form a battalion with a distinct local identity.

A month after the outbreak of war, the Accrington Observer & Times of 8 September 1914 reported that the War Office had accepted an offer made by the mayor of Accrington to raise a complete battalion. When recruitment began on 14 September, 104 men were accepted in the first three hours. Brothers, cousins, friends and workmates enlisted together; by 24 September the Accrington battalion had reached a full strength of 1,100 men.

The Pals were ordered to France, to take part in the attack on the Somme, the objective was to capture the hilltop fortress of Serre, and form a defensive flank facing north. In the early evening of 30 June, the 11th East Lancashires left camp at Warnimont Wood for an arduous seven-mile trek to the trenches of Serre. At 2.40am on Saturday 1 July, they reached the front line trenches.

At 6.30am, the British artillery commenced its final furious bombardment of the German front line. At 7.20am, Captain Tough led the Pal’s first of the battalion’s four waves 100 yards into No Man’s Land. A few minutes later, the second wave followed, led by Captain Livesey.

At 7.30am, the leading waves rose and walked in line towards the German positions. Machine gun and rifle fire immediately tore into the advancing lines of infantry. One British observer likened the lines of dead to swathes of cut corn at harvest time. Incredibly, groups of Pals defied the machine gun fire, threaded their way through the barbed wire and dropped into the German front line.

All was in vain. Behind, the third and fourth waves suffered dreadful losses before reaching No Man’s Land. The leading companies were cut down, some of the Pals – their officers killed or wounded – pressed on towards Serre, never to be seen again. The remaining survivors in the German front line, bereft of reinforcements, were forced to withdraw. By 8am, the battle for Serre was effectively over.

In its first major action, the Accrington Pals battalion suffered devastating losses. When the roll was called by RSM Stanworth that evening, less than one hundred men answered their names. Records show that out of 720 soldiers who took part in the attack, 584 were killed, wounded or missing. The Accrington Pals were effectively wiped out in a matter of minutes.

Four members of the regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry – drummer Spencer John Bent; Private William Young; Second Lieutenant Alfred Victor Smith; Second Lieutenant Basil Arthur Horsfall.

As The Somme passes over the horizon of living memory, I was struck by a number of thoughts from the commemoration of that first day of battle around the humanity of teamwork. It was the camaraderie that struck me as the lifeblood to the cohorts of soldiers. It is what fuels that spirit of unity and togetherness at times of extreme challenge, and what must have been distress, creating a palpable connection.

However, there were a number of other thoughts I had reflecting on the battle, which I think we can take into our everyday business thinking.

Relationships mean everything During the most adverse encounters a team will ever face, the relationships and friendships between its members bind them together. Hardships create strong bonds within a team, which in turn, serves to strengthen the team even more. Trusting one another will inevitably lead to teams that will overlook individual motives in place of team objectives. Simply put, interaction fuels action and a collective resolve, mental strength in a crisis.

Listen to everyone, but trust your own judgment Imagine the military briefings at 7.28am on 1 July 2016. Leaders gather to discuss mission parameters, variables, strategies and tactics, and while everyone weighs in with their opinion, ultimately, the highest-ranking officer makes the decision. In business, one bad decision may not mean ‘life or death’, but it can have a detrimental impact on the fate of your business.

Every situation you encounter and every decision you make is different. There is no easy or single formula for success. The best leaders are those who listen to everyone, are receptive to advice and seek to learn from others – yet have an unwavering trust and confidence in themselves to always make the best decision possible. At the end of the day, you are accountable for your business, and, as such, trusting your own judgment is paramount.

No one is left behind Wounded and dead soldiers were carried on comrade’s backs and inside crowded vehicles to safety, on to a proper burial, although the names of 72,000 dead and missing soldiers at the Tiepval Memorial shows the scale of the deaths at The Somme.

Everyone counts, and everyone looks out for each other. Everyone crosses the line together. That makes for a highly effective team and for a sense of safety despite the perilous circumstances, just knowing that someone’s got your back. Pulling each other together and watching for each other’s success.

Leading from the front Many of the videos show officers leading the charge out of the trenches and going over the top first. In the Somme, some 17% of the officers were lost, refuting the criticism that they didn’t stand in line. They were often the first to die on the charge up the field. This was literally about leading from the front, and in such circumstances, decision-making isn’t a democracy – the leader is in charge and their behaviour shows this.

Camaraderie In business as in the military, teams have a well-honed sense of camaraderie that helps team members read one another’s signals, move as one, and watch each other’s backs. This sense of commitment and connection is an essential component of effective teams. The more people value their relationships with one another, the better they will perform for one another and thus for the organisation.

We can only imagine the camaraderie that existed in The Accrington Pals, a collaborative and collegiate culture that got things done, working as one. Camaraderie is about creating a common sense of purpose and the mindset that we have a common goal and shared destiny.

Trust Trust in business is an essential ingredient for an organisation to function, a vital element in the emotional contract between leaders and their co-workers, and between colleagues. Without trust, an organisation is morally bankrupt, as the lack of trust eventually manifests itself in customer relationships. Imagine standing in the trenches at The Somme. The need to trust everyone around you, and for them to trust you, to perform and support the effort, must have been absolute.

The 100th anniversary year of The Somme reminds us of the loss of so many ordinary men and their sacrifice, and the devastation suffered by the Pals battalions. The stories show the soldiers worked and lived together, creating an atmosphere and culture of unity, underpinned by empathy, peer camaraderie and trust.

Each aspect of the relationship between the solders offers in their own way insights in terms of how humanity and emotional engagement pervade even the most abhorrent environment. If you replicate the qualities and culture seen in 1916 in your business today, they will effectively leverage collective talents into strategies that will elevate your business performance beyond your competition. #Wearehere, who would have thought that ‘Pals’ would resonate with legacies for business 100 years later?

Hiring an outstanding crew: lessons from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition.

I’ve previously written about Shackleton’s leadership qualities in my blog, and the first leg of his epic James Caird voyage in his escape from the South Pole:

Two weeks on from putting to sea and finding respite on Elephant Island, he began the second leg of his journey, 100 years ago yesterday, when the James Caird was launched from Elephant Island on 24 April 1916, headed for South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 800 nautical miles.

With five companions, Shackelton’s objective was to obtain rescue for the 26 men stranded on Elephant Island after the loss of Endurance. Polar historians regard the voyage as one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever undertaken.

The James Caird was named by Shackleton after Sir James Key Caird, a Dundee jute manufacturer and philanthropist, whose sponsorship had helped finance the expedition. Surviving a series of dangers in tumultuous seas, including a near capsizing, the boat reached the southern coast of South Georgia after a voyage lasting 16 days.

Shackleton’s choices for the boat’s crew were Frank Worsley and Tom Crean. Shackleton was confident that Crean would persevere to the bitter end, and had great faith in Worsley’s skills as a navigator, especially his ability to work out positions in difficult circumstances. For the remaining places Shackleton took John Vincent, Henry McNish and Timothy McCarthy.

The wind was a moderate south-westerly, which aided a swift getaway, and the boat was quickly out of sight of the land. Shackleton ordered Worsley to set a course due north, instead of directly for South Georgia, to get clear of the menacing ice-fields that were beginning to form. Shackleton established an on-board routine: two three-man watches, with one man at the helm, another at the sails, and the third on bailing duty.

Success depended on Worsley’s navigation, based on sightings attempted during the very brief appearances of the sun, as the boat pitched and rolled. Navigation became, in Worsley’s words, a merry jest of guesswork, as they encountered the worst of the weather. Nevertheless, they were still moving towards their goal, and a dead-reckoning calculation by Worsley on 6 May, suggested that they were now 115 nautical miles from the western point of South Georgia.

On 7 May Worsley advised Shackleton that he could not be sure of their position within ten miles. Late on the same day floating seaweed was spotted, and the next morning there were birds, including cormorants which were known never to venture far from land. Shortly after noon on 8 May came the first sighting of South Georgia.

As they approached the high cliffs of the coastline, heavy seas made immediate landing impossible. For more than 24 hours they were forced to stand clear. On 10 May, when the storm had eased slightly, Shackleton was concerned that the weaker members of his crew would not last another day, and decided that whatever the hazard they must attempt a landing. Finally, after several attempts, made their landing. The voyage of the James Caird would be ranked as one of the greatest boat journeys ever accomplished.

As the party recuperated, Shackleton decided he, Worsley and Crean would cross the island on foot, aiming for the station at Stromness. Early on 18 May they began. Since they had no map, they had to improvise a route across mountain ranges and gaciers. They travelled continuously for 36 hours, before reaching Stromness.

The advent of the southern winter and adverse ice conditions meant that it was more than three months before Shackleton was able to achieve the relief of the men at Elephant Island but finally, with the aid of the steam-tug Yelcho. commanded by Luis Pardo, the entire party was brought to safety, reaching Punta Arenas in Chile on 3 September 1916.

Lessons have been drawn from Shackleton’s leadership in planning and executing his expeditions, and how it can be applied to modern business thinking. On the Endurance expedition, it was his ability to assemble an outstanding crew that stands out. Shackleton was surrounded by a team of outstanding individuals, each of whom had a key role to play in the voyage.

So, lets look first at the key Endurance personnel, roles and responsibilities on the expedition, and then the recruitment strategy and process Shackleton implemented to form his team.

Deputy: Frank Wild, Second in Command, was responsible for the day to day operations of the expedition plotting routes, actions and decisions on all aspects of the ship, including responsibility for the crew welfare.

Wild was an inconspicuous figure, yet there was something in his presence that inspired confidence. Wild was left in charge of the men on Elephant Island for the 18 months of isolation.

Wild had a rare tact, wrote Shackleton and the happy knack of saying nothing and yet getting people to do things just as he requires them.

Operations: Frank Worsley, Captain of the Endurance and ultimately responsible for assessing the direction of the ship to the Pole. A native of New Zealand, Worsley ran away to sea at 16, apprenticing on a wool clipper.

Worsley was a master navigator, and the success of the James Caird journey to South Georgia is largely due to his efforts when he navigated 800 miles of dangerous seas. Worsley died in 1943, aged 70 years, his ashes were scattered at sea.

Financial: Tom Crean, Second Officer, and responsible for the expedition’s budget. Born one of ten children in County Kerry, Ireland, Crean was tall and tough as an oak. He had been to the Pole twice ahead of Endurance, with Scott on both the Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions.

For his courage during Shackleton’s 1909 South Polar journey, Crean was awarded the Albert Medal. Crean made the James Caird journey to South Georgia and joined Shackleton and Worsley in the crossing of the island. He returned to Ireland and opened a pub called the South Pole Inn, still there today. He died in 1938.

Creative: Frank Hurley was the Endurance photographer. An independent-minded Australian, he gained a reputation for stopping at nothing to secure a memorable photograph.

His stunning photographs of the Endurance expedition are largely what his reputation rests on today, but he was also a noted WWI photographer. His Paget process photographs of the war are among the only known colour images of the conflict. One evening he came home complaining of feeling unwell. He sat in his chair, had a cup of tea, fell asleep and never woke up.

Special Resources: Charles Green was the Endurance cook. Food played an important role with special diets essential, but Shackleton also used the gathering of the crew at meal times as a key part of his leadership, creating a spirit of camaraderie.

Green joined the Endurance at Buenos Aires, replacing the ship’s original cook, who had been sacked. He cooked imperturbably on the ice floes, and on Elephant Island. When he finally returned to England in late 1916 found that his parents had cashed his life insurance policy and his girlfriend had married someone else! Green died in 1974, aged 86.

Communications: Lionel Greenstreet, First Officer responsible for the official log of the journey and communicating with the crew. He had experience in the merchant service before joining the expedition on the spur of the moment, 24 hours before Endurance sailed, when her original First Officer elected to volunteer for war duty.

Greenstreet saved the log of the Endurance and carried it with him at all times until the subsequent rescue. During WWI he served as captain of a Royal Navy tugboat, and during WWII, served on rescue ships. He died in 1979 at the age of 89 – he was the last survivor of the Endurance expedition.

Human Resource: Dr. Alexander Macklin was the doctor and brought many new ideas to the medical care and attention of the crew using new equipment and technology. In medical school he discovered Nansen’s Furthest North, which ignited in him the desire to become an explorer.

During WWI, Macklin served as a doctor during which he won the Military Cross for bravery in tending the wounded under fire. Macklin joined Shackleton for the Quest expedition and was with Shackleton when he died; to him fell the duty of performing a post-mortem on his friend.

Staffing: Alfred Cheetham was Endurance’s Third Officer. Born in Liverpool, he was a long-time sailor, and had served aboard Morning, one of the vessels sent in relief of Scott’s 1902 expedition. After serving as Third Officer of the Nimrod, he served aboard Terra Nova during Scott’s fatal 1912 expedition.

A small, cheerful man, he was an integral part of the Endurance epic, keeping the sometimes troublesome trawler hands crew under control. After the Endurance expedition, Cheetham served in the Royal Navy, and was killed just weeks before the Armistice. Cheetham had been south of the Antarctic Circle more than any other man, spending nearly four man years there – still a record today.

So that was the oustanding crew, what about Shackleton’s recruitment strategy and process? Shackleton’s initial advertisement in The Times set the tone: Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.

Life on polar expeditions isn’t for dreamers. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest place on earth, covered by a layer of ice three miles thick. The mean annual temperature is -70°F, what type of men wanted to go there? Shackleton was clear in his mind the sort of men he wanted for his crew:

The men selected must be qualified for their work to meet the special conditions. They must be able to live in harmony for a long period of time, without outside communication. It must be remembered that men whose desires lead them to the untrodden paths of the world have generally marked individuality. Character and temperament are as important as ability. I have to balance my types, their science or seamanship weighs little against the sort of chaps they are.

Clear in his mind the sort of men he wanted, what were the key elements to his recruitment strategy?

Build your crew around a core of experienced men Recruit experienced workers to establish a professional environment, they will support younger staff when the going gets tough. Recognise the value of expertise, whatever the age of the individual, and balance your team’s experience and age.

Chose the best management team Surround yourself with the best people you can in senior positions, who share your views of leadership and with whom there is absolute mutual trust, respect and loyalty. Pick people who compliment your management style without being yes-men.

Loyalty, cheerfulness, strength and experience are key qualities for your leadership team. They will have more contact day-to-day with your staff than you, and whilst handling issues and providing advice to the staff, are also your eyes and ears.

Recruit people who share your vision Shackleton made a mistake on his first polar journey by hiring individuals who didn’t fit the bold, risk-taking culture of exploration. For the Endurance he recruited a captain with bravado in spades, he was bold, a little eccentric – a mad-hat just right for the job.

Be different. Shackleton conducted unconventional interviews to unearth unique talent. He sorted applications from candidates into three piles – mad, possible and hopeless. His interviews were freewheeling exchanges, brief but intense. Shackleton believed the touchstone for a man’s spirit was his personality, and his interviews went deeper than experience and expertise, asking questions that revealed a candidate’s personality, values, and perspective on work and life.

Recruit those who had the expertise he lacked Shackleton was not a scientist but that was the purpose of the journey, so he recruited people with superior education and expertise. He liked his key men to be tough, clever and inventive. Hire those with talents and expertise you lack, don’t feel threatened by them as they will help you stay on the cutting edge.

Shackleton built and sustained his crew by constantly reinforcing a personal connection with all his crew individually. His approach to recruiting and leading people provides food for thought we can adopt and apply to business today, offering guidance for hiring your own outstanding crew.

How NASA recruits astronauts: lessons for building your startup team

We stand at a pivotal moment in space exploration. Humankind is making plans to further extend
its reach into the solar system, and NASA is leading the way.

Their orbiting outpost, the International Space Station (ISS), is home to a crew of astronauts from across the world conducting research
and learning how to live and work in space. Their robotic explorers probe diverse regions of the solar system, and they are preparing for a challenging
mission to capture and redirect an asteroid for human

All of this is a stepping-stone to future human exploration of
Mars, and as part of this, we are also witnessing the birth of a new commercial space industry, with two tech entrepreneurs getting involved – Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s startup, Blue Origin, is a JV with Boeing building a space taxi, to deliver astronauts for NASA to the ISS. There is a budding rivalry with Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies – SpaceX. Both men have been moving aggressively to stake claims in manned exploration and new rocket engines. SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send humans to Mars. Over the next two decades, they will develop and demonstrate the technologies and capabilities needed to send humans to explore the red plane. So it’s against this backdrop that as of today, 14 December, NASA is accepting applications for the position of astronaut.

This is very poignant to me, just 34 years too late for my ideal career. Accountant, Actuary and Astronaut were the three career choices my Careers Officer at school suggested – she was a bit lazy when reading the ‘A to Z of Careers’ book. Well, I say suggested, she gave me the book and I didn’t get beyond ‘A’ and convinced her there was an entry for ‘Astronaut’. Only 536 people have been to space, only twelve have walked on the moon. I feel I’ve missed out.

The Apollo space programme has always resonated with me, I was there. I saw Neil Armstrong take his giant leap for mankind from my parents’ living room perched on my grandfather’s knee. I can still recall the black & white images on the television screen. It’s a clear memory of a unique moment in history, and also a poignant and warm memory about my grandfather, who died later that year.

So if you’ve always dreamed of being an astronaut, you’re in luck – NASA is recruiting. Think you have the right stuff to be an astronaut? What are the requirements to apply?

Those interested in applying must be US citizens and have a degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. They must also have three years of professional experience or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Candidates must also pass the long-duration spaceflight physical.

There are also specific physical attributes in the job specification, for example distant visual acuity: 20/100 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20, each eye; Blood pressure 140/90 measured in a sitting position; height between 62 and 75 inches.

NASA will accept applications from 14 December 2015 to February 2016. If you think you’ve got what it takes, you can apply for the job online. The starting salary is $65k, rising to $100k with experience. There will be lots of travel away from home, all expenses paid travel, with overnight allowances.

NASA recruits on a timeline based on a future launch programme, and it’s a 22-month recruitment process was announced in November, and applications close February 2016. These will be reviewed and assessed by September 2016, with informal interviews in December 2016.

Thereafter, medicals and orientations take place (April 2017), short list confirmed (May 2017), and further interviews undertaken until the astronaut class of 2017 is announced June 2017, and they start August 2017. They may get into space between 2019 to 2022.

Whilst professional background, qualifications and physical attributes are important, perhaps it’s surprising to learn that the most extensive evaluation and analysis in the process is of candidates’ soft skill sets, in a framework developed by Charles Pellerin, called ‘4-D’, based around four dimensions, with intuitive and sensory skills on one axis, and logic and emotional the other. This is given a 40% weighting of candidate fit and suitability to the role.

In the 4-D framework, Pellerin developed a 2×2 matrix:

  • Emotional & Intuitive skills: authentic to others, shows mutual respect; respects shared interests; energises collaboration – categorised as ‘Green’ people;
  • Emotional & Sensory skills: authentic and aligned, includes others, keeps to their agreements, high trustworthiness – ‘Yellow’ people;
  • Logical & Intuitive skills: 100% committed and a strong, ‘in the moment’ thinker; expresses reality based optimism, sustained and effective creativity – ‘Blue’ People;
  • Logical & Sensory skills: shows clear accountability and authority in the role for achievable expectations; resists blaming others, is outcome focused – ‘Orange’ people.

The astronaut cohort are thus recruited against these attributes and traits to provide a balance of ‘people types’, as well as their functional expertise – people, teams, ideas and systems are the four key dimensions:

  • ‘Greens’ are people builders, care deeply about people and create strong loyalty. Their roles are training, coaching and leading complex teams, cultivating people and their needs;
  • ‘Yellows’ are team builders, seeking harmonious teams and work with difficult and complex situation to unite them. They lead large, complex teams and create trustworthy relationships;
  • ‘Blues’ are idea builders, fonts of creative ideas, demand innovation, and typically have roles in research and early stage projects, visioning the best possible;
  • ‘Oranges’ are systems builders, disciplined, focused on control and process, skills for managing late phase projects, directing and organising people.

In many ways launching a new business parallels launching a space mission. There’s so much that can go wrong and there’s always the chance that the start-up could fail. According to Bloomberg, 80% of new businesses do fail. In the early days of shuttle launches, the risk of having a catastrophic event – that is, death – was 1 in 9. According to an astronaut saying, There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse, which is a positive mindset to take into your startup.

Astronauts are trained to be expert pilots, but it is their soft skills ability to perform while living on the edge, and knack for succeeding in doing what others say is impossible, which NASA see as what truly sets them apart.

Successful entrepreneurs possess many of these same character traits.  They devote themselves to their business goals and work tirelessly to achieve the necessary momentum to launch their new business.  Launching rockets and new businesses require great skill to guide the projects into an unknown realm. Close examination of human space exploration may provide strategies to help make a new business ‘take off and stay in orbit’.

Successful entrepreneurs are focused on the speed at which they launch their business. They recognise that success comes with patience and hard work too.

The astronaut’s story of sheer persistence, tenacity and of taking pleasure in the journey speaks to anyone who goes into a business for the sake of purpose. The description of the preparation for the launch, the excitement around the possibility of being in space and then awe in being weightless is a great metaphor for building a business and realising a dream, zeroing in on what’s important. Their combination of vision, conviction, and stubborn tenacity make them unstoppable visionaries.

So, think like an astronaut, look to the future, and adopt this state of mind. Think about what the future is going to be and how you can help create it. Just like an astronaut, work on things no one else is working on and be willing to take risks to make discoveries. It’s clear that high soaring embody many of the traits that epitomise high soaring entrepreneurs. One thing for sure, neither is a journey for the meek and timid.

Talent makes capital dance is a phrase I’ve coined to recognise the pivotal importance of talent in a start up, and the people-teams-ideas-systems theme from Pellerin is a useful framework to consider when thinking about your startup team. So what insights can we take from NASA for building breakthrough startup teams? What can entrepreneurs learn from astronauts?

  • Define the importance of human capital in your startup business model
  • Create a long-term road map for talent acquisition and development
  • Remember, you are curating a team for the future, not recruiting individuals for today
  • Don’t treat hiring staff as an admin process, recognise the strategic business value of talent acquisition
  • Have a high regard for soft kills – emotional, logical, intuition and sensory
  • Recruit people who show a desire for learning, who are curious for knowledge curation and development
  • Recruit on attitude, potential and aptitude – skills can be developed by training
  • Ensure there is a cultural fit, everyone is team oriented
  • Appreciate the scarcity of the right talent for your business model, but don’t compromise
  • Understand it is an investment, not a cost
  • Recall NASA’s view – missions fail because we have the wrong people, not the wrong technology – make your startup people centric, not product centric

One perspective is to have a hipster, a hacker, and a hustler on your founding team. Dave McLure has described this combination as the minimum viable team, where he sees attitude and mindset as the key enablers of startup success.

The first couple of months for a startup are a bit like the big bang at the beginning of a rocket from its Launchpad. Lots of key decisions with far reaching consequences get made in a short period of time so at this stage it’s important that the team is both supporting and challenging, stressing the importance of strong characters who can work together.

Everyone in the founding team should test and probe thinking, operate as a sounding board to each other, helping with the emotional challenges of startup life, responding positively to pressure when things don’t go to plan. Certain people thrive in a startup atmosphere, while the unpredictability can drive others crazy. Finding the right blend of ingredients in the perfect startup team isn’t easy.

An individual, who when strapped to a 4.4 million pound bomb being propelled at 7,500 mph from the launch pad, with the responsibility of billions of pounds worth of equipment and years of peoples’ dedicated time on their shoulders, still manages to keep their heartbeat in the 70-90 beats per minute range – the same beat range us mere mortals experience during a brisk walk to the local shop for a pint of milk – that’s when you need an astronaut in your startup. It’s not rocket science, it’s people science.

A team is many voices, but one heart

Wednesday last week marked 100 days until the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and the launch of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour to visit 300 events before arriving at the opening ceremony on 18 September. The full Trophy Tour schedule is here. The 100-day milestone also marks the start of the Festival of Rugby 2015 programme, which will run until to 31 October and match 48 of the tournament, the final.

I can’t wait. I’ve got tickets purchased for selected games, and planning the international food and drink festival to run alongside the schedule of televised games, together with a realignment of sofas and chairs in the front room to optimise viewing for a throng of visitors, and then the events planned at my local rugby club alongside this.

It brings back great memories of England’s victory in 2003, especially that that closing passage of play from the final – the lineout take from Lewis Moody, the break from Matt Dawson, Jonny Wilkinson standing in the pocket and Ian Robertson’s iconic commentary – He drops for World Cup glory. It’s over. He’s done it. Wilkinson’s last-gasp effort was all that separated England and Australia after 100 minutes of rugby and a dramatic extra-time finale.

On 22 November, 2003, captain Martin Johnson became the first player to lead a northern hemisphere side to the world title. I don’t think I’ve ever shouted at the television as much as I did that day, or been as emotional, almost shaking. Australia battled hard and were never out of the game but ultimately fell just short. Here’s what I remember of the game.

The Wallabies started strongly when Tuqiri out-jumped Jason Robinson to a huge Stephen Larkham bomb with just six minutes on the clock, but three Wilkinson penalties soon silenced the home support. In the pouring rain, both sides kept the ball in hand and the England pack began to dominate.

With just 10 minutes of the first half left, Ben Kay knocked on with the try-line beckoning. Minutes later, England silenced the doubters when Jason Robinson magically scuttled over wide on the left after a powerful midfield burst from Lawrence Dallaglio. Jason jumps up and punches the ball into the air. Queue mayhem in our house.

The men in white started the second half as they had finished the first. Johnson led from the front with a towering performance and Dallaglio and flanker Richard Hill out thought and out scrapped the Aussies down the middle of the pitch.  But just as England looked likely to pull away, two careless penalties allowed Elton Flatley to bring his side back within touching distance.

Lancastrian Will Greenwood knocked on inside the Aussie 22 and Wilkinson missed a drop goal as the match entered a tense closing quarter.  Runs from the powerful Stirling Mortlock and ebullient George Smith pushed England back, and as referee Andre Watson prepared to blow for full time, Elton Flatley slotted his third kick of the half to push the match into extra time.

People seem to forget the composure and mental-toughness Flatley had at that moment, ultimately lost in the euphoria of England’s victory, but it was an awesome kick under extreme pressure. Four times Flatley put the ball between the posts, a fine personal game from the inside-centre ultimately on the losing side.

Now the players looked understandably exhausted and when Wilkinson and Flatley again swapped penalties in extra-time, the match looked to be heading into sudden death. Then, just 38 second of extra-time remaining, and everything going to plan. Two breaks up field, then a long pass, Dawson to Wilkinson, who shapes up confidently, and with his non-dominant kicking right foot calmly bangs over the match winner. The World Cup winner. England, World Champions.

For the record:

  • 6 mins: Tuqiri try puts Australia ahead
  • 38 mins: Robinson scores a try after three Wilkinson penalties – England 14-5 ahead
  • 80 mins: Australia haul themselves back level with Flatley’s last-gasp penalty, 14-14
  • 82 mins: Wilkinson’s penalty gives England an extra-time advantage
  • 97 mins: Flatley strikes again to equalise at 17-17
  • 100 mins: Wilkinson’s drop goal wins England the World Cup, 20-17

England: J Lewsey, J Robinson, W Greenwood, M Tindall, B Cohen; J Wilkinson, M Dawson; T Woodman, S Thompson, P Vickery; M Johnson; (captain), B Kay; Richard Hill, N Back, L Dallaglio. Replacements: D West, J Leonard, M Corry, L Moody, K Bracken, M Catt, I Balshaw.

Rugby is a physical game – former England hooker Brian Moore once said If you can’t take a punch, you should play table tennis – but it’s not all about bashing and brawn, there’s plenty of guile and thought. At the margin, with 38 seconds to go, this win was about composure and planning.

In sport and business, self-control is essential, the capacity to make the right decisions when under pressure is a vital leadership trait. Composure is a telling factor in performance whether it contributes to the scoreboard or the bottom-line. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm, but in the frenzy of the storm, holding your nerve, keeping focus and stopping the blood rushing to the head enables you to put your training into practice, and that’s just what England did.

England had a phrase in the 2003 World Cup – T-CUP – Thinking-Correctly-Under-Pressure – for those pivotal crisis moments, taking it from the training ground into the heat of the game. When interviewed after the game, Wilkinson was asked if he’d been nervous, one swing of the boot and England were World Champions? Not really he replied, the last 38 seconds had been six years in the making.

Under Clive Woodward, England had a clear focus on preparation. They had a vision, and worked backwards from that, what did they need to do to be World Champions? Leaving nothing to chance, they prepared for the moment – in the last few minutes of the final, close to the opposition posts, scores level, what’s the move that gives us the opportunity to win?

Watch the video of the move – Johnson, Dawson, Catt and Greenwood all took the planning and learning from the training ground, and with discipline and composure, got the ball to Jonny. The move had been rehearsed many, many times over the last six years, and they made it count when it mattered most.

Composure is the product of an ambitious mentality envisioning and outcome to which we aspire. It requires persistence, vision, discipline, self-belief and patience. Being persistent requires constant thinking and developing the process to create the plan to accomplish our goals as the situation changes. A plan doesn’t require detail, rather it guides our actions to ensure we are always progressing towards accomplishing our goals.

Our mettle is tested as pressure-filled situations create doubt. Having doubt is a natural reaction, which we all experience. But being composed and having a direction and destination we believe in is what helps us to endure and overcome anxiety in the moment. Without having a direction, your head is filled with what I call a box of frogs leaping around, all sorts of stuff going off all over the place, and you’ve no chance of making the right decision. If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. It wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark.

From this vision, Woodward instilled a disciplined thinking into the players, detailing the individual and team development principles he thought essential for a successful team:

Teamship At Woodward’s first training session they did nothing but establish the teamship rules for being part of the squad. There were no rugby balls. Woodward took the time to establish what the team stood for, how it was going to work and what it wanted to be remembered for, before tackling the what, the why and the how of accomplishing the task.

Critical non-essentials Woodward identified a host of smaller items that on their own appeared not to be crucial to the team’s success, but in aggregate they added up. These included being in your seat ten minutes before a team meeting was scheduled to start, changing into new kit for the second-half (no matter the score, we start again), and specialist coaching where needed – this included getting RAF Tornado fighter pilot eye coaches for helping Jonny Wilkinson with focus and accuracy on kicking placement.

Talent & Teachability It’s the base you start from, but talent alone is not enough, it’s too unpredictable to create a winning team. Individuals have to become students, their willingness to learn and accumulate knowledge around their role will give them the awareness of what they need to do to continually. Talent without training is like an octopus on roller skates – there’s plenty of movement but you never know if this is going to be forwards, backwards or sideways.

Pressure Individuals have to have a warrior spirit, said Woodward, meaning they are able to perform well at the critical moment – hence the acronym T-CUP. It’s the job of the leader to constantly put their team under pressure. People aren’t born to perform under pressure, they need to get used to it because only the winners perform their best under pressure.

Practice Woodward created an environment where the team constantly went through hypothetical situations under time pressure to reach a decision. It’s about role-play, after role-play, working through every eventuality so that the team has already gone through the thought processes needed to overcome them. This reduces the chances of coming up against something unexpected in the real world, allowing the team to use the little time they may have to think through the problem. Don’t win against the odds.

Winning culture – the commitment to win. It’s all about attitude. Woodward broke this down into three parts:

  • Obsession with the task: individuals focus on attention to detail and have an uncompromising level of excellence;
  • Responsibility: a readiness to take on their job and ensure they are seen through;
  • Enjoyment: team members have to ask themselves whether their colleagues enjoy working with them, and why.

Beyond number 1 For Woodward, this focused on what he did once the England team was ranked number one in the world, how did he behave, what culture did he instil in the team and how did they continue to improve ‘beyond number 1’?  So when your team achieves its goals, what do you do next?  How do you stay one step ahead of the chasing pack, motivated to bring you down a peg?  How do you maintain a state of mind that avoids complacency?

Woodward’s insightful thinking was built on the platform of back-to-front planning – he started with his vision of winning the World Cup at the Telstra Stadium Sydney, 22 November 2003. He asked the question: What is that World Cup winning team going to look like? and worked it backwards. He didn’t start with the squad he inherited and work forward, building slowly, gradually, pulling the pieces to culminate to a magnificent climax.

Quite the opposite, planning backwards, he knew what his team needed to look like in 2003 when he was appointed in 1997.  Stuart Lancaster has adopted this approach for England’s 2015 World Cup campaign, he’s identified his XV will have more than 500 caps as his platform. Let’s take this thinking into a business context:

Where do we want to be? Where are we now? How will we get there? This is the building block approach towards identifying the winning requirements of your business. If you concentrate on winning in the here and now, your mindset would take you to building a team for today, so it’s about having the courage to focus on both at the same time – the business team of today, and the business team of tomorrow, meaning you’re working in the business, as well as on the business.

Backwards planning means thinking ahead. Thinking backwards changes the focus from whether something might happen to how it might happen. Putting yourself into the future creates a different perspective. Thinking backwards helps to discover and evaluate different scenarios for how the future might unfold. This stops you looking backwards, which I think is a good thing.

Create a team culture of winning. Everyone has to be comfortable with the expectation of winning. Woodward ensured there was no hiding place – don’t look to the person on your left or right, do it yourself; don’t just turn up, make a contribution. He made a winning ethic the team ethic. He identified those he wanted on his team – energisers, full of drive, fire, intensity, passion, spirit, and those he didn’t – energy sappers, who bleed, deplete, drain, erode, undermine the team.

A team is many voices, but a single heart. On that day in Sydney, England had the biggest heart in the world, underpinned by vision, discipline, clarity and focus. If you build these qualities into your business team, you can create a winning mentality and success for your business.

Now, with 95 days to go to the World Cup, I’ll be keeping an eye on the preparation of England and the All Blacks, my second team. I’m looking forward to the tournament where, as former England forward Gareth Chilcott once said, rugby is a game where you can have a quiet beer followed by several noisy ones.


When Saturday comes – lessons from Manchester City’s success

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for – just one of Stephen Morrissey’s lyrics amongst many, but they sprung to mind on Sunday afternoon when the blue half of Manchester got one over the red half of town and earned the bragging rights, the first time in a generation. A blue moon over Manchester. Not that we often have a red sun, rather grey clouds and rain.

Meanwhile, 30 miles up the road in Burnley, we’re eagerly awaiting the Championship fixtures published 9am 18 June to welcome Bolton and Blackburn, and hopefully Blackpool next season too, where we’ll overcome alphabetical order and be Lancashire’s Number One. Of course, we all ready are and always will be Number One, whatever the statistics of a league table say.

Having previously blogged about Barcelona’s tactical approach to the game and lessons we can take into business, I’ve looked at Mancini’s Marvels and pulled out some thoughts as to the key features of the team’s success, and suggested ten ways in which business owners and managers can likewise raise their own game by learning from their example.

1. Collective pride instead of individual egos. Football, by its very nature, requires teamwork. While big egos are common, long-term success is built on a strong team ethic. Some teams bank on the ability of one star player. However, City stood out in that not only were all the players important, but that no one was indispensable either. Companies should remind themselves that teamwork and group pride are essential for success.

2. Balance between youth and experience. The City team, with an average age of 26, had just the right mix of talented youth and more experienced players. Teams that rely too much on youth often lack the experience needed to flourish. On the other hand, older teams are unable to withstand the physical demands of the season. For companies, having a balanced team enables constant rejuvenation, the transfer of knowledge from seniors to juniors, and takes advantage of youthful irreverence and elder wisdom.

3. Solid leadership. One essential part of Mancini’s success was his captain, Vincent Kompany, who brought discretion, calmness and patience to the role. Firms, like football teams, often struggle due to an absence of strong leadership.

4. Dream big and believe in it. Watching the games over the season I was taken by City’s players’ high level of self-belief. Of course, dreaming big does not by itself guarantee success, what made the difference was that the players seemed to think the dream was attainable. To win a 38 game season in the last two minutes of the final games shows this! The same goes for companies. In order to develop a genuine dream for the company, there must be a shared mission that is bold and big on passion, yet grounded in reality.

5. Professionalism. With their Dubai backers’ deep pockets, City attracted the finest foreign players as a means of reaching the highest levels of competition. This seemed to make the English players in the squad raise their own game. This virtuous circle of continuous improvement has had a huge, positive effect on the team’s technical levels, which impressed throughout the season. Frequently, certain firms – family businesses, in particular – tend to avoid the professionalism process, because they fear change. As a result, they miss out on potential benefits, including enhanced performance and greater longevity.

6. Leverage competition. Fierce competition between the top four clubs in the Premier League has led to higher levels of competitiveness. It is often forgotten that competition can have positive effects on company performance, leading to more innovation, productivity and growth.

7. Faith in strategy. City’s fast-paced, creative style of play meant it could pick other teams apart with relative ease. More importantly, unlike the other teams they always kept the same style, regardless of circumstances. Firms, like football teams, must accept that good strategies often take time to crystallise. Results don’t always come with the first try, and patience is vital in achieving long-term goals.

8. Ability to overcome adversity. City had to overcome the prospect of losing their final game – 1-2 down and into injury time – and yet still went on to win the game and the league. This was the result of strong morale, a collegial atmosphere and a profound passion for what they were doing. Disappointing results are just as common in business, but you can overcome them, if you have passion, ability and mind-set to win.

9. Do not let dependency dictate your future. After so many decades of disappointment, the City team could have been forgiven for succumbing to defeatism. But while history matters, past results are not necessarily good predictors of future performance. Business executives need to challenge the belief that path dependency is hard to break, and acknowledge that experiences from the past are not necessarily the best recipes for the future.

10. Fans’ support. A key external factor in City’s triumph was the strength of the support received from their fans, like Burnley’s, always regarded as genuine football fans. City’s support is based largely on a traditional fan base, passed down from generations of the same family, predominantly Mancunians. This creates a genuine emotional connection and gives people reason to believe that bigger things are possible.

Fans (customers) are obviously equally important for companies. When firms gain a following, revenues improve, and profits and cash generate benefits for all stakeholders, leading to an improved ability to innovate, enhance corporate image and reputation, and build a better business.

But like many, I don’t see Burnley FC as a business and the role of the fans as customers. However I’m in a generation which has seen the game run by money. You can’t avoid talking about it with Manchester City and Chelsea’s recent rise. It’s the word ‘business’ that gets me. Admittedly a football club is now, more than ever, a business with assets, employees, a management structure, a marketing department etc. and tries to make money. But how many ‘businesses’ do you know that have provided such a multitude of emotions for so many people consistently year upon year and have legions of dedicated followers? To quote Sean Bean in a Sky Sports advertisement football is a feeling that can’t be explained, but we spend our lives trying to explain it.

Despite looking for the business lessons from City’s success – remember it is game – everyone talks about the riches of playing in the Premiership. It’s not about pride, pitching your wits and skills against the very best, building a team from talented young players – the reward of getting into the top league is all calibrated in monetary terms. For me, it’s still romantic, evocative. Every time I leave Turf Moor after a home game, I walk through the streets of terraced houses around the ground with the hordes of people, and turn round to see the floodlights fully 100ft high adorning the exterior of one of the stands, lit up in the twilight. I think of the families, adults and children alike who frequent those houses and who sometimes catch a glimpse of these lights through their bedroom windows or through the gap between streets and what it must mean to them to have their football club on their doorstep, serving the community and uniting residents year upon year.

Friendships, relationships and family all come and go. They live and they die. But one thing that certainly stays for life is your football club, and I’m chuffed for the die-hard City fans I know. It’s nothing like being a loyal customer, you only have one team, and it’s an emotional, lifetime commitment. But this is slowly being eroded with the financial pressures to succeed and the cost of being in the Premiership club, which is ultimately closed to clubs like Burnley because we have passion, a heritage and an identity  but not an overseas billionaire to fund us. But do you what, it’s all about how you measure success and why you follow your team, and for me it’s about my team, my fellow fans, seeing a good game, winning more than we lose, and simply being there.

So it’s come down to this: Manchester City has been crowned champions of England for the first time since 1968. Or put another way, a business that over the last five years has outlaid nearly double what its nearest financial rival can stump up, saw the results of all that hard work, with a final day triumph decided on goal difference.

The facts are that City’s net spend for the last five years is £419m, dwarfing Chelsea’s £156m, Liverpool’s £120m and Tottenham’s £67m. Bringing up the middle are the titans of Sunderland with £69m, Aston Villa on £68m and Stoke on £60m, while Manchester United limp in at a lowly eighth with £52m. When a club with the largest revenues in world football is being out-spent on player resources by Stoke, something surely must be rotten in the state of Mancunia.

The typical football fan’s experience is low-key, downbeat, a series of disappointments with random spikes of unheralded, unfounded optimism that it could be our year. From this, coupled with the typical fan’s insistence on returning for the same treatment, season in, season out, arises the rueful humour that it doesn’t matter what they serve up to the customer, we’ll be back.

So the ten lessons for business from City’s victory, let’s hope there are more insights next year. Tell that to City fans though and chances are they don’t care, it’s all about being the Kings of Manchester – at any price – and next stop Europe, out spending the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid with Sheikh Mansour’s dirhams.

Good luck to them, but it’s not for me. For us folks at Burnley, it’s more than 90 minutes. In today’s super-saturated, Sky Super Sunday climate in which football seems inescapably, blaringly dominated by money, for us it’s still putting on that claret shirt with pride. This is Burnley, not Barcelona, When Saturday Comes.