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Creating an Optimum Environment for Success

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On Thursday 22nd February, I attended a UK Coaching Talent Cluster Event with the focus of ‘Creating an Optimum Environment for Success’. The workshop was delivered by Guy Richardson, who, after 20 years as a serving officer in the British Army went on to work with Scotland Rugby Union as the National Team Manager, before coming Director of Operations for The British and Irish Lions Tour of Australia in 2013. Below are my reflections on the day and the reoccurring themes that were prevalent to me, and I’m sure coaches across all sports.

The first thing that struck me about Guy was the manner in which he spoke- so positive but so direct. He gave a brief insight into his background and the lead up to how he went from a role in the British Army to Director of Operations for The Lions. It wasn’t what anybody in the room had expected. He saw an article in the paper that the previous Team Operations Manager had left and his immediate thought? I could do that job. Why not me?

‘Why not me?’ really struck a chord with me. If not me, then who? Of course, sometimes you need a bit of luck. But we all know in sport, and in life, you make your own luck.

 ‘Put yourself in a position where luck bounces your way’ 

‘Oh they had the rub of the green today’, ‘the ball fell just right for them today’. Both phrases often heard, usually after a loss at the end of a close game. The truth is, luck doesn’t just fall your way, you have to put the groundwork in to create an opportunity for it. ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get’ is a phrase I like. When a Scrum Half kicks the ball up the field, for the ball to fall just right, the forwards have to read the game, they have to anticipate where it could land, they have to sprint to get there, to beat their opponent and they have to put themselves in an area where they have a chance of catching the bouncing ball. Luck does not just fall your way; you have to create an opportunity for it. “Go to those dark places and do the little things well” (Richie McCaw). No excuses.

A lot of discussions throughout the day seemed to link back to arguably the biggest element of a successful team: Culture. Guy spoke about his experiences of changing the culture of the Scotland Rugby National Team, before calling on these experiences to create and shape the environment and platform off the pitch, which enabled Warren Gatland and his team to perform so well on the pitch. Below are some key messages taken from the day:

Surround yourself with the right people and communicate with them effectively

Ensure that everybody within your team knows his or her roles and responsibilities. Not everybody needs to know everything, it’s important to filter this accordingly. Don’t over fill peoples plates or their effectiveness is decreased. Help each individual to concentrate on their jobs by ensuring they aren’t spinning unnecessary plates- The better this works the more efficient the performance of the team will be.


“Nobody was ever sacked for over planning. Nobody was ever sacked for over delivering.” A great quote from Guy, which really resonated around the room. In a room full of coaches who consume their sport, the next quote probably resonated even more: “People do burn out. When you burnout, you don’t perform, You miss things, you make mistakes. Plan, Plan, Plan, but plan “me time” too.”

Guy was meticulous in his strategic planning. He knew his end product and he planned backwards from this. He worked in phases and set himself strict deadlines. He set short-term goals and did monthly reviews. Sometimes for his own benefit to track his progress, sometimes because he needed others to see his progress. Why? Because he couldn’t do this job alone. Short-term goals showed success and he needed the buy in from people around him. Collaboration. He needed to manage upwards, he needed to network and he needed everybody pulling in both the right and same direction towards the same common goal. Culture.

Every element of every eventuality was planned. Something I’m big on personally and we work on within my team: control the controllables. 80% of our focus is us, 20% is the opposition. Detailed research, strengths and weaknesses and we know where and how we can get the edge over them. No surprises on game day. No excuses.

What Ifs?

No matter how meticulous you plan, for an event as big as The Lions Tour to Australia was, there’s always things that don’t quite go either how you think they will, or how you want them to. There’s always someone you need a favour from, always somebody you need to lean on. Network. Collaborate. Build Relationships.

Building relationships was a huge part of Guys work. Coaches, Strength and Conditioning Staff, Medics, Team Ops, Marketing, Commercial departments were all part of the inner circle Guy worked closely with. Outside of this circle- embassy staff, sponsors, logistics, hotels, airlines. All stakeholders Guy had to get the Buy In of. All stakeholders he had to influence to make sure that everybody was pulling in the same direction. Coffee, Dinner, ‘Stash’ were the carrots he dangled to ‘woo’ Stakeholders. He needed their buy in to ensure he got exactly what he wanted, the very best, to create that optimum environment for success. There’s no such thing as a free coffee.

Once he had the buy in, not only could Guy build on his plans, he had built relationships for contingency plans. Contingency plans that could be construed in minimal time when the uncontrollables occurred. When a player was injured and Guy had 24 hours to get their replacement to Australia, he had the contacts, the network and the relationships to do that. No VISA? No problem. Remember that cup of coffee with the gentleman at the Australian embassy? That gentleman at the embassy sorted the VISA in 4 hours. Contingency.

The buy in was huge. How do you get the people you need, to work to the best of their abilities to deliver what you need them to? You empower them. Guy spoke around what he called ‘The Empowerment Loop.’

Empowermant Loop

Ask people questions. Involve them. Give them a sense of belonging. Let them see the short term success. Collaborate, Network and Build relationships to ensure that everybody is pulling in the same direction. What does success look like for each individual? How is that built into the plan? Does the plan give everybody a platform to achieve success?

Once you have the buy in and everybody knows the plan, it’s now imperative that everybody knows their roles and responsibilities. Accountability is key. What are they responsible for, what is expected of them and what are the values they must unanimously live by.

The 5 stages of culture development:

5 stages of culture development

Once Values and Behaviours had been set, it was about living by them each day. Guy gave some examples of this which I thought were really effective. Zinc Oxide and a Marker pen- cheap and effective! RESPECT. LOYALTY. WORK HARD. NO EXCUSES. Written on tape and stuck everywhere. On the mirror, in the shower, on the back of the toilet door, in their shoes, on their water bottles. A constant reminder. Values. Culture.

A smartphone camera at the end of a fitness session- Red. Sweating. Lungs are burning. Legs are jelly. Open the camera, hit record- what does Hard Work mean to you? A brutal, honest, response. Buy In, Purpose, Values, Behaviours, Walk the Talk. No Excuses! Save them, collate them and use them as a reminder.

At the end of the workshop we were asked to do a ‘London Underground’ style map of our reflections of Guy’s workshop. A few people have asked for an insight into the creation of this map at our ‘Optimum’ sub station, hopefully this blog gives that.

London Underground image

Plan ahead, Live in the current, think in the future!

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Comments (3)


Thank you for sharing, as promised Charlotte. Plenty to think about.

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Great review, and well done Guy. I have had the pleasure of adding Guy into my delivery team for some of the work we do in business with similarly powerful results. Some brilliant themes and messages.

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Thank you for sharing Catherine - very interesting. I’ve coined a new term “ENERETHICS” - the character-building ingredients that derive from Core Values and which determine Behaviours. Coaches can be given an E (ENERETHICS) rating - this provides a real measure of their effectiveness - depending on their abilty to ensure that I MOULD TEAM - Integrity Modesty Objectivity Unity Loyalty Dignity Tenacity Empathy Authenticity & Maturity - are at the heart of the underlying process.

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