Woodward’s Tip

Implementing cultural change within a team organizational structure.

Clive WoodwardI was recently listening to someone recount a story about Clive Woodward, the former England Rugby Union coach and how he implemented cultural change within the team organizational structure. For those unfamiliar with the story, Clive took over the England team in 1997 at what was a low point in their history, with little recent playing success, outmoded training methods and the presence of factions within the team. He determined that a comprehensive re-tooling of skills sets and attitudes was required to change this mindset.

One of the tools that he wanted to bring in was the then relatively new science of measuring player statistics during the game to determine areas of improvement – a technique which is now standard practice for all professional sports but was then little known or understood. He realised that simply implementing this system was too big a cultural jump, so he decided to approach it gradually.

He therefore asked all members of his squad to attend a very basic and short IT training course, the ostensible purpose of which was to enable individuals to be able to interpret their own data provided by the new system. His real objective was to identify the correct mindset for change. Those who took part willingly he termed ‘Sponges’ ie willing to absorb new ideas, and those who resisted were ‘Rocks’ ie resistant to even small changes.

There is a very valid point here for organizations. It is generally accepted that working in a matrix implies cultural and behavioral change – for many companies and individuals, it is a dramatic alteration in mindset and how people interact with each other. One of the ways that we can reduce stress, risk and resistance is to assess people in terms of their willingness to learn (Sponges) versus resistance to even small changes (Rocks) – what we like to call ‘bringing people with you’ as opposed to simply saying “Here it is, get on with it”. So look for ways to test this willingness and be careful of over-promoting Rocks.

One last point: shortly after he implemented this system, during the next game, Clive Woodward noticed that whenever there was a break (for injury or review), one player would spend it doing short runs. Because he was concerned that this might be due to a pulled muscle, Clive asked him why and got the response: “I’m just getting my statistics up”. Watch out for people trying to ‘game’ the system!

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