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Coaching & Development, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Nov 10, 2020
The first day explored themes of sustaining success, effective team building and cultural evolution.

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We are at the halfway stage of the first Virtual Leaders Meet: Total High Performance and take a pause to reflect on the first day’s proceedings.


By John Portch

On day one, Leaders Performance Institute members from across world sport logged on to listen to best practice insights from the Brooklyn Nets, Crusaders Rugby, Leinster Rugby and the UK’s National Health Service.  

While we were still unable to invite our members to Twickenham Stadium for the London leg of our Leaders Sport Performance Summit, the Leaders Performance Institute worked with our main sponsors Keiser to deliver the levels of shared knowledge and insight to which you have grown accustomed.

“We are here to create a world that enables the high performance community to target every aspect of high performance,” said host Michael Caulfield at the start of proceedings. “Such is the evolution in society and not just high performance sport, it’s no longer enough to be an expert in your own specialism.

“And if you want to take yourself or your organisation further, you need to see beyond your usual horizons and target every aspect of high performance.”

Whether you were able to attend or not, we hope these takeaways will help you to begin to achieve that aim. 

To read the takeaways from Day Two click here.

Lockdown Learning: Evaluating & Debriefing Performance to Sustain Success 

Speakers: Scott Robertson, Head Coach, Crusaders Rugby, and Stuart Lancaster, Senior Coach, Leinster Rugby 

Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Both Scott Robertson and Stuart Lancaster have enjoyed repeat success with their respective teams in rugby union. 

Robertson recently claimed a fourth straight Super Rugby title with the Christchurch-based Crusaders in his native New Zealand, while Lancaster enjoyed a third Pro14 championship with the Dublin-based Leinster. 

To kick off day one, the duo discussed how sport’s shutdown at the start of the pandemic brought them together when Lancaster reached out to Robertson to discuss the idea of a virtual game between two of rugby’s best teams that took the form of coaching conversations.

They settled upon four sessions, once a week for a month, with all the coaching staff and analysts present and the programme took the following format:

  • Week 1 – Leinster led with their success factors and challenges; the evolution of defence in the northern hemisphere.
  • Week 2 – The Crusaders followed up with their critical success factors and challenges; the evolution of attack in the southern hemisphere.
  • Week 3 – Leinster laid out how they would prepare to attack the Crusaders.
  • Week 4 – The Crusaders coaching staff illustrated how they would attack Leinster.

Leinster involved 10 of their senior coaching and high performance staff but the given the opportunity afforded by the Irish lockdown, they invited the players to be involved in beating these hypothetical opponents when there was no immediate prospect of playing any time soon. Players were encouraged to work in their position groups to assess their opponents and devise strategies.

The process illustrated the value of openness, sharing and different learning styles. Such facets have not always come naturally to New Zealand rugby. That began to change some years back and, in 2018, Robertson pulled some strings to hire former Ireland and Munster fly-half Ronan O’Gara as his assistant coach [O’Gara is currently the Head Coach of La Rochelle in France].  The Irishman brought diversity of thought, built relationships, and developed trust with the playing group and, through his work on game management and ability to share stories of his experiences, was able to bring greater line speed and aggression to the Crusaders’ game.

“Sometimes you just need confirmation from someone else or somebody to suggest a different way,” says Robertson. “It saves you hours of watching video, to get a reference point or a checkpoint.”

Creating a World-Class Performance Environment: the Case Study of NHS Nightingale 

Speaker: Lt Col Ashleigh Boreham, Head of Mentoring & Advisory Team, NHS Nightingale 

Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

At the end of March, Lt Col Ashleigh Boreham led the taskforce of army field hospital experts and civilian contractors that converted London’s Excel conference centre into a 4,000-bed hospital at full capacity in just 14 days. 

Each day during that period, up to 200 soldiers worked alongside a team of NHS staff, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other civilian contractors to build the beds and cubicles on the 88,000sqm centre, which is normally used for trade fairs and conventions. 

In total, seven NHS Nightingale hospitals were established across England at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

“It was the biggest job I’d ever done,” said Boreham, whose 27 years in the military saw him serve as a medical commander in war zones in nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. He compared the construction at the Excel to the “experience from working with partners in West Africa during the Ebola crisis” where time scales were unforgiving and capacity a pressing concern. 

Boreham explained how he and his team implemented effective short-term leadership styles, including directive and participative. It was also important for military personnel, when working onsite with  medical and civilians, to know when you were a ‘visitor’.

Normalisation – It was important that NHS staff were taken from an NHS environment into a field environment without proper desensitisation, which is common in the military to help personnel replicate and assimilate. Some chosen methods of normalisation were simple: pharmacies or information boards in the typical NHS design and livery. “They could focus on the things they needed to focus on,” said Boreham. “When a team is put into a new environment, it can fix teams to the point where they don’t operate.

“We wanted to remove that shock of capture, to normalise as quickly as possible, to maximise their skillset and competencies so they can focus on these and not be overwhelmed by the environment.”

The Rock Drill – this is an idea from the military. On a scaled model, each member of a team walks and talks their way through an operation or process. “Then you identify and deal with the shortfalls – it’s no different to what teams in sport do.” Crucially, it encourages people to talk and ask questions and provided reassurance and built trust.

Boreham cites the work of Robert Cialdini, who is best known for his 1984 book on persuasion and marketing Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, in setting out some areas he considers crucial for practical application under pressure:

  • Liking – build rapport.
  • Consistency – be as good as your word. “Don’t say one thing when you mean something else.”
  • Authority – effective use of delegation and status. “Delegate and maintain communication as problems emerge.”
  • Commitment – public promises. “When you commit to a team you stand by them; no politics, no side lines.”
  • Reciprocity – give and take; compromise where beneficial. “We didn’t have the time for battles, we needed the fluidity to work through at pace.”

Building in Brooklyn: Exploring the Cultural Evolution at the Brooklyn Nets 

Speaker: Sean Marks, General Manager, Brooklyn Nets 

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Sean Marks has served as the General Manager of the Brooklyn Nets since 2016 and, in that time, he has overseen a renaissance at the NBA franchise. 

The Nets were struggling when Marks arrived from San Antonio to take the reins – enduring an 11-game losing streak at one stage – but there were to be astute trades that brought in young talent and cleared salary cap space and improved performances as a cohesive roster began to gel.  

In Marks’ third full season Brooklyn returned to the NBA Playoffs for the first time in four years. Growing prestige has since attracted NBA All-Star talents in the form of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and Marks makes no secret of the fact that the Nets are looking to take the next step. 

Here, Marks discussed scaling the Nets’ organisational culture, player and staff to buy-in, and the transition from a team built on diamonds in the rough and young talents to one possessing the star talent to challenge for the NBA Championship. 

It began with small wins along the way and that started with staff. Brooklyn brought in talented individuals who had left great jobs to be at the Nets, which gave them opportunity and ownership within the rebuild. The Nets showed they were investing in the futures of staff and they made sure there were family support systems in place. Families remain the No1 priority.

Your culture can establish themes and environments but honest conversations with players are essential. You cannot shy away from difficult conversations if something is awry or if a player has been affected. Marks and his staff consider themselves open and available. It is essential for building trust and preventing silos. There needs to be clear, concise messaging across the board.

When Durant and Irving came as free agents it shifted the culture but Marks insists that the Brooklyn culture needed to continue to evolve anyway. He sat down with both, learning from them what they wanted to see, how they wanted to grow and what they needed from a successful organisation. For Irving, being close to his family in New Jersey and the desire to do something special ‘in this borough’ were considerable motivating factors.

To read the takeaways from Day Two click here.


Download the latest Performance Special ReportThe New Now: Navigating High Performance During an Ongoing Pandemic – featuring a selection of insights collected from practitioners around the globe as we all continue through these unprecedented times.

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