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Sir Clive Woodward’s advice for small businesses

Rugby World Cup-winning England coach Sir Clive Woodward was guest of honour at The DNA of a Champion event, organised by O2. Before an invited audience he shared his insights on team building – advice that works just as well for business as it does for sport.

1. Be a sponge, not a rock

The crucial thing is to act like a sponge, rather than a rock. Sponges have a thirst for knowledge and a passion for their subject, which isn’t dependent on intellect. They never expect success to come their way – they seek it out. Rocks, on the other hand, close their eyes, ears and minds to new ideas, and require some extra coaching.

2. Talent isn’t enough

While we all love leading successful teams, what’s more important is being part of a successful team. And great teams are made of great individuals. If you focus on the individual and their contribution, the team almost takes care of itself. But talent alone is not enough – it’s just a starting position. You need to spend time on it, nurture it and leverage it – rather than sit back and let it happen. And it’s fine to acknowledge that there will always be people out there who have more talent.

3. Winners in IT tend to win
When it comes to IT, there’s next to no difference between sport and business. Sir Clive recalled that he was openly ridiculed when he provided his team with laptops, but was determined to teach them the necessary skills that would benefit them, despite the challenges. And this process had a dual purpose, as it highlighted who were sponges and who, unfortunately, were rocks. The learning wasn’t negotiable, and Clive admitted that there were some casualties.

But for those who embraced the technology, the advantages were huge – particularly once Prozone was adopted. This software involves mounted cameras in the stadium that track players’ movements, giving them access to considerable analytics. Obtaining analytic data on every individual player, and on every team that came to Twickenham, helped the team to understand their competition.

With this clarity, the mystique vanished, and the players realised that they could identify how to improve. And because the players had the necessary IT skills, they used the tool to analyse their own performance. Knowledge and understanding can skyrocket when the team is empowered with technology.

4. Obsession is good
Sir Clive explained that despite leading a normal life as a husband and father juggling family and work, he makes no excuses for being obsessed with beating the other team. This healthy obsession and passion for detail will be familiar to small business owners. It’s not about sending emails at midnight or getting to the office at 5am – just focusing on thinking correctly under pressure wherever possible.


Sir Clive Woodward coached the England rugby team from 1997 to 2004, managing them to victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, as well as being Team GB Director of Sport. Prior to coaching he spent 16 years in business, between Xerox and his own finance company. Nowadays, you’ll find him coaching and mentoring senior executives, as well as running his digital learning business, Hive.


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