By Gary Knight

A culture of Champions, the protocols for high performance

The Culture of Champions and the protocols for success “


The biggest Namaste to you all lovely People & Happy New Year !

I hope you discarded the duvet at 5am on Monday to witness the full, deep glory of the biggest blood red, wolf moon you are ever likely to witness? Truly jaw-dropping stuff!  Full of hyper fuelled energy to drive your ‘chi’ across the meridian channels.

By now you may be suffering from acute Brexititus flu & probably have witnessed most of your wonderful New Year intentions float off into the Siberian winds . But fear not, for even with all the uncertainties in the world & the overriding sense that 2019 could be, well let’s just say ‘a tag tricky’, you still have a series of massive skill sets and treasure chest of opportunities locked away in that incredible body, mind & spirit of yours.

We just need to know how to use them. Thus, in this month’s blog I am going to focus on the Culture of Champions, how they are built, how they continue to thrive (regardless of market conditions) & how the Leaders of these teams have unlocked the secret system to deliver amazing degrees of success. These individuals all possess , what the brilliant Dr Carol Dweck has labelled, a ‘growth mindset’. In essence , a passionate belief system based around continuous learning.

There are some excellent books out there on this subject, most notably Khoi Tu’s fabulous read ‘ Super Teams’ and ( as already mentioned ) Dr Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’. I have taken the liberty of drawing inspiration from their nourishing ideas and I have added some of their examples within this blog.

As we sit here at the end of January we have a prime example of a Champions mentality we desperately need , i.e. in the British Government , at a time when the ‘other side’ is displaying traits of a team at the top of its game, i.e. the E.U

So, wherever your political persuasions lie, we have a classic case of miserable failure by our Leaders.

Champions do not just appear on the sporting field, on the movie screen or in the boardroom, they are found all around us in everyday situations. Incredible teachers, nurses, carers, fire crew and normal people who do extraordinary things primarily for the benefit of others. Whilst this blog focuses on the culture of Champions within the business world, the insights contained here equally apply to these truly remarkable individuals.

Champions all live and breathe the following traits :

* they share a clear and compelling common purpose

* they are all ‘well led’

* they pursue a quest for the best and look beyond their own industry to learn from the ‘best in breed’.

* they shape the environment for success

* they build cohesion

* they master conflict

* they adapt or die

If you run that master checklist off against our current negotiation of the Brexit deal, then it might easily drag you down the road that our current politicians are displaying signs of miserable failure rather than a Champion’s growth mindset ?

So, what about some practical examples of how various teams have mastered the protocols for success within the Champions belief system ?

PIXAR faced having to blend a diverse mix of techno whizz kids and highly creative animators in order to rewrite the rulebooks of how to make incredibly profitable animation feature films. They forged a compelling, common purpose by both sharing it and making it personal at the same time. All team members understood the ‘definition of victory’ & they worked in mixed teams to chart the course for this end result. They always reflected on their current reality, took time to pause & re-adjust if required. They kept focused on the task at hand but retained the concept of flexibility in case they needed to take a slight ‘turn’ at certain junctures. They also adopted a key set of rules from language learning, i.e. repeat, remind and reinforce.

EUROPEAN RYDER CUP TEAM 2018 : despite facing 8 of the World’s best golfers and being the weaker team by a country mile on paper, they destroyed the United States team last autumn. Golf is a highly individual sport and rarely played within a team framework, but the European team decided from the outset that they would master any internal conflict and ensure that a united team arrived in Paris and not a group of highly, often egotistical characters. They pursued a ‘quest for the best as a team ‘ . Every player had a mission to fulfil within their own merits, but their overriding focus was on being part of a linked support system for all the other members of their team, they gambled that the Americans would not follow this strategy and would end up being ‘spooked into submission’. Boy did it work ! Their linked belief system became a magnetic forcefield that shone from their chests every time they hit a shot.

THE ROLLING STONES : You may never have thought of them as one of the world’s most enduring and profitable brands across the last 50 years , but they definitely are. Wouldn’t you like to have a share of a brand that can do (yet again) their final ‘last, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever world tour ‘ and gross $450 million ? One of the secrets to their success is massive team cohesion, built heavily on a thick trust layer. This trust was forged through each band member’s belief in the competence of the other members, years of being together ( often for long periods ) and their ability to overcome times of high conflict and crisis. Throughout this they have maintained a passionate belief in what they need to deliver for the audiences. Ronnie Wood sums this up ” When we go on stage we have a common vision and a common understanding. We suffer together, we resist together, and we win together. Just being ‘good enough’ doesn’t count…we want to blow everyone else out of sight.” Having seen a recent Stones gig and watching Jagger on stage for over 3 hours then I tend to agree !

THE BRITISH RED CROSS : sometimes a Champions mindset is required when literally it is a matter of life and death. Organisations such as the British Red Cross often operate in hostile and harrowing conditions and thus they find the need to shape the environment around them critical for such lifesaving tasks. Key learnings are to keep the teams as small as the mission allows (no freeloaders, non-participants), clarify exact individual roles within the team, control the controllable and focus on resources that are fit for purpose. Mike Goodhand, former CEO, described this ethos as ” Good enough is never going to be good enough….when your job is to save lives you can never, ever afford to rest on your laurels.”

Once again, we need to journey back to the fields of Leadership. Most of you who have read my previous blogs will understand my complete despair at the lack of ‘great leaders ‘ amongst us. Thus, given that all Champions are ‘well led’ then what are our critical paths in this respect? Going back to Carol Dweck’s work on ‘Mindsets’, then we can unearth some of the magic ingredients required. On the negative side those Leaders with a ‘fixed mindset’ focus on their own power more than their own team’s well-being. Some of these individuals re-affirm their status by demeaning others and even holding back high performing employees in order to protect their own status ( I know plenty of these!) On the more positive side of the coin the ‘Growth Mindset’ Leaders help their teams to develop and encourage a landscape of continuous learning. They fully understand the difference between ‘Training’, which is often enacted as some kind of guilt factor or a need to hit HR targets and ‘ Development’, which is a lifelong pursuit and integral to the DNA of a Champion team. Such Leaders create a culture of self-examination, open communication and teamwork. They never look to bag all the glory for themselves. Most importantly they allow individuals to be part of the decision-making process whilst still recognising that people can be independent thinkers as well as valued team players.

Their egos never allow them to be static or insular as they permanently look outside their own industry to learn from the ‘best in class’. Take SouthWest Airlines, a low-cost local carrier in the US. Their business model is highly predicated on the ability to service and turn around aircrafts at lightning speeds, whilst still having to maintain the very highest standards of safety measurements. So why not turn to F1 pit teams, who literally have seconds to fit new tyres onto a high-performance engine ? Highly skilled engineers all working in a very small space, every member of the team having a specific task whilst still being part of a ‘network of linked neutrons’. Well, the F1 team very graciously told our friends ” do not learn from us, go to the people we learned from”. Who on earth could have a more high-pressure task than them ? It turns out to be an open-heart surgery team at a hospital in California ! In this team every second is genuinely a matter of life and death. A small team of specialists all working within the confined space of an operating theatre and all focused on ensuring that their patients stays alive. This takes the whole concept of team work and high-performance Champion mindset to a totally new level.

Turning back to our dear PM and the other 600 or so other souls in ‘that place’, then perhaps they will do well to read this blog and adhere to some of the wise words contained within ‘this space’. Perhaps I could leave them with these final words ? I might even persuade one of them to put them in an amendment to the Brexit deal…

  • Stick to an ‘Adapt or Die Philosophy’
  • Don’t be scared to change your own behaviours
  • Be obsessive about improvement
  • Focus on building new team norms
  • Design the future together ( BIG one for the Westminster crowd!)

Finally, I would like to leave you all with these delicious thoughts :

‘ Talent is the ability to hit a target with a very high degree of frequency. Genius is the ability to see targets the others do not know exist ‘.

Hope to see you on a Yoga mat soon. Namaste G x