Clive Woodward on how to get the best out of your team

Sir Clive Woodward shines a light on vital strategies for leading and inspiring teams through periods of high pressure

It’s safe to assume anyone in a management or leadership position has felt the extra pressure over the last 18 months. In a constantly changing and uncertain environment, tasks such as motivating teams, running training sessions or just keeping a clear overview of projects came with their own set of unique challenges. What’s more, working remotely means it’s even harder to ensure team members, and leaders themselves, are working collaboratively and performing to the best of their ability, especially when the pressure is on.

Boris Johnson’s latest announcement means that employees are now able to return to offices across the country, yet three quarters (73 per cent) of Brits are set to continue working from home. It’s more important than ever before for leaders to be prepared to handle pressure, as well as have the ability to coach their team to perform in challenging circumstances too. 

At a recent event hosted by the Executive Development Network (EDN), Sir Clive Woodward, England’s Rugby World Cup winning Head Coach, and Team GB Director of Sport for London 2012 provided his own unique perspective on vital strategies for leading and inspiring teams through times of high pressure.

I think pressure is a great word. Let’s face it, anyone can do the job when there’s no pressure on. It’s an interesting topic that is open to much debate; some people will say that dealing with high-pressure situations comes more naturally to some individuals, but I disagree.

When it comes to coping with stress or pressure, I don’t think individuals are born with an instinctive “pressure gene”, I believe it is something you can teach. In fact, I know that effectively handling – and anticipating – pressure is something you can coach to individuals and whole teams of people.

It goes without saying that understanding how to navigate and manage pressure is an invaluable tool within the worlds of sport and business. Especially during these uncertain times, where professionals are expected to think on their feet and adapt to the evolving environment on a daily basis.

So, as a manager or leader, how do you coach your team to effectively cope with pressure?

I’ve come up with a concept called T-CUP, which stands for ‘Thinking Correctly Under Pressure’, which I use when coaching sports professionals and teams, but it can be applied to any pressure situation in your business too.

There’s no two ways around it, we all know high-pressure situations will arise in our working lives, whether it’s public speaking, presenting an important pitch, or going into a difficult meeting with your boss. Here’s how the T-CUP framework can help you keep your nerve and not let the pressure get in the way of what you set out to achieve.

  1. Anticipate the expected and the unexpected: The first step is to stop and think. Before going into that situation, what are the possible factors that could disrupt the outcome, throw you off-guard or make you feel the heat?
  2. Protect yourself with a plan: In a low-pressure environment, visualise those possibilities and come up with ways in which you can deal with them. You might find it useful to note them down for future reference.

    I firmly believe that if you haven’t thought about the possible outcomes beforehand, the chances of you being able to think correctly under pressure is very low. All of those automatic emotions start to kick in – you’ll choke, freeze, lose your bottle or feel like a rabbit in the headlights – which will inevitably limit your ability to think correctly.
  3. Create a ‘pressure library’: Over the course of your career, you’ll start to build a bank of scenarios that you can draw from, ensuring you’re prepared to deal with a range of high-pressure situations.
  • Feel better prepared for the future: By adopting this T-CUP technique and practicing it in your working life, dealing with stress or intense situations will become easier. Of course, we can’t think of every single possible outcome, but if you find yourself in a situation that you haven’t prepared for, you will be much more likely to think correctly under pressure with this process in mind.

Next time you’re going into a high-pressure situation, think about the T-CUP framework. Anticipating key challenges or obstacles will give you the foundation you need to deal with various outcomes, make key decisions and learn from your experiences.

Further reading

Top 5 project management software providers for UK small businesses

Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward is a former rugby union head coach and Director of Sport for the Apex2100 International Ski Academy

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