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Average reading time: 2 minutes 35 seconds

I’ve always had a passion for building great teams.

Whilst watching England play rugby recently, I found myself transported back to captaining the second XV rugby team when I was between 16 and 18 years old.

We were young, keen lads at the Army’s sixth form college and desperate to replicate the performances of the great England players of the day.

As we got into the season, I’d cajole our backs into additional training sessions in the evening. At around eight o’clock, we’d gather in the gym and run up and down trying to emulate and master some of the moves we’d seen our heroes perform at the weekend. The scissor pass, the long floating pass or the drifting line where I’d loop back into the line as the scrumhalf.

Feeling proud of our progress I went to seek out our coach and physics teacher, Joe Dufton, to update him on our extra practice. Whilst his thick Yorkshire accent was familiar, his response wasn’t what I was expecting.

“Ben. We don’t do moves. Form a ruck. Get the ball. Pass it down the line. Score in the corner.”

Deflated by his clipped response, I nodded in agreement and returned to my physics.

I didn’t realise it at the time, and I’ve only just connected the dots now, but he was teaching me the formula that I now share with my clients.

Peak performance comes from doing the basics brilliantly well, with ruthless consistency.

He was trying to get us to master the basics.

Until we could win the ball, accurately pass and catch 95 per cent of the time, there was little point trying any of the fancy, clever stuff. It would be like trying to fire a cannon out of a canoe!

I’ve just finished reading Sir Clive Woodward’s latest book, How to Win. He recounts the story of how England began working with an Israeli scientist named Yehuda Shinar in early 2000, and how he was one of the most influential people who worked with the team.

Within minutes of meeting Woodward, and without any pleasantries, he asked him:

“What are the non-negotiables? What are the things you have to get right?”

“And if you cannot answer that, then the first thing you have to do is go back home and get all your coaches together. Each of you has to come up with the basic things you have to get right in a game of rugby to win the match.”

As experienced as he was, Woodward couldn’t answer that question, so he did exactly as Shinar told him. And the interesting thing was, all of his coaches came up with different lists when he asked them. But, after a huge amount of consultation and research, they filleted the immensely complex game of rugby down to a few simple, mathematical fundamentals.

And the rest is history, as they say.

But what about you?

What are the non-negotiables in your business, division or department that you have to get right in order to win?

And if I asked your leadership team this question, would they all give me the same answer? Unless your answer is a resounding yes, getting the team together to thrash this out should be your first non-negotiable.


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