Winning Behaviours



Should schools adopt winning behaviours? If so, which ones? 


Sky Cycling, the world’s most successful team, employ a Head of Winning Behaviours. Fran Millar looks after the values, culture and people of Team Sky. Her focus is on continuous improvement. Schools might do well to designate a Senior Leader as Head of Winning Behaviours.  What would this role entail? The first thing might be to learn from the leadership successes of Sky Cycling. Here are ten lessons that Team Sky can provide for schools. 


One. Clarity of Purpose. Sir David Brailsford, who heads up Team Sky, set out six years ago to achieve three things: win the Tour within five years, do so with a clean rider and have over a million people cycling in the UK as a result of their success. All three were completed ahead of time. Focussing on a core purpose is essential. Brailsford keeps a reflective journal which he updates in October of each year. No one sees it. It’s to help him review for improvement. Without clarity of purpose the exercise would be meaningless. The organisation must have a focus. Many schools never sit back and reflect on their Core Purpose. The consequence is that others define it for them, usually Ofsted. Having an easily understood, widely known Core Purpose allows Sky Cycling to define the winning behaviours needed to fulfil that Core Purpose. A similar exercise in schools would engage the school community in understanding why they collectively and individually work so hard.


Two. Leadership where it’s needed most. Chris Froome leads his team of eight riders. He calls the tactics during the race, someone else has decided the strategy. It’s not a command and control leadership model from the top. Froome has the autonomy to get the best from his team. He does what’s needed to get the results. In a school he would be the Middle Leader who knows his team and his discipline and models excellence in everything he does.


Three. Meaningful Accountability. Brailsford says of his riders “people who work with me have to take responsibility – they have to take charge of their own development.” He is very big on commitment and compiles a ‘Hunger Index’ each season to gauge who still has the desire to perform. His teams are not teams of equals but everyone is accountable for what they do: they know their job and ‘brutal honesty’ means that its delivered to the highest standard.


Four. Brilliant Basics. A great deal is made of the concept of ‘marginal gains.’ Sky Cycling have been putting distance between themselves and this concept of late.  Brailsford doesn’t promote it. In reality it doesn’t matter how sloped the handlebars are, how dust free the hotel room or how well your drinks have been measured if you can’t cycle the bike up the hill and do so day after day. I despair when I hear School leaders talk of working on ‘marginal gains’ when some tolerate poor teaching, have inconsistencies in dealing with behaviour or forget to get the basics right.


Five Self versus Selflessness. For Brailsford ‘all successful teams are aligned behind goals’ and he describes how they talk individually and collectively about ‘current self vs future self’. A high degree of selflessness lies behind every successful school. He also details the difference between ‘goal harmony versus team harmony’ with Team Sky focused by goal harmony rather than team harmony. This would not be the pattern in many schools where collegiality is pursued as an end in itself.


Six. Power of Process. “My passion is how do you get excellence in Performance…..I’m intrigued by this… how do I get the best out of others. I spend all my time thinking about this.” Brailsford talks at length about getting excellence through a concern with progression – not a pursuit of perfection. He and many other leaders of elite sports teams talk about getting the processes right. Many schools experience pressure to such a degree that processes are compromised in the search for quick results. The relentless day to day demands squeeze out opportunities to improve the very processes which are expected to deliver results.


Seven. Focused Spending. Sky Cycling is the best funded team in world cycling. With an estimated 35m Euros at their disposal they have invested heavily in talent, the thing that makes the biggest difference. Securing a talented squad serves one goal: to put a performer, in this case Froome, on the podium.  Sky, like successful schools attract further money as a consequence of success.  Schools who improve also target their funding at what will give the best chance of success. Despite the difficulty in doing so they retain a relentless focus on finding talent and putting it in the classroom.


Eight. Decisions Derived from Data.  Schools must be on top of their data. It must inform performance. To do so it needs to get out to the teachers. Prior to their first Tour win Sky changed the way they prepared their riders. They moved away from relying on big events, as all other teams did, as preparation and, instead chose to prepare away from competition on Mount Teide in the Canary Islands. A key influence was the individual output data their recently appointed analyst had collected. Their riders simply weren’t working hard enough in the big events. It was too easy to hide in the peloton. Armed with the second by second performance data and knowing the demands of the forthcoming Tour the Sky technical team devised individual programmes with daily demands similar to what would be needed. Data drove preparation and strategy. Bradley Wiggins won the Tour.


Nine. Keep it Professional. In this year’s Tour seven world class riders signed to Sky were left at home. This is potentially ruinous. What saved the situation was the frequency of open, honest conversations on an individual level. Brailsford says managing a team is like parenting – you have to respond to the dynamic which is in front of you. He adds he is interested in having professional conversations, “separate out the personal and professional relationships: there are differences between personal and professional behaviour”


Ten. Everybody Cycles. Everyone in Sky Cycling cycles! Seems obvious but Brailsford says that enthusiasm is contagious and endemic in their culture. In schools what really transforms a culture is when enthusiasm aligns around making a positive difference in the lives of the students. It’s when everyone contributes. A great starting point for a Head of Winning Behaviours.



Alistair Smith worked with Sky Cycling as part of his role as Designated Learning Consultant to the Football Association. The FA have a number of partners in their Leadership Development Programme. For more see

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