Seeing clearly towards Vision 20:20

By Libby Ferguson, Senior Consultant


Success can breed complacency


The London 2012 Olympic Games were the GB Rowing Team's most successful, not just of the modern era, but all time. Winning a record nine medals, including four golds, two silvers and three bronzes, led to GB finishing as top rowing nation for the second successive Olympic Games.

While it might have been tempting for British Rowing, the governing body for the sport of rowing, to sit back and revel in the glory of success, this was not an option for the senior leadership team who recognised that the sporting landscape has changed at pace in the year since the Games. Many big sponsorship deals have come to an end, medal winning athletes have retired and the competition between sports for participants, funds and resources becomes ever greater. What has worked in the past might not be the right recipe for the future.

Diverse thinking is vital for strategy formation


The strategy development process has been broadly following Crelos’ Think IN approach, combining both behavioural and process elements required to make superior, differentiated strategy.

The third bi-annual British Rowing conference held at Sunningdale Park in mid-September was an ideal opportunity to engage and involve the wider rowing community and was planned and designed with two key objectives in mind;

  1. To engage the wider rowing community, including coaches, rowers, club members and volunteers, in the strategy development process in order to create excitement and a “buzz” around the sport in preparation for the launch of Vision 2020 in the coming months.
  2. To gather further rich information to feed in to the process.

Working with such a diverse delegate group, all bringing their own individual experiences and agendas to the event was challenging. In order to move away from a ‘talking shop’ in to focussing on the job in hand, a precisely constructed icebreaker exercise encouraged the seventy conference delegates to move away from their own individual perspectives and instead to think about how they wanted the sport to be perceived in 2020 – what did they want observers both within and outside of the sport to be thinking, feeling and saying about the sport of rowing?

Moving from Me to We


To enable individuals to utilise the different perspectives and experiences in the room, delegates were split in to six cross-functional ‘crews’ each with a different theme to work on during the day; People, Participation, Performance, Partners, Profile and Pathways. These themes had emerged during the strategy development process so far. Each crew was allocated a ‘cox’ or facilitator who had the job of encouraging effective team behaviours including constructive questioning, and of steering the crew through the sessions to enable speedy brainstorming and innovative thinking.

The brainstorming sessions were interspersed by short talks, each designed to encourage the audience to think differently about the challenges ahead. Speakers included Matthew Brittin, ex Olympic rower and Vice-President of Google who gave some invaluable tips from business on how to innovate to keep ahead of the competition and raised the question of how British Rowing will use technological developments to increase performance over the next few years. Equally valuable insight was given by Michal Palamarczuk of Royal Chester Rowing Club who described how over the last two years, with hard work and a clear focus, he has developed the Club from being a number of disparate entities all using the same facilities to a buzzing community hub, with a commercial outlook and a culture where both fun and ambition are prioritised equally. During the lunch break the delegates could be heard discussing how their clubs could learn from some of Mike’s tips.

Engaged around a Big Hairy Audacious Goal


At the end of the day each crew reported back on three key strategic questions;

This session highlighted how difficult it is to build a common view and understanding across a group of individuals all with very different experience, knowledge and views of how they see the future. However, through persistence and encouragement from the coxes, although not too much shouting and expletives (for those of you who have watched the Boat Race), every crew provided some useful feedback.

The Profile crew decided that a key measure should be “for every school child to have the opportunity to try either indoor or outdoor rowing”, while the Partners group talked about how more effective team-working was essential to encourage a ‘one team’ approach between the performance and participation aspects of the sport.

While some delegates found it tricky not to use the group sessions to discuss their own issues, all seemed pleased to be involved and consulted, with a piece of feedback being,
“It is refreshing to see British Rowing evaluating its performance and I hope to see continued involvement by the wider rowing community in the future”.

Digging Deep


It was interesting how much positive energy was required from organisers, coxes and facilitators to keep the delegates on task and sustain the momentum throughout the sessions (particularly after lunch!) towards an output. Equally, some delegates commented on how tiring they found the level of thinking required. It makes sense that strategic thinking, like any other complex skill, requires commitment, regular practice – and boundless energy.

Although a demanding day for all involved, the two objectives of output and involvement were broadly achieved, with Kate Burt, CEO of British Rowing, saying of the event, “the effective collaboration between British Rowing and Crelos enabled precise design, planning and execution in order to achieve our objectives of allowing the wider rowing community to both input to and feel engaged with Vision 2020”.

For further information please contact Libby Ferguson on 07795232414 or