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Obligatory Six Nations tie-in blog

You probably know I am a little obsessed with the link between sport and business, mainly because I find it irrefutable that what works well in sport, especially in the context of building winning teams, generally works well in business (and vice versa). 

Despite the headline, this blog isn’t about rugby (OK, maybe a little bit). It’s actually about Codes Of Conduct in sport. You may have heard that Championship Football team Queens Park Rangers have recently launched a 27 page Code Of Conduct Manual given to all players on arrival. Extracts of this marvellous manual were leaked to the Evening Standard last week and I thoroughly enjoyed reading some of the highlights, including:

  • Don’t be late for training
  • No drinking when injured
  • No baseball caps (my personal favourite)
  • No polo, winter sports or hang gliding


There is nothing new in laying down the law and expectations from your team. Vince Lombardi, legendary American football coach, was the original master at demanding excellence from his players. Perhaps his most famous legacy was the concept of “Lombardi Time”. Lombardi noticed that key people were drifting into meetings and training a disruptive few minutes late.

(I need to pause here and say this is a personal pet-hate for me – a modern phenomenon if you like - people turning up to team meetings late looking slightly flustered with an expression of “oooh sorry I’m late I’m so busy, I’m really important, that’s why you all had to wait for me”.

Lombardi cured this by introducing a new rule: everyone had to arrive fifteen minutes early for meetings and training. This became “Lombardi Time” and it was a critical factor in instilling discipline in the camp.

This concept of “Lombardi Time” was later adapted by Sir Clive Woodward’s England team in their successful campaign to win the Rugby World Cup in 2003. Interestingly, it wasn’t Woodward who introduced it, but the players themselves. Woodward set the topics, e.g. “punctuality” and players came up with their own rules e.g. “ten minutes early” - if there was ever an issue it was referred back to the Black Book. When Woodward left England, the black book was dropped resulting in a gradual decline of behaviour that culminated in players jumping off moving ferries, assaulting police officers and insulting the current Prime Minister. Actually, that was only one player, but you get the picture.

Last year the consultants in our business decided to create our own charter for excellence and (above all) consistency when dealing with our Interim Managers and our Clients. It was a natural evolution as we grew as a business. This charter became known as the “IP Way” and is our very own blueprint for success - our own Black Book, if you like - that sets the expectations of the team. Because we put it together ourselves, we are much more careful that we adhere to it and so far it has been a great success and a concept that I believe would help all growing teams striving to go from good to great.

Incidentally, I haven’t quite managed to sneak my favourite rule into it yet, but give it time (preferably Lombardi).

I would love to know your thoughts on codes of conduct - sporting or otherwise - specifically, what rules would you implement?


Scott Hutchinson is the Principal of UK Food & Drink at Interim Partners.


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Rob Norton-Edwards

24 Mar 2016 12:18 PM


Enjoyed the article and completely agree with you about the often obvious parallels between successful sport and successful business.

Culture, as has often been said, is "how we do things around here". Typically, this is predicated on a set of unwritten concepts and behaviours that apply for that organisation or environment. The order of the day seems to be to look at what the others are doing, and then emulate that.

Of course, that only works if the behaviours and attitudes being displayed are consistent across the piece. These attitudes and behaviours reflect what the culture IS - which is not always what you want it to be. It is the on-the-ground behaviours that matter, not what is written in a book or mission statement somewhere. If those line up, you're on to a winner, though it is unfortunately not usually the case.

If I were to advocate codifying the "rules", I think that 27 pages worth of "thou shalt..." and "thou shalt not..." is a bit steep. In fact, having a large rulebook at all says something about the culture which is pretty revealing in itself.

Keep it simple, says I, and go back to basics. Have few rules, which are wide-ranging in their applicability. Think about it: the more rules you have, the more loopholes there are, and the harder they are to apply.

On balance, if you have to codify a few guidelines for behaviour, it pays to keep them simple. And then make sure they are being modelled correctly and let common sense apply in whether they are working or not.

And if you're looking for an argument against massive rulesets, my submission is made up of only two words: tax law.

06 Feb 2016 15:19 PM


“How we behave and do things,” is culture. It reflects the attitudes, beliefs and values we embrace. Over time they mirror those of the leader. Sport is a poor behavior model.

MOTD viewers see that football codes of conduct are empty words. Players persistently, intimidate officials and the opposition, foul, injure and playact. Opposing fans must be segregated to avoid violence.

Cheating is not new or uncommon in sport, indeed in life. It is said: Lorz, rode 11 miles in a car to win the 1904 Olympic marathon; the men’s 1988 Olympics 100-metres final is "the dirtiest race in history"; Andy Haden made “the great dive to victory”; David Robertson surreptitiously moved his golf ball closer to the hole. Plus in 2010 cricket fixed, 1919 baseball fixed. Plus Simpson and Armstrong on drugs and Blatter's alleged bribery, etc., etc.

Top down written and imposed codes of conduct do not work. Individual self-discipline, with goals and values aligned by strategy do work. People then happily reason and implement the best action in each circumstance. It brings individual and group success and rising values. In an organization it requires engagement between the leader, individuals and teams. It requires coaching and training.

Their is much for people in business to learn from the very best sportspersons in developing individual productivity and values. But 27 pages of imposed rules is not not the route to the flexibility and adaptability we need in business.

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