A four step approach to flawless execution “on” and “off” the pitch

Updated: Mar 23


As excitement grows and we get closer to the first Lions game of the 2017 Tour to New Zealand, you might ask yourself: are the Lions ready to take on the mighty All Blacks? Did they prepare properly for the grueling games ahead? Is the team aligned around their plan of attack? Do they know their best assets to take into battle? Are they fully briefed on deployment tactics? Did they think through all possible scenarios the opposition could throw at them?


In business and rugby alike, flawless execution on game day by high-performance teams begins with a well-thought-out plan, a clear brief to the team, relentless execution, and post event debrief.


Too often teams forget one or more of these critical steps and don’t perform at the level they are capable of, leaving fans disappointed with the result.


Through my experience working as a strategic advisor to organizations in different sectors around the globe, flawless execution and success both “on” and “off” the pitch is about an on-going cycle of PLAN, BRIEF, EXECUTE & DEBRIEF, placing equal emphasis on all these integrated parts:

  • PLANA watertight plan including a timeline of preparation activities, requires working back from game day and is an essential requisite to a successful business deal or critical test match. As a team, be clear about your goal, whether it be winning that test match in or an important business deal in the board room. It’s also important to be honest about what you’re up against in terms of competitive threats – what are their strengths and how they compare to yours? In addition, planning your tactics is critical to how you leverage your strengths and expose weaknesses. Finally, thinking through the “what-ifs” and “plan-Bs” and assessing how you will make high-pressure decisions in the moment, separates average from high performers.

  • BRIEFThis is where the leaders communicate the plan, achieve clarity amongst the team and set the standard of what’s expected on game day. It’s all well having a plan, but training for game day is about bringing the team together ahead of time, explaining what’s expected, how the team will prepare and work together, and providing an opportunity for Q&A and clarification. Plans can be interpreted in many ways and getting everyone aligned on the “what”, “who”, “when” and “how” is important.

  • EXECUTENow it’s time to put those plans and briefing sessions into action and execute like crazy. As George S Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” On the day itself the pressure mounts, things change and not everything goes as expected. Success is about situational awareness, recognizing your symptoms, prioritizing what’s happening around you, and how you respond. Then focussing on what the priorities are. Well practiced teams are able to recognize, think, and adapt in the moment.

  • DEBREIFThis is perhaps the single most powerful tool for improving the performance of any team in business or rugby, but it’s typically overlooked or poorly executed. It starts with NO RANK, NO NAME, and NO ATTITUDE. It’s critical for the leader in a business or the captain on the pitch to lead by example and be self-critical from the start. Success is ensured by following a disciplined approach to the debrief process, carefully analyzing the execution of what went well and why, and what went badly and why. Reflecting on those elements and capturing and sharing is key to learning and growing.

For high-performing teams, “on” and “off” the pitch success is not just about execution itself by individual players with great skills and capabilities, but about how you bring a team together around behaviours and attitudes focused on a single goal and a single plan which is executed flawlessly. Only then will you get the best from your team and elevate your game.


By Lance Mortlock, EY Canadian Strategy Leader


The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.


EY is an official sponsor of the British & Irish Lions only.