How to Build and Lead a Champion Team

An introduction to The Champion Team Blueprint




In the sport of rugby, Coach Wayne Smith is known worldwide as The Professor.

Insightful, innovative, and a master collaborator, Smith has enjoyed great success as a rugby coach. This includes him being a key cog to helping the New Zealand men’s rugby team win back-to-back World Cup titles in 2011 and 2015.

In April 2022 Wayne Smith was all set to step back from coaching. And to enjoy a well-earned retirement. That is, until he got a shoulder tap.

Wayne Smith was asked to coach the New Zealand women’s rugby team for the 2022 Women’s World Cup. And it was a big ask.

Several months earlier the team had returned from a miserable tour of Europe, where they lost by huge margins to England and France.

Then, following a post-tour review it was found that the team had major problems with its culture, strategy and player skill sets.

If he accepted the challenge, Wayne Smith had just 7 months to overhaul team culture, craft a winning strategy, select a team and prepare players for the tournament.

What did Wayne Smith do? He accepted the coaching challenge.


Then he spent the next 7 months strategizing, recruiting, culture-building, coaching, leader-developing the New Zealand women’s rugby team.  Preparing them to compete on the world stage in the biggest tournament of their lives.

And what happened?  In a packed stadium of more than 40,000 and tv coverage across the world, New Zealand beat England in the final.  A complete reversal of form from just 12 months prior when the teams had previously played against each other.

Mission accomplished for Wayne Smith, The Professor.

The importance of the Champion Team

A champion team is an integral component to achieving success.  It’s true.  You want success?  You need the skills and performance of a champion team.

And it’s not just in sport where great teams are required. Business, politics, the military, schools, families. Teams are everywhere.

Then there is the most important team of all.  Which is? The committed relationship between two people – as in a marriage, civil union or other committed partnership.

Yes, a team is an integral component of performance in all domains of life.

Team defined?  The word team is more than 500 years old. And according to etymology, team

“Applied in Old English to groups of persons working together for some purpose, especially ‘group of people acting together to bring suit;’ the modern sense of ‘persons associated in some joint action’ is from 1520s.” (Source:

So here we learn that a team is a group of persons who work together for some purpose.  Or involved in some joint action.

My simple definition of team?

A team is a group of two or more people who work together to achieve a team goal.

For more than 30 years I’ve gained great insights into what it takes to build a champion team.

During this time I’ve held senior team leadership roles in multiple domains including church, business, sport and community organisations.

As well, I’ve worked with and coached leaders of high-performing business teams including corporate CEOS, award-winning business owners and entrepreneurs.

And I’ve coached championship-winning sports teams, and played in elite-level sports teams at national and international level.

I’ve been in teams that have failed dismally, as well as those that have performed outstandingly well.  So I know teams.  I know what makes them work.  And I know what causes them to implode and fail.

What then, are the keys to building a high performance team?

Firstly, understand that when it comes to team performance the principles of the Strategy Grid apply. That is, if you have an important goal you want to achieve, the three key ingredients you need are:

  1. High value human capital
  2. Good strategy
  3. Skillful strategy execution

As the grid illustrates, the green zone is the high performance zone, as determined by a high-level human capital, good strategy and excellent execution. 

Next, it is important to understand that there are many factors that determine the effectiveness of human capital, strategy and execution including:

  • Clarity of vision
  • Strength of leadership
  • Strategic positioning/strategy
  • Environmental factors and uncontrollables
  • Structure and systems
  • Five factor personality type
  • Ethnicity
  • Religious affiliation
  • Nature and nurture
  • Personal values, beliefs and worldview
  • Skill sets (Strategic, technical, mental, social and emotional, physical)
  • Relationships (And whether they are high-functioning or dysfunctional)
  • Training and practice
  • Team culture
  • High-level experience and track record

Some performance and HR experts believe that all you need to do to improve people and team performance is put people on a training course or give them a pep talk. Oftentimes though this approach is too short-sighted. As an example, there’s often no point sending someone on a training course to upskill, when that person’s values system is at odds with the organizational culture.

Other experts suggest spending more money on recruitment.  But if your recruitment process sucks or you have a poor team culture with high staff turnover, then recruiting more people is not going to solve the problem.

Then there is lack of thought given to uncontrollables such as the broader economic or political environment.

The key is to take a strategic approach to people and team performance. That is, you combine the principles of strategic management with those of human capital development. Don’t cherry pick a short-term “solution” in the hope that it will solve the problem.

How to be strategic?  Apply my people and team strategy model called the Champion Team Blueprint.

The blueprint is built upon my view that getting people to perform to their best requires a strategic approach to people, culture and performance. In other words, it’s not just about throwing in an advert for a new employee and hoping for the best, or sending your people on a leadership course.

The model integrates elements of business, sporting and personal performance into a comprehensive blueprint for developing and improving high performance.

The Champion Team Blueprint is a model I’ve developed to help businesses and teams move up the performance ladder and get into the green zone.

What happens when you follow the blueprint? You see performance improvements including:

  1. Stronger philosophy
  2. Better team members
  3. Improved strategy/game plan
  4. Improved skill patterning and training
  5. Improved performance culture and environment
  6. Improved team dynamic and relationships
  7. Improved execution
  8. More wins, more often
  9. Green zone performance

As a good leader you won’t be 100% responsible for all of these improvements.  And neither will you take 100% of the credit when a team performs to a high-level. It is a team effort.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter what type of organization you lead – be it a corporation, small business, sports team, non-profit – the Champion Team Blueprint is the model to follow if you want to build and lead a champion team.


To learn more about how to build and lead a champion team, request our free strategy briefing, 7 Steps to Building a Champion Team. To arrange a briefing,  please email ben (at)

What is a strategy briefing?

A strategy briefing is part knowledge and information sharing session, and part consultation.

The knowledge sharing part is where we go deeper into explaining the Champion Team Blueprint.

And the consultation component is where we specifically show you how to apply the blueprint to your teams.

Available in-person or via Zoom, this free strategy briefing will take 45-75 minutes, depending on your questions and feedback.

We’ll take you through each of the 7 Steps of the Champion Team Blueprint, and explain why they are so important.

Plus, we’ll also show you how to apply these 7 Steps to your own teams.

Again, to arrange a free strategy briefing, email ben (at)  And if you haven’t yet done so, complete the form below to get your subscription to The Strategy Lessons newsletter.