Omada Consulting

How FIRO develops tomorrow's sports leaders and teams

Omada specialises in the development of executives and executive teams, particularly in the leadership skills necessary to implement big change programmes at speed and the alignment of senior executive groups through individual, group and team interventions. They seek to impact business performance through the application of psychological principles in the workplace, with an unwavering focus on results.

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Chartered Sport Psychologist Claire-Marie Roberts, Course Leader for Sports Studies at Worcester University’s Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, wanted to bring psychometric insights to her 3rd year Group Dynamics in Sport module. To facilitate this she approached Omada Consulting’s Managing Director Grant Morffew.

The idea was inspired partly by the 2012 Olympics. Grant had worked with the teams responsible for the event itself, and Claire-Marie, as psychologist in residence, had helped prepare and support Team GB – athletes, governing bodies and support staff alike. Their joint experiences have made them very aware of the fundamental importance of team dynamics in sport, and how varied the teams working and competing in sport are.

Many of the students from the Institute of Sport and Exercise Sciences go into coaching or management roles after graduation. For this they need experience of team dynamics, not just in the sport itself, but in the wider context of sporting organisations – an area where the necessary people-management skills have often been lacking. In looking beyond the confines of the sport to this organisational setting, graduates would be able to address the bigger picture and make a greater impact in their chosen field. In conjunction with Claire-Marie, Omada Consulting looked for a suitable development tool to underpin the 12-week Group Dynamics in Sport module.

The module involves the students working in pre-selected teams and learning a new sport, tchoukball – a sport sufficiently obscure to level the playing field (given that some of the students are Olympic-level athletes). Claire-Marie wanted the chosen development tool to manipulate the way these teams are put together and provide valuable insight into the nuances of interaction in individual groups.

Grant (who is also a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and FIRO practitioner), suggested the FIRO instrument.

“It wasn’t a one-horse race”, he says, “but, to continue the race analogy, FIRO got to the finishing line pretty quickly. It provides quick and easy levels of insight, and gives a framework for understanding and managing interactions and dynamics.”

Grant has used the tool many times in the past, valuing its insights and user-friendliness. “It’s not too scary”, he says. “It doesn’t take long to grasp the framework, and once you’re there the uses and implications are far-reaching.

“We wanted to leave the students with a mental framework to cover the challenges they would be facing in their own teams. We wanted them to pick up the theory and run – to hypothesise, and ask themselves ‘is this an issue of inclusion needs? Or control?’, and answer the question using insights derived from FIRO.”

Grant covered the background and framework of the tool in a workshop and gave personal feedback. On the basis of this the students were able to examine the dynamics of their own group and design interventions necessary to promote the effective development of their team.

“The FIRO provides a great platform for understanding the group dynamics at play in any situation”, says Grant. “We wanted them to gain some insight into those dynamics and then apply that thinking to what they’re seeing within their own carefully architected tchoukball teams. FIRO provides them with a framework for getting to grips with potentially performance-damaging dynamics, for example conflicting control needs, and then the interventions they might utilise to develop that dynamic positively.”

The module culminates in a tchoukball tournament. This provides a useful measure allowing the students to examine how their understanding and manipulation of team dynamics may have impacted on the performance of their group.

The development work was received with great enthusiasm by Worcester's Sports students, who recognised immediately the power and potential of the FIRO tool. 

“The students were so engaged”, says Claire-Marie. “It’s rare to find students engaged with a process so well and for so long. They all loved it”.

“We’re introducing a young generation to a tool that they haven’t met before, and a form of personal and team development that they might not have encountered either”, says Grant. “It’s inspiring for them, and a lot of useful conversations have emerged as a result. It’s all about insight and understanding, and taking those skills to the sporting world in the years to come.”

Claire-Marie plans to become FIRO trained herself, and hopes to embed the FIRO as a permanent feature of the Sports Studies course at Worcester University.

“Students who went through the course are now all enthusiastic supporters of the tool”, she says. “They are able to talk about their experiences of using a tool that generates an awareness of the interpersonal skills needed in a team environment. This really aligns with the university’s employability objectives. FIRO has transformed the module – I hope it is something we will be using on the course every year.”

One inspired student has already started planning how he could use the FIRO tool to help modify the learning and teaching methods in a physical education curriculum. This is exactly what Claire-Marie and Grant want – to transform the sporting world by innovative teaching that helps the next generation understand the importance of personal and organisational development, the foundations from which success springs.

FIRO is inspiring for the students, and a lot of useful conversations have emerged as a result. It’s all about insight and understanding, and taking those skills to the sporting world in the years to come.

Grant MorffewManaging Director. Omada Consulting