Delivering culture change in elite sport performance teams: A first exploration

Cruickshank, A. orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8893-2341 (2013) Delivering culture change in elite sport performance teams: A first exploration. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The efficient and effective management-led implementation of change is often required for successful performance across a host of organisational domains (By, 2005; du Gay & Vikkelsø, 2012; Sorge & van Witteloostuijn, 2004). However, while a major modern-day industry, elite sport organisations have seen limited development of their change management practices; particularly those deployed in the department responsible their core product: on field performance. Reflecting growing awareness of the need for elite sport performance team managers to rapidly create and sustain high performing cultures when taking over at a new team (Cruickshank & Collins, 2012a; Fletcher & Arnold, 2011; League Managers Association, 2012; Lee, Shaw, & Chesterfield, 2009), the aim of this thesis was to therefore provide the first exploration of this specific culture change process. Accordingly, interviews were undertaken with performance team managers in professional then Olympic sport as part of a grounded theory approach for developing domain-specific models of culture change best practice. Illuminating the criticality of the manger’s initial programme integration phase, both models primarily depicted a holistic, dynamic, and 360-degree process which was rooted to the manager’s power- and political-based interactions with key internal and external stakeholders. To further understanding of these features and their effective management, a case study of a successful change programme in a professional sport performance team was undertaken. This time examining multi-stakeholder perspectives (i.e., team management, players, support staff, and CEO) through a decentred theory lens, successful change was shown to have been facilitated by the team managers’ deployment of processes which proactively encouraged a “to and fro” of social power. Additionally, and falling out from the analysed data across the grounded theory and case studies, a unique change-mechanism plus a range of novel and previously overlooked leadership styles and management skills were also found to underpin optimal change in all settings. Overall, this thesis represented a long overdue study of the challenges faced by newly appointed elite sport performance team managers and, most significantly, provided the first sports team-specific, evidence-based implications on which these may be surmounted to enable consistent success.

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