Williams Formula 1 team remove ‘bureaucracy’ to drive innovation

Deputy team principal Claire Williams tells CBI Annual Conference about the challenges of competing in a sport with 'immovable regulations'.

Senior management at the Williams Formula 1 team encourage innovation at all levels by removing middle-management sign-off and other bureaucracy wherever possible, according to team deputy team principle Claire Williams.

Speaking at the CBI Annual Conference at Grosvenor House, Williams told delegates Formula 1 is a “development war” – and that if the team stops innovating then “we lose the war”.

“We always encourage every single person at Williams to innovate, and we do that through enablement,” she said. “That means enabling them to go about doing their job without a load of bureaucracy. And also without a load of middle-managers coming in and needing to have sign-off and approval for this and that.”

The Williams team has won 16 world championships in Formula 1 and, being an independent family business, often has to compete on much smaller budgets than some of its main rivals. Currently the team runs on an annual turnover of £115m – around one-third of Ferrari’s income.

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As a result having everyone pulling in the same direction and working on ways to add value is especially important; something the senior leadership emphasise on a daily basis. And the high-profile nature of the business also brings its own mix of challenges and rewards.

“Everyone sees our success and our failure which makes it very unusual as a business,” Williams continued. “And as much as 100 million people seeing your success is hugely motivating for your team, it can also be incredibly de-motivating if things aren’t going well.”

And recent experiences within the sport have tested the Williams team severely, but it’s a test the deputy team principle believes it has passed with flying colours.

“It’s incredibly difficult to pick up your team when things haven’t gone well. But the culture piece and the motivational piece are a really critical part of Formula 1 team,” she said.

“When we were having such a bad season in 2013 were asking our guys to do what they had to do week in/week out when they were only getting 15th place finishes. But thankfully we have a great culture that enables us to ride out the rough and welcome the smooth when it comes.”

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Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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