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Blog : Building your elite team


Building your elite team

It was interesting to read of Sir Chris Hoy’s retirement this month, choosing to hang up his cycling helmet instead of competing in his home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year. As the greatest Olympic cyclist of all time, having spent years eliciting that extra 1% required to be the best in his chosen field, I was surprised he is not focussing on one last goal; to win gold at the aptly named Chris Hoy Velodrome.
This, however, is why Sir Chris Hoy has six Olympic gold medals to his name and, as yet, I still have none. I suspect every goal he has ever set has been well balanced; challenging yet achievable - driving him towards the pinnacle of his sport. And he has spent every day of his sports career attempting to reduce any potential risk to his success.
The decision to retire must have been difficult, I wonder if he made this decision alone or whether it was a ‘team effort’, made by his management and ‘Cycling Team GB’.  
British Cycling has been at the forefront of UK Athletics for the last ten years. Performance Director; Dave Brailsford is heralded as the leading authority on sports performance in the UK and the one theme that is relevant in all interviews is an unrelenting drive to leave no stone unturned in his quest to achieve the goal.
Perhaps then allowing Hoy to ride in the 2013 Commonwealth Games was one risk too far in a world where measurement and attention to detail is paramount; there is a ‘no compromise’ philosophy where every element of a cycle race is planned for, tested, researched, modelled and executed to perfection. Every turn of the pedal a rider makes is recorded by a power meter, analysed using performance software and then benchmarked against "power curve" models.
Perhaps it had been decided that Hoy had less chance of winning gold than his competitors or team mates? There’s no room for sentiment in elite sport; winning is the only currency Brailsford’steam trade in. The environment is tough, yet fair; team members know exactly what is expected of them and work their hardest to deliver; they also understand the goal is more important than the individual and will sacrifice personal glory to achieve this.
So how can this lesson be applied to business? I’d say it’s about creating great teams, with a strong leader, where everyone knows exactly what the remit is and how it is measured. A culture of ‘no blame’, trust and respect where team members get along and like each other is key to high performance, engagement and positively impacting the bottom line. The acceptance that sometimes the individual must step back for the good of the team. At other times everyone pulls together to propel one person to the forefront.
In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, ‘The Discipline of teams’ by Jon Kazenbach and Douglas Smith, the authors recognise there is no ‘how to’ list to subscribe to when building high performance teams, and any work on this has to take into account the culture of the organisation, however they do point out a number of approaches we concur with:
  • Provide goal clarity so everyone can focus on the end game
  • Establish urgency – the more meaningful the task the more likely people will adopt it and succeed
  • Think about first impressions – when a team first comes together on a project they will monitor signals given by others; a leader taking a call and not returning will have an impact on how the team forms
  • Set clear expectations of behaviour - ‘how we do things in this team’ for example constructive feedback only; one conversation at a time in meetings; everyone contributes and hits deadlines
  • Spend lots of time together – successful teams give themselves time to learn to be a team
  • Exploit the power of positive feedback, recognition and reward – this doesn’t have to be monetary; a senior person taking time to recognise a great job; awards; birthday celebrations; social outings
What other lessons can be taken from elite Sport to increase business performance?

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