I’ve been following the Tour de France this year. In all honesty this is largely a defence mechanism as my husband & other half (OH to my twitter followers) is an ex racing cyclist and a huge fan. So with an air of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ I have been reading online blogs, watching the highlights, reading the reports and trying to get my head around the ins and outs of the peculiar coloured lycra tops the commentators keep referring to! The key thing that has struck me more than anything else is how important Team Work is for the riders. To the uninitiated cycling can seem like quite a solitary sport, after all unless you’re on a tandem there is only one person pushing those wheels around; but the more I’ve watched The Tour this year the more I’ve realised what a shining example of being a team player these guys show.
Now, I apologise from this point onwards if I upset any Tour aficionados, as I’m sure I am about to hugely oversimplify concepts here, but it’s a great opportunity to show how you can match the team work principles from sport to the teamwork which makes businesses successful.
This year’s tour is being largely dominated by Team Sky. They have a clear goal: Bradley Wiggins to have the yellow jersey at the end of the race in Paris. They have a strong team full of cyclists with different strengths who are very capable of shining on their own, particularly if given a task which plays to their speciality strengths, however they all support and are working towards this team objective. To do this the team are cycling immediately in front of and behind Bradley, helping to ensure there is a clear route for the most efficient line, protecting him from the wind and other riders who may accidentally get caught up in a crash, and keeping up supplies of food and drink for the person they are trying to ensure finishes consistently closest to the front of the field. (for a great guide to the ins and outs of The Tour and correct Tour terminology I recommend this Telegraph article)
This year’s Tour De France has a long Time Trial on the second last day which it is widely thought that Bradley Wiggins will do very well in, and according to the pundits I am following it seems that if someone is to beat Bradley Wiggins then they need to get a significant time lead prior to this penultimate stage. The layout of the race has meant that with a strong team supporting Bradley they have been able to try and prevent a time lead occurring so far, and time is running out for their competitors. By recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the team they have been able to protect their leader so far and are continuing to work well towards their end goal.
The press has been making much fuss about Chris Froome being as strong, if not stronger, than Bradley Wiggins on certain stages this year, and as much fuss has been made in certain quarters about Mark Cavendish not being given a chance to show off his excellent sprinting skills this year. However interviews with Mark and Bradley and the team show that there is mutual respect of everybody’s skills and that the belief in the team goal has not changed. In a different event, a different year, or a different race the goal maybe different but in this race they all want one thing.
In many respects strong characters show themselves in every good team. If you look at a web development team then there will be people who are superb at database challenges, people who are great at front end user journeys, some who excel at making things look special and some who are good all rounders. In teams creating a marketing campaign there may be somebody who is good at ideas, somebody who is creative, and somebody who is good with figures and keeping things to budget. Often one of these jobs may appear ‘more important’ to the outsider who frequently only sees the front end or final product but in reality the end result would not exist if all the little bits were not there to support it.
In today’s press Bradley Wiggins has reiterated that he will work towards a team win whomever is the leader, and that leader should be chosen based on the strengths needed for the race.
Whatever the event, sport or business challenge, the key to a successful team is playing to the strengths of the team for each challenge and ensuring everybody understands and supports the end goal.