I have always enjoyed sport and sport of most kinds (with the possible exception of football) even though I have never achieved much more than enthusiastic mediocrity in their pursuit.
Now I have reached a certain level of maturity I can watch sport on TV without that feeling of guilt that I really ought to be out there doing it not just watching it.
I can even indulge in fantasies without considering that I wouldn’t be able to match the astonishing talents and capabilities of the top performers.
This has been brought to mind this week and, I am delighted to say for the next three weeks, because it’s the Tour de France time and I find it absolutely compelling.
Watching particularly the footage from the helicopter and seeing the way that the teams take the lead or move up the pelleton reminds me of those nature shots of shoals of fish or flocks of birds all moving without apparent leadership, but moving together.
It is, of course, a great metaphor for the way that a truly effective team operates and many a lesson can be learnt from it.
The classic road cycling team is built on the premise that the team is greater than the sum of its parts and every team in Le Tour knows precisely the purpose of the way that they work.
For example, a team can be built around a leader who is a likely candidate for the General Classification or, in other words, capable of winning the Tour.
To back him up there several designated functions such as the lead out riders who will assist the leader to be in the right position on the road in order to achieve the best position for every stage.
If the purpose of the team is to win the sprints at the end of each stage then the team is built for just that result.
Notice also that if a rider in the team falls back for some reason such as a crash or a puncture, one of the other members of the team will hang back to help him regain his place.
Everything is subordinate to the needs of the team and hence the team sponsors and even more hence the objectives which all the team espouse.
It is understood and accepted absolutely that there will be only one leader and only one winner who will collect all the plaudits.
What a metaphor for any team in business. Just to have everyone know precisely what is expected of them individually and without the need, within the team, for notional accountability. That is because everyone trusts and helps everyone else to achieve.
If the cycling team works because it is very well organised, why should a business team not be equally successful for the same reason?
I recall working with the board of a company consisting of five individuals all of whom put in lots of hours and were constantly surprised that very little seem to be achieved.
We tested the team using the Belbin Method which determines the style which team members are likely to adopt from a list of nine typical types such as chairman, shaper, plant (the ideas person), completer-finisher and others.
The ideal is to have a team consisting of one of each type which should give breadth of ability and hence successful results. Very few teams have that luxury.
In this case all five turned out to be shapers which indicated that they could all see what needed to be done but it was up to someone else to do it.
We can learn from superbly managed teams like those in Le Tour. It needs commitment from everyone, an understanding of where the team is going, subordination of the desires of the individual to the needs of the team and above all, a sense of purpose that will drive the team to success.
Remember the Vistage axiom:
“No-one is as smart as all of us”
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