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Rio 2016 Photo: Ian Burt

Rio 2016
Photo: Ian Burt

The Olympics and Paralympics are over for another four years and we’ve all been thinking about the sacrifices made by the competitors and the whole notion of “Team GB”.

Nobody could argue that our Olympians are generally fantastic role models and ambassadors. They work hard and all appear to be clean living (TUEs aside), focused people who pop up on our radar once every four years. However, it’s the team ethos that interests me most. Team GB is the umbrella team (if such a thing exists) but actually it’s formed of lots of smaller teams. The cycling team, the hockey team(s), athletics, gymnastics and so on.

I’m fascinated by how these teams improve their performance even when it seems they could do no better. Most of us are aware that the cycling team are fastidious about every detail: ten one per cent improvements are much easier to achieve than one of ten per cent, but the overall effect is the same. This aggregation of marginal gains isn’t new. The Japanese introduced this in the post-war years as part of their industrial regeneration. Set the standard and then using the principle of continuous improvement (kaizen) to make small improvements the standard then improves.

This methodology is now used throughout the manufacturing world and has been adopted by plenty of other sectors. Technology clearly plays a big part in some teams’ successes but without world class coaches and back up this wouldn’t be enough. Preparation is also critical as evidenced by the ladies’ hockey team who benefitted from having an identical pitch to Rio laid at their training centre. By itself it wasn’t enough (as the men demonstrated), but with a supremely tactical coach, a scientific approach to training, an inspirational leader and lots of good old fashioned hard work they created a sense of destiny that carried them to the top of the podium.

Last week I heard a Paralympian cyclist being interviewed. He’d watched the Olympians win gold after gold and even though they shared many of the facilities, the results weren’t quite as good; so they changed the way they behaved as a team. They wore Team GB kit all the time; they travelled together as a team; they trained against each other but they still retained their individual desire. Small changes coupled with a burning desire to win resulted in new levels of achievement at Rio.

How often have we heard management speak about the power of the team? Belbin, Myers Briggs even David Brent have all eulogised on what makes a good team. Before we hide behind a wall of clichés perhaps we should just reflect on what we saw in Rio and how we can translate that into the workplace. Do we have shared values? Are we working for the same reasons? Do you trust your colleagues implicitly? Do they trust you? Am I accountable for my actions? Is there a fear of failure or an unquenchable quest for success?

Maybe a starting point is to identify five things we do at work and to improve each of them by 2% every week?

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