By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group
The Tour de France is over and yet again we have a British winner, that’s 6 times in the last 7 races. It is almost becoming de rigeur! More correctly, there have been 6 Team Sky winners in the last 7 years. Let’s leave aside for now any suggestion of cheating (my own opinion based on not very much is that they don’t break the rules but bend them as far as they can) and praise this for the amazing achievement that it is.
Since they formed, Team Sky have had a plan, they have run the team with clear objectives and they have succeeded in what they set out to do. Mightily impressive.
And the win on this year’s Tour comes on the back of Chris Froome’s amazing three grand tours in a row. I’m not a cyclist but I can appreciate how the planning and effort that Team Sky go into creates the possibility of victory. To understand this more, listen to the excellent Podcast that the BBC made about how Chris Froome effectively won the Giro d’Italia on stage 19, it shows the meticulous planning that goes into creating the victory:
I used to work with a guy who came at the same inspiration from another sport, rowing, and a presentation he had seen from Ben Hunt-Davis:
The concept here is very similar to Team Sky, focussing on what makes for success and getting rid of anything that doesn’t. It is an easy concept to get but a very hard philosophy to follow.
Summarising these two great sporting examples, I see three things that stand out that can be applied to businesses:
Sweating the small stuff
Key to success for the rowers and Team Sky are the small incremental changes that add up to moving them forward. Every day sees them looking for something that will make a very small but relevant difference. These principles were also applied to the British Olympic Cycling team where things like heating the tyres, then the riders thighs were seen as minor changes to begin with but are now used by all the teams. So it is in business, looking at the small stuff can be what makes a difference in winning new work or delivering a successful project.
The big idea
As with Team Sky on stage 19 of the Giro, sometimes it takes a big idea to make a change. Froome was losing the race and needed something to change that. They sat down, developed a plan, a big plan, and executed it to perfection. But part of that was actually coming up with the big idea in the first place. I can imagine no ideas were off the table, that anything would be considered. Pure blue sky thinking. How often do we really sit down in our business and look at what the next big idea should be? And even if we do, how many times does it fall away because we don’t agree, focus and deliver on it?
With both the rowing team of 2000 and Team Sky one other key factor is true, that the team is more important than the individual. In the cycling world, the domestiques, the people that provide the support; drag the main rider through to the end of tough stages; deliver the food and drinks needed to get to the finishing line; are as important as the number one rider. Geraint Thomas served his time as a domestique before he was allowed to win the Tour. These riders know their role, they stick to it and the team wins as a result. I don’t think I need to explain the analogy in business!
Many of us love sport, we sit and admire as our heroes deliver success. Or, if you are a Scotland fan, occasionally beat a team 3 places above us in the world rankings. However, there are also many lessons to be gained from studying what makes sports stars great at what they do; dedication, drive, grit, hard work and talent amongst many more. Extending this into what we do every day isn’t always easy – not many of us will be as great at our jobs as Roger Federer – but we can hopefully achieve more by being inspired by them.