“Great teams are not always made up of huge stars.”
- Sir Dave Brailsford, General Manager – Team Sky Cycling
As a veteran of numerous start-ups and a lunatic endurance cyclist, I’m keenly aware of the value of team work in helping reach sometimes impossible goals or rebound from inevitable setbacks.
From a business perspective, we only need to look at Steve Jobs’ unceremonious exit from Apple in 1985 that made him learn the skills that were needed to run such a large corporation – one of which was improving his ability to build, manage and be a part of a highly functioning team of a diverse group of people. It is the foundation that has made Apple into the company it is today.
When talking about teamwork, I find sports-related metaphors are often the best. Thus, in order to better understand what makes a highly functioning team possible let’s take a look at my favorite sport - professional cycling…
Without equal, the Tour de France is simply the most difficult sporting event known to man. The effort required carves the human body in unnatural ways in order to accomplish this amazing feat (21 stages, 2,199 miles and 23 mountain climbs to be exact). Many believe that being strong, aggressive, and strategic are the key skills needed to master this event. But ask any rider or directeur sportif, and to a person they will tell you that teamwork is the key factor that separates the winners from the losers.
So what are the ingredients to making such a team possible? Let’s look at a few:
- Zero Ego – Sure, most companies or teams have “that guy” who believes he should be the protected one or simply too good to play an assist role. But for the most part, you can tell a winning team by how they talk after the race stages about their commitment to the team leader’s success. It is all about the dream of reaching the podium. Personal glory is not on their minds.
- A Sense Of Reciprocity - What motivates other teammates (i.e. the domestiques) to support their leader? When the leader also knows how to be a good follower and support his fellow teammates in other events by acting as their domestique. Teamwork becomes more effective if there is an unsaid reciprocity in the relationship among team members. It is key to note that the sense of reciprocity should come out of respect for each other and not as an obligation. If it is the latter, then it may ruin the relationship
- A Focus On The Big Picture – When acting as a domestique to then team leader Sir Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour de France, current TdF winner Chris Froome managed to dominate the rest of the field while simultaneously sacrificing himself for Wiggins' win. Froome rightfully had his sight on the bigger picture rather than allowing personal milestones or short-term gains to get in the way. It is not to say that personal milestones are of lesser value, but this highlights the fact that focusing on gaining experience under the tutelage of a champion helped Froome (and the team as a whole) make bigger strides the next year. As Rahul Dravid (a legendary cricketer) once said: “...good team players view success differently from the rest. They are motivated without really worrying about the credit.”
These behaviors are hard to master and require an individual to be willing to turn the spotlight on others and not hesitate to play second fiddle at times. Would you be comfortable playing second fiddle for the sake of the team? If yes, your chances of continued success and a potential leadership role down the road are well within your grasp.