Olympic Ambitions: What makes a medal winning team?

13 Aug 2012 by Sarah Leembruggen.

After an outstanding performance by Team GB at the Olympics, who hasn’t been inspired by sporting success?  London 2012 has been Britain’s best performance at an Olympics for over a hundred years. How have we done it? Team GB Chef de Mission Andy Hunt summed it up: "What has been the result of a shared commitment made by 541 athletes, representing 26 sports, to compete as One Team GB, and to do so in a manner that would make our country proud."

Team GB’s historic medal tally demonstrates how team success drives individual success in sport. Gold medal winning rowers, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning know that. They brought home Britain’s first gold in the Women’s Pairs. After the race Glover said:  "The last thing we said to each other was 'it's just for us, it's just for us', but it was for the whole of the team and the whole of the country.” After that Team GB had a glut of medals on the water, as rowers were galvanised by the belief that if their team mates could do it, so could they.

There may not be the glory of gold medals in business but undoubtedly there’s a lesson for managers looking to improve team performance. Having team goals is important but the key to success is making everyone feel that they are working towards a common goal, and that each person plays an integral part in the success of the team as a whole. Help your team to properly get to know each other, understand their role within the group and where their strengths lie. Make your targets, for both the team and individuals, achievable, so the team can see that they are making incremental progress. Publicising and celebrating even small successes will boost enthusiasm and help to maintain motivation. If you can feel inertia setting in, then get the group back together again to reinforce the message.

Britain’s cyclists dominated the track winning 9 medals, 7 of them golds. Team GB coach Dave Brailsford said they did it by making ‘marginal gains.’ In a  BBC interview he said: "The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

That meant stripping back everything. Not just the obvious technical elements of the race, but looking at the minutiae of the entire training schedule: the right pillows for a proper rest before a race; learning how to wash their hands properly to avoid viruses; eating fish oil and Montmorency cherries because anti-oxidants help muscles recover quicker; and finally the much discussed heated hot pants to keep the riders’ muscles warm.

Take that ethos into the workplace and break down your team. Look at where small changes could lead to a better performance. It could mean reviewing administrative processes, delegating elements of a campaign to someone more appropriate, or thinking about ways in which your team can work smarter not harder. Look at the office seating plan; are the right people sitting with one another? What about the decor? Is the environment energy boosting or energy sapping?

Lead from the front. Every good team needs a motivational captain. Your team will look to you to reinforce the message that they are doing well. Staying positive and making yourself available to offer support when it’s needed will keep individuals on track and help them to perform to the best of their ability.

Behind each gold medal is a story of monumental commitment, dedication, endurance and sacrifice. In PR perhaps we don’t have to go that far, but if we apply just some of the principals that have led to Team GB’s sporting prowess, perhaps we too could feel a golden glow.

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