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Team GB, Olympic and Paralympic success and lessons for the workplace

19th Aug, 2012

Lessons that we can learn from the Olympics:

You knew we would have to write up our thoughts on the Olympics didn’t you?  It was great wasn’t it?  Team GB surpassed all expectations.  So how can this success be translated to the world of work? Here are our thoughts, together with some questions to reflect upon….

Strategy. 

Clear Compelling Goals: Team GB had an overriding strategy to win more medals in London than in Beijing. Everyone knew this was the target; it was simple, transparent and communicated widely inside and outside the organisation.  An Olympic medal is also a compelling goal. It was also a team goal and it helped define team GB. Have you got clear compelling goals?

Rigorous allocation of scarce resources.  In order to reach this target resources were rigorously allocated. Each sport had to produce a ‘business plan’ to justify expenditure based on the return in terms of medals they expected.  Do you rigorously allocate resources based on return?

Pick the ‘Low Hanging Fruit’: In the past the big sports of athletics and swimming would have got the bulk of the investment but Team GB quickly realised that some medals would be relatively more easy to win than others, due to there being less competition. For example in the new discipline of kayak sprinting, or where we were already strong such as sailing – ‘the low-hanging fruit’. What’s the ‘low-hanging fruit’ you could easily pick that will help you reach your goals?

Know the competition. In sport it is not just about what you do but also about your competition and so the more you know about the competition and the more you plan for various scenarios that the competitors may use the more successful you will be. Do you take into account what your competition may do?

Get everybody on board. Team GB ensured supporters, games makers, media, social media and sponsors were all thought about, thanked and looked after. This in turn generated a positive ‘buzz’ around team GB. Who do you need to get on your side? How will you create a ‘buzz’?

Recruitment and selection.

Rigororous recruitment for potential: Several gold medal winners were not even competing in their events 4 years ago – such as Helen Glover in the rowing. After the Beijing Olympics the sporting bodies consciously went out to recruit potential medal winners. They looked for measureable attributes as well as attitude and trainability in a rigorous selection process that was open to everybody.  Do you recruit rigorously against competencies? Do you test for attitude and trainability? Are you rigorous in your recruitment?  Do you search for diverse talent?

Selection not based on sentiment: Selection was not based on sentiment but as to what was best for the team. So, Jason Kenny was selected before Chris Hoy, for example.  Do politics or sentiment influence your selections?

Development.

Performance Pathways: Once selected for a programme athletes had a carefully constructed ‘performance pathway’ designed to cover the four year period leading up to the London games.  Interestingly, the cycling and rowing teams only had ‘average’ World Championships in the years between the Beijing and London Olympics as these championships were only on the path to the goal of Olympic domination. Do you have a performance pathway?

Performance Management: Athletes constantly get performance feedback data that they can use to improve performance. Coaches are also constantly giving feedback on technique often real-time. How often to you get  and/or do you provide performance management information?

Marginal Gains: The cycling team is now famous for their performance director Dave Brailsford’s fanaticism for attention to detail and making lots of small improvements, small marginal gains which all add up to a competitive advantage. However each change involves moving from the current comfort zone. What marginal gains would make a big difference to your performance?

Professionalism.  The Olympics used to be the domain of amateurs now the athletes are very professional in their approach. Jessica Ennis trains six hours a day six days a week.  Are you really professional?  (Be careful – professionalism also means having work –life balance; which I am not sure all athletes have!)

High Achievement Campuses.  Each sport brought its high achievers together to work and train together. For example the boxing team had its best results for years after following this strategy. It  was also interesting that the Jamaican sprinters spurred each other on to better performance. How can you get high achievers to work together on a common goal while still focussing on their individual ambitions?

Using the best coaches. Team GB employed the best coaches, often from other countries, to help athletes reach the next level. Mo Farrah admitted that he had only got the next level by moving to the US to be coached by Alberto Salazar. Are you using the best coaches?

Repeatability. The successful athletes like Jess Ennis knew if they executed what they had done in training they had a great chance. Under pressure any process that has a weakness is likely to break down as we saw in many of the events. Are your processes robust under pressure?

Psychology of success. Team GB invested in enabling athletes to understand the psychology of success by employing coaches that understood psychology.  The successful athletes were in control of their thoughts – they understood that their thoughts affected their state and behaviour which in turn affected their results. Are you utilising the psychology of success?

Resilience. It was interesting to see how many of the Gold medal winners had suffered injury or poor performance in the past. Alistair Brownlee had a bad injury at the start of the year but was resilient mentally and physically to overcome the injury and win the gold medal. Likewise Greg Rutherford in the long jump overcame years of injury. Resilience is learnable by anybody. How resilient are you?

Team Work. All the athletes had very long lists of people who had helped them it was very much a team effort. Everybody in the team from whatever discipline supported everybody else. Is your team work up to Olympic standards?

If what you are doing isn’t working change it. If you are not achieving your goals it seems obvious that you need to change, but change often involves risk and even more hard work! Jess Ennis got a new Javelin coach as her javelin throwing wasn’t working, Mo Farah got a new coach. What do you need to change to achieve your goals?

Food for thought?