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The Path to Gold (Part 2 of 2)

Traditionally in a relay, the fastest team member goes last, with the second fastest giving the team a good start at the front. The other two run or swim in the middle section of the race. A smooth baton changeover is usually seen as essential to a good race – and is often where it is won or lost.

Marc recalled that one of his fellow team members was extremely nervous about taking the baton. His particular disability made it more difficult than it would have been otherwise. However, because he swam second, there was no getting round the need for him to take it.

So, the team decided to do something different and placed this swimmer first. Initially, he didn’t like it because everyone on his part of the race was going faster. But he was persuaded to concentrate entirely on his own performance and become blinkered to what was happening in the other lanes. This brave move paid off and the relay team went on to be extremely successful.

Building a team

It’s so easy to stick to the same formula when it comes to building a team, however, sometimes moving personnel around can pay off, even if it means they are outside their comfort zone, as this swimmer was at first. There will always be a mixture of abilities but it’s a case of finding a way to give everyone the scope to do their best. This might at first seem detrimental to the team; however, the sum total of everyone giving their optimum performance should counteract this initial dip. As leaders in business we know when we move team members around it can cause anxiety as the colleague may feel uncomfortable for a short period of time as they learn a new role. However, over time, the impact can be very positive and significant for the individual and the team.

One of the major lessons Marc learnt to his cost was that winning teams tend to all have the same goal. He illustrated this with a story about coming second. When he saw a photograph of the team collecting their silver medal, it became obvious to him why this had happened and they hadn’t taken gold. Two of the team (himself included) looked fairly miserable, whereas the other two looked delighted.

The despondent pair had been aiming to win and had developed the mindset that they could do it. The other two hadn’t expected to come first, so were more than satisfied with second place. This came as a shock to Marc as he had imagined that, as sportsmen, the whole team was aiming for one thing – to be the best. However, as he pointed out, it was dangerous to assume anything.

Team motivation

This goes for business teams too, as knowing what motivates people is crucial to success, especially if Olympic gold isn’t on the cards and it’s the satisfaction of being the best at your job. Of course, success means different things to different people, some view success as public recognition for their achievements whereas for others it could be achieving a sales target or success may be getting the right work life balance. There are no rights or wrongs – but awareness and alignment with the right goals and values all helps motivation.

Marc was keen to point out that his disappointment at coming second doesn’t mean he is afraid of losing – good athletes never are as they can always learn from their performance. Nor are they squeamish about feedback, as some business people seem to be. It’s this open mindedness and seeing improvement as an ongoing issue that sets the champions apart from the rest.

For the fortunate majority who have never had to face a life-changing experience, listening to the stories of those who have turned their lives around is often like a shot in the arm. It’s a reprimand against mediocracy and a reminder that life can be short. Marc’s tale was a cue for us all to think again about our teams, our businesses – and our lives.