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Teamwork lessons from the Tour De France

Insight

20 July 2018

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The Tour de France is often referred to as the pinnacle of a cyclist’s career - reaching the finish line carries enormous respect from cycling enthusiasts. Back in 2017 I proudly, although somewhat nervously, accepted an opportunity to complete a leg of this prestigious race. Although I am immensely grateful, I don’t often talk about this particular moment in the race, but upon reflection it has created a ripple of powerful learnings over the years, so it now feels appropriate to share.

After a gruelling 150km of steep climbs, sun and wind, the enjoyment began to dissipate, and I started to doubt my ability of seeing the finish line. I knew I was staring at the ghastly face of ‘rock bottom’ and I didn’t have anywhere else to look. Whilst in this point of self-loathing, I thought about a persons ability to overcome moments of difficulty out in the field, in the office or in training. Why was I struggling so much? Did I not train properly? Should I have had a team?

Although cycling can often be seen as an individual sport with only one successor taking the stand at the top of the podium, and of course only one athlete on a bike (no tandems in this race!), we shouldn’t underestimate the unseen team behind the athlete and their contributions in a first-place performance.

Perhaps if I was part of a wider team, I may not have struggled quite as much. Personally, I think there are three things that could have helped boost my morale and performance.

1. There would have been a greater vision for me to buy into

Ensuring every team member is aligned to the same purpose is fundamental to performance, but rather than just accepting the purpose, it is about genuinely believing in the ‘why’. That’s something I didn’t have. At work when I’m faced with a host of difficult decisions, it’s my emotional connection to the greater vision of the business which pulls me through because when something’s more meaningful, we’re more likely to give it our all. Have you ever watched the Tour de France and seen someone overly celebrating 60th place? It is likely their teammate has just come 1st and pure elation is shared throughout every member equally.

2. I would have had a support system and could play to their strengths

A successful team competing in any challenging environment requires depth, whether that be a nutritionist, psychologist or a mechanic, they are all fundamental roles in building a good team. But recognising the importance these individuals have on the wider performance is what creates a great team. I’m a decent cyclist, and if my bike broke during the race, I could probably manage to fix it, but a mechanic would be far more efficient, leaving me to focus on the race. Having that support system in place would have made me feel that I wasn’t alone and would have helped boost my confidence and focus during that difficult time.

3. Healthy competition would have spurred me on

For athletes to understand how members of their team tick, they have to spend time together, listening and learning about their teammates. It’s important to get on as a team as that will help to strengthen team cohesion and create a sense of unity. This is vital for teams who might compete as individuals, as they find themselves entering the arena and flicking the switch from friendly team mate, to competitor. Teams with strong cohesion and unity are able to use this tension effectively and encourage healthy competition. I think that could have really helped when fatigue started to kick in.

I could divulge detail after detail about the fundamentals of team success, but the factors often ripple around this: is your team more than the sum of its parts? If the answer is yes, then you just might have a podium worthy team.

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