Not long ago, we had an internal CEF workshop where we discussed our common values at work and between colleagues. We elaborated on five topics: trust – in ourselves and between us; the need of being accountable for our work and actions; being results-oriented; individual and joint opportunities for growth, and how to establish and maintain good team spirit. Contemplating on these five values that the CEF staff is seemingly unanimously treasuring, it got me thinking about interconnections between them – how they are manifested in team dynamics and in organizational culture. And, in the end, how it influences the success of the organization.
Seeking for a team that is results-oriented, I thought about how it is done in sports: what are the shared values, how teams are built, what are their growth opportunities, and how the roles are defined and followed. I could very easily find connections in one of my favorite team sports – cycling. Now, one might ask how on earth is this a team sport when there is just a group of individuals riding their bikes!? Sure, this might be so at the first glance, but it encompasses so much more and it is a true team sport in its very essence.
Due to the high degree of professionalization and long traditions in sports, the roles in teams have been developed to the very details. They are well defined and divided, yet built upon the individuals and their strengths. Only this way can the team achieve the pursued results. When a team wishes to win a stage or race, it needs to put in all the effort in exploiting synergies among the individuals. For that, there is also a lot of teambuilding elements that must show results when acting together on a race, although cyclists in professional teams also train a lot individually. In addition, there is a need for strong trust among members that everyone follows the assigned tasks.
The role and strengths of an individual normally decides how they will train. Each cyclist has a different mix of strengths and weaknesses. Of course, they work on improving the weaknesses, but a good coach should nevertheless strive to build on their individual strengths. If one is particularly good in climbing hills, they look into improving his efficiency in overcoming slopes. If he focused too much on sprinting, which is not what he might be built for, rather than on climbing, he might never become a good climber.
Cyclists are normally classified into categories, such as all-rounders, time trialists, sprinters, puncheurs, climbers, etc. The team examines what each can contribute the most and decides on their particular roles – how they will train and act during races. There will be a team captain and others supporting him, each with his/her own specific task. They have a particular role in the team and need to be accountable according to it. One can very hard be in the same time assigned to procure the team with supplies and set the pace at the head of the main group to catch the breakaway group. Also, there can hardly be more than one team captain. There are some exceptions to the rule where teams have two captains, but they are, in average, less successful.
The tasks to be clear-cut and performed responsibly, not passed on to someone else. If the tasks are not well coordinated, it will result in disorder: the cyclists will not get supplied with food and drinks, they will not know their tasks and will not help each other and will ultimately not be so successful – neither as a team, nor individually.
With success come awards and compensations, an important factor of motivation. The compensation is set according to a player’s role in the team and relative to his/her contribution to the team’s success. Interestingly however, the award given to the best classified cyclist is, in large part, distributed among other team members. This is because it is a team success, with all team members contributing greatly and also giving up on working on their individual placements in the name of the team.
I believe that when speaking about teams in an organization we can learn a lot from sports. Even more, if we wish to become successful and results-oriented. When building a team and considering the individual development of the team members, we must look at each person and mutually decide on individual development paths. We need to consider what this person can contribute most to the team and build on that, instead of developing individuals who are relatively good enough in everything while not particularly good in any specific trait.
A team is powerful when it is well managed and has strong team players, who draw from each other’s advantages and create synergies within the team. Moreover, a team needs a clear vision and clear roles and tasks to be functional. Individual team members cannot be accountable for more than is in their decision-making power and beyond the means attributed to them. They should be accountable and rewarded according to their role in the team, while being given the opportunity to grow and eventually take over more responsibilities.
Speaking on values is a good starting point on how to proceed with developing of teams. It takes time and a lot of consideration. Values are also not static and rigidly defined and are therefore needed to be constantly revisited. The hardest part is indeed making it happen, living the values that a team treasures. Discussions might turn into different ways, therefore we need to be receptive for different people’s ideas and mind for a constractive approach.