8 winning tactics for creating gold medal teamwork

Gold medals
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This article was written by Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, authors of ”The Team Formula”.

The Olympics are now in our rear view mirror. This is a good time to review and learn from the teamwork that goes into making an Olympian successful.

Team GB had magnificent success at the Olympics. That kind of success doesn’t happen without teamwork. Teamwork is crucial not just to team success but also individual success.

No one is an island: behind most successful individuals, stands a great team. An athlete will have a team of coaches, physiotherapists, dietitians and many more. Together they work towards a goal – the gold medal goal. And it’s exactly the same at work.

Gold medal teams are what every organisation wants. And there’s a lot we can learn from sports when it comes to teamwork and performance.

The first important step is that a team needs to know where they are going or what they are contributing to (vision) and why (purpose). This clarity provides a framework and “reason to be” that can rally a team to work together. 

Once the goal is set, here are eight proven tactics for creating gold-winning teams and individuals.

Build trust

If you are going for gold, then remember that trust is crucial to teamwork, and it starts with team members knowing each other.

Team members need to know each other, both professionally and personally.

To be willing to let others shine, like those in supporting functions do, comes from knowing that you are valuable yourself.

Otherwise they won’t understand each other and they won’t want to engage because they haven’t made that human connection – and hence they won’t fully trust each other.

When the going got tough in Rio, each member of the team really had to know each other to support each other

Share information

Knowledge is not power. Teams members all bring their unique set of skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom to the table.

Effective teams fearlessly share regularly and generously for the benefit of everyone. This makes the capability of the whole team grow and gives the team more power.

In Rio the teams involved had to constantly share information and insights, keep up to date and not keep anything from each other.

Be transparent

Without transparency, trust will suffer. Transparency is becoming the expected norm in business and expectations are growing.

Knowledge is not power. Teams members all bring their unique set of skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom to the table.

It starts at the top: the more senior you are and the more responsibility you have, the more you need to be a role model for this.

Employees will follow the leader’s behaviours, good or bad.

When done well this can have a positive cascade effect throughout the organisation.

In sports teams it is crucial to be transparent, to let everyone know what is happening and how you are all feeling, as transparency (=knowing that there are no hidden agendas) makes people relax and be able to focus on their task.

This in turn leads to even better results. 

Deal with conflict and tension

Conflict, a difference of opinion, can be healthy and if carefully managed it can trigger useful debates.

Transparency - knowing that there are no hidden agendas - makes people relax and be able to focus on their task.

It can make people think differently, expanding knowledge and insight, and innovation can happen and results flourish. Different opinions are not a bad thing. It’s how we handle the conflict that makes a difference.

In Rio, the pressure would at times have created much tension. When getting to that all-important moment that you have trained for years, the tension is high.

The team needs to know how to handle that tension and be ready for it and not let it jeopardize the teamwork or the results.

Stay engaged

Team engagement is crucial to business success and indeed sports success too.

Team members who are engaged are interested in what they do and committed to the team mission are willing to going the extra mile.

The key to engagement is involvement; by involving others you make it impossible to stay detached.

They are there in body as well as mentally and emotionally.

The key to engagement is involvement; by involving others you make it impossible to stay detached.

The teams in Rio HAD to be engaged, not just then and there but more importantly in all the years of preparation, when things were tough and results not great. Engagement is easier when team members support each other all the way.

Stay focused on the long-term

Businesses have to get beyond day-to-day urgencies, be able to take a holistic view, see the big picture and how all the parts fit together.

For a team this means being able to think beyond your own area, how you fit into the wider organization and how you impact the customer experience and value proposition.

Imagine how great it would feel to be part of a team where everyone is thinking of the team and not just themselves.

This is about business sustainability and long-term success.

Everyone is busy but just being busy is not enough. Long-term success requires long-term thinking. To get to Rio, the teams had to stay focused on their long term goal.

There would have been setbacks and different results along the way – long-term thinking (keeping the end goal in mind) helped them stay focused and make decisions and take actions that would aid both short- and long-term results.  

All for one and one for all

A great team can – and should - be like the three musketeers – all for one and one for all.

Honour your time and efforts by seeing yourself as a full time member of the team, not just an individual contributor.

A great coach sees each person and is able to bring out the best in them, encouraging and helping them to want to do their best.

Imagine how great it would feel to be part of a team where everyone is thinking of the team and not just themselves. In all the sports teams in Rio the team could not have even made it there if they had worked alone, doing their own thing.

Teamwork is what makes the difference. And consider an individual athlete, who even if they are brilliant at their sport, would not have made it to where they are without the constant support of those around them.

To be willing to let others shine, like those in supporting functions do, comes from knowing that you are valuable yourself, that your unique contribution makes the difference.

That the athlete, although they may be the star, would not have made it without team. This is what all for one and one for all is all about.

Follow up, give feedback and coach

Coaching leadership is also of major importance and it happens at both an individual and a team level.

A great coach sees each person and is able to bring out the best in them, encouraging and helping them to want to do their best, and keep getting better – helping to bring out self-leadership in each athlete.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

With the awareness of what someone does well and could do better, they can turn that into learning and do it even better. Remember that no one is best at everything.

A sports gold medalist couldn’t be a winner in all sports at the same time – and it’s the same at work. Help employees to focus their efforts to become truly outstanding at what they do. Each team had a team or individual coach to help guide them in Rio.

Many said they could not have made it without the coach giving them guidance, direction and feedback. We can be a coach to our teammates too.

If you want to create a great team, pay particular attention to behaviours. How we behave has an impact on others and affects how they behave. It’s when we change our behaviours that we can achieve transformational change.  

And finally, don’t give up!

What all gold medal winners have in common is that they don’t give up. They don’t let setbacks stop them. They use the power and the feedback of the setback to find new strategies to move forward.

They value the silvers and the bronzes too – and they use them to propel them onwards and upwards.

So stay focused, go the distance, and never give up on that goal. Be a strong gold medal winning team.

Elisabet Vinberg Hearn
Managing Director
Think Solutions
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