A Triumph of Teamwork

Everyone is a cycling fan now, so no apologies for a Brad based blog this week.

Team Sky did something remarkable at the Tour de France over the last three weeks, they worked as a team.

The term team is used a lot in many different contexts, but it is rarely used accurately.  The reason it is rarely used accurately is that to understand what a team really is you have to experience it.  And experience of teamwork are sufficiently rare that few us have had it.

Wiggins may have been the one who ended up on the top step of the podium, but the triumph was all team.  Team principle, Dave Brailsford’s key innovation, among many, was to “de-ego” the athletes sufficiently that they could be a team.

The difference between a group of people and a team is that a team is aligned in pursuit of a common goal that is more important, to all of the individuals, than any personal ambition.  That is not to say that personal ambition is erased, which distinguishes a team from a cult, it is that personal ambition and team ambition are the same.

Team members require the humility to align their personal ambition with that of the team.  We saw Mark Cavendish, the World Champion, named during the Tour by L’Equipe, the best sprinter in the history of the Tour, having the team commitment and humility to serve the team by fetching water bottles for his team mates and taking his turn to pull on the front of the peleton.

Leadership and followership, in a team, become fluid, they move to where they are most relevant in the moment.  They are not appointed and stuck to hierarchically.  Most commentators, many of them ex-pros themselves, were sufficiently unfamiliar with teamwork to misinterpret Chris Froome’s “leadership” of Wiggins on the ultimate climb of the tour as a challenge.

On the final climb of the tour Wiggins and Froome dropped their last realistic challenger for the race overall.  Wiggins admitted afterwards that he lost concentration and started to think about what they had achieved, with 3kms left to climb.  Froome looked back repeatedly and called to Wiggins, to focus him.  Froome took the lead and the responsibility in the moment when it was required.  In a team leadership is assumed and released when appropriate, it is not sought, appointed or clung onto.

A team is not just about the short term objectives around which they are aligned it is about the long term vision around which they are also aligned as well.  Team Sky’s original vision was to win the Tour de France, drug free, with a British rider in five years – they did it in three.  Cavendish, Froome and others may appear to have “sacrificed” personal ambition at the tour, but their focus was on the vision.  They had agreed in advance that given the course and Wiggins strengths, experience and form he was the one most likely to deliver that vision (with Froome as back up).

In the bigger picture, Cavendish was paying back the support he had enjoyed to get the World Champions jersey last year and was, in turn, payed back with full team support in the final two flat stages of the race, including the epic sight of Wiggins in the Yellow Jersey stringing out the field at 60 km/h over the penultimate kilometer, setting up the win for Cavendish.  The same tactics are likely to be replayed in the Olympic Road race next week.

Froome too, will have his day.  Team Sky is very different from any previous cycling team, built around the great hero, ego leader in the mould of Merckx, Armstrong or even Indurain.  It would have been impossible to imagine any of them swapping roles with one of their talented team members in a big race (although Indurain occasionally did on smaller ones).  Team Sky’s new vision (stated immediately after achieving the last) is to win all three Grand Tours in a season and their strategy will be to support the rider best suited to the course at the time.  If Froome (or any other rider on the team) is the one in form for the next Vuelta, Giro or Tour and the course is suited to their strengths, don’t be surprised to see Wiggins riding in support as the loyal team member.

Wiggins win was not a personal victory driven by ego, in the Armstrong mould, with largesse dispensed from on high.  It was a team victory driven by whole hearted  team commitment to an objective and a vision with humility and reciprocity.  This is the nature of teams – anything else is just a group of people, who happen to be in the same place at the same time, pursuing their own objectives.

I am going to be on holiday over the next two weeks and am not currently planning to write my blog over those two weeks, I will be back writing again on 13 August – have a great time.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts


About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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4 Responses to A Triumph of Teamwork

  1. Fantastic blog and I totally agree with you Neil. Part of the reason why so many people have mis-understood Sky’s tactics is because, although road race cycling has always been known to be a team sport, Team Sky are taking road racing to a completely different place – as they have done with the track racing.

    To see Bradley Wiggins, in the yellow jersey, leading out Mark Cavadish at the end of the final stage in Paris yesterday will stay with me for the rest of my life. Absolutely fantastic! Watch the last 3km and see how hard other teams tried to stop Sky and go past them – the last section by Wiggins showed once again how strong a rider he is – Cavadish is hard enough to stop when he is 5 metres behind but put him in front and there’s only ever one result!

    The biggest challenge will be for Mark Cavendish, as a sprinter his requirements will always be secondary to general classification. But from what I’ve seen, I think he loves being part of Team and next year I think he will get more support – too much to ask for both yellow and green jerseys?

    Other teams I suspect will need to re-adjust to compete but maybe they will only recognise that when the team leader from Sky is changed to suit the specific race terrain and hopefully by then we’ve already won at least one more Tour de France!

  2. Andrew Gray says:

    Great observations about the meaning of teamwork. This is such a cliche in managementspeak these days that anything that helps us understand what it really means is very valuable. Great insights Neil, as ever!

  3. Team Sky WOWed us! Isn’t it brilliant when we get such a magnificent example of real teamwork that inspires the world – from innovation and goals to perfecting the plan and removal of ego.
    Add to that mix Neil’s insights and observations paragraph by paragraph, and we / your readers have a very valuable source of team awareness / development references that will last for a long time to come. Thanks Neil and have a great holiday.

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