What the Tour de France can teach us about teamwork
Author: Simon Tarver
Giant-Shimano rider Marcel Kittel has attributed his opening stage victory in the Tour de France to his team.
"I have to say thank you to my boys," he said after he crossed the finishing line. "They worked very hard for me. I think the advantage for me today was the team. When you look at the last 5km, we were for sure the strongest team. We could do it how we wanted and that was important for the victory."
The words of the German are particularly poignant given the controversy surrounding Team Sky in the run up to the tournament, which ended with Bradley Wiggins being left out of the race.
Tensions between Wiggins and Chris Froome have been making headlines ever since 2012 and the words of Kittel only serve to highlight the disparity between the togetherness of the British team and that of the German's.
If nothing else, the frictions with Team Sky and Kittel's ride to victory are a lesson in the importance of teamwork and togetherness for the achievement of excellence.
A tale of two teams
When we look at Team Sky and Giant-Shimano we can see clear differences in how they function as teams.
Rewind to before the Grand Depart and Sir Dave Brailsford had given an interview to L'Equipe in which he had said that his next objective was to win the Tour de France with a Frenchman. A comment that would have done little to instil a sense of support in British favourite Chris Froome. This disjointure isn't without precedent either, with Froome having previously criticised Brailsford for reneging on agreements and not giving him the support he needed.
On the other side there is the coach of Giant-Shimano, Rudi Kemna, whose main headline-making activity thus far this year is selecting the first ever Chinese Tour de France rider. What's more, when talking to the press he has focused largely on the talent, claiming each member has been chosen to create the best sprint formation around Kittel and Degenkolb.
"It is always hard picking a selection for the Tour." Kemna said. "And especially so this year when we have so many riders all at near enough the same level and capable of bringing a lot to the team. The way we are heading into the Tour is the way that I like to start a race - with a team full of confidence and with clear goals. I am looking forward to going to the Tour and showing the world who Team Giant-Shimano is."
It is perhaps these clear goals that have given Giant-Shimano the edge. Indeed, at Primeast we have seen that no matter the context - sport or business - all team members need to be aligned to a clear purpose to achieve excellence.
Conversely, the goal of Team Sky has been somewhat marred by conflicting egos, including tensions between Froome and Brailsford, and perhaps ill-advised press statements from those associated with the team.
Disjointure in Team Sky can be traced back to 2012 and while it hasn't prevented the team from reaching the top of the podium, it hasn't made for a smooth ride. Two years ago Froome pulled away at stage 11 against orders and in 2013 the team fell apart at stage nine, leaving Froome riding alone and vulnerable.
When we look at Giant-Shimano it's a different story, not least because the team has two victories under its belt in this competition. Throughout the Tour de France the riders have ridden as a team thus far, being called a 'masterclass in teamwork'. They have intensified pressure at the same time and worked in such a way as to ensure Kittel can take victory.
Team Sky, on the other hand, put in one of it's its worst performances, amid Froome's embroilment in accusations that he had been given preferential treatment through his use of certain medications. It seems instead of all riders being focused on the collective purpose of winning, other considerations - mainly individual - have taken precedence.
There's no I in team
The Tour de France has certainly made clear that when it comes to creating a successful team, each member has to be valued for their role and has to be working towards the same purpose. There is no room for egos, as these affect engagement and achievement of the goal.
Start putting 'I' above 'we' and Patrick Lencioni's five team dysfunctions become apparent.
Absence of trust - This happens when team members are unwilling to be vulnerable and open up about mistakes and weaknesses. Without this honesty, there is no foundation for trust. In Team Sky, Wiggins himself commented on a lack of trust between him and Froome, which has arguably been borne from a mutual inability to admit fault.
Fear of conflict - Conflict is one of the most powerful tools teams have but if people don't engage in debate or ignore tension - much in the way Brailsford is said to have buried his head in the sand over Froome and Wiggins - a team loses its ability to understand each other and explore resolutions.
Lack of commitment - If a team is not engaged in open, unregulated debate, it becomes difficult to get team members to engage with purpose. This is because they haven't been involved in the decision-making process. At Primeast we work with teams to ensure leaders involve all members to formation of purpose, values and goals. This way, a generalised team purpose becomes, for every member of the team, 'our purpose'.
Avoidance of accountability - When people become misaligned from purpose, it becomes hard to hold people to account. This is because they haven't committed to the plan in the first place.
Inattention to results - As a result of the first four dysfunctions, a team will often fail to achieve its purpose and generate results. This is because individual needs have been placed above the importance of collective goals.
Take aways from the Tour de France
For businesses the Tour de France has thus far demonstrated the importance of ensuring all team members are aligned to the same purpose and no one person is elevated above the rest.
What's more, those in charge need to lead from the front and create a culture in which team members feel supported. Whether in sport or business, a lack of togetherness at a team level will make it impossible for a company to deliver results.
Primeast has been working with organisations for over thirty years as learning and development partners. We can support you and your teams to get the compelling purpose, strong team culture, and fully aligned internal processes you need to succeed.
To start a conversation with us today, you can email Simon directly or call Primeast on +44 (0) 1423 531083.
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