Building a team to do something we have never done before….

“Change is constant and the pace is getting quicker” is the common wisdom and I haven’t seen anything that disproves it. This means that organisations and teams need to change and evolve constantly. As internal and external forces act on them or their area of operations change, they have to react. Often organisations need to do something new or different to get the organisation to grow, service new or different customers, deal with staff changes etc. etc. This cycle of change means that there needs to be a constant focus on improving operations and also building the team to make sure it is capable of delivering what is needed.

Sometimes the shift in focus is even bigger than that. New products, new services, new technology or new markets mean that the organisation needs to do things differently or do something new. So how do you build a team to do something that you have never done before?

As ever, sport provides some interesting parallels that we can use. Football is the obvious choice but I would like to look at the approach being taken to win the oldest sporting trophy in the world, one that we have never won before: the America’s Cup.

As in other team sports, sailing a yacht is very much a group activity that takes skill, practice, fitness and passion to succeed at. Overarching all of those things are teamwork and communications. It is perfectly possible for a better led, less fit but stronger team to beat one that has “better” people in it. That is not to say that other attempts to win the cup haven’t focused on teamwork. They have but they have started in a different place than the current team: they have recruited the most capable sailors possible and tried to build them in to a team.

Numerous times in my career I have heard or read job ads that talk about “we only hire the best”, “you need to be outstanding in your field”, “I want the best sales and marketing director!” etc. etc. And how many times have we known someone like that moving on quite quickly? Leaders underestimate the damage that can be caused by recruiting an extreme “alpha-male” ego in to an organisation. Yes, there will be some disruption whoever gets recruited as that is what happens in the team lifecycle. There will need to be some team building done in all cases but successful teams contain members who are willing to join in for the benefit of the organisation. However, “rock stars” often aren’t as there is little in it for them: they are utterly focused on getting what they need to do done – often to the detriment of others.

Sir Ben Ainsley, one of our most decorated Olympians, is choosing to do something different. He has realised that teamwork is vital so he has looked for sailors that are “good enough” or “fit enough” to work with but who also work well together. He has taken the approach that the whole team, including himself, are on a journey together and that they will all improve and succeed or fail together.

All the news from the team is here: http://land-rover-bar.americascup.com/

We will find out next year whether his team will finally bring the cup back to the UK after over 130 years of trying.