It’s been a triple whammy this Sunday for sport in the UK: the Wimbledon final, the Grand Prix and the cricket world cup. And it led me to think about leadership and team work.
First of all we have the Wimbledon men’s final – two masters of their craft, battling with ebbs and flows of skill, concentration, brilliance, fatigue, frustration. Both men knowing they are doing this, on their own in front of an audience of millions.
Louis Hamilton, Formula 1 racing driver pipped to the prime spot earlier in practice only to power through and take top spot, beating records for wins at the British Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit. Battling on his own as he drives at ridiculous speeds around a track, it is a study of immense concentration and on-point all the time for the vagaries of others who can destroy his chances in a split second.
Then we have the England cricket team, supposedly the favourite once they’d beaten Australia, facing a new venture, with the expectations of their country heavy on their shoulders, hanging on by a thin thread against New Zealand until at the very last minute they finally triumph.
In the first two we have individuals, in the second a team. What do they all have in common?
First it’s clear that those ‘on show’ were elite sportsmen who had taken multiple hours of training and practice to reach that level. That’s something we could all aspire to should we want to be known as showing elite leadership in our field. Second, and for me more important, is that they each, as individuals, were part of a wider team. In tennis, their coaches, physiotherapists and their support crew; in Formula 1 the pit crew on the day and during trials, their trainers, the designers, the engineers at HQ and their logistic support for the whole season; in cricket, their fellow on-the field team members, the coaches, therapists, suppliers. In every single case there was a community of like-minded people with a common cause yet, at a crucial time, reliant on a specific individual to deliver in times of intensity.
A study by Robert Huckman and Gary Pisano from Harvard Business School discovered that, what appeared to be ‘stand out stars’ in surgery, when moved from their established working environment ie moved onto a new organisation, returned to the same performance levels as their peers. It suggested that working within a team of colleagues who supported each other, helped to develop interactive routines to harness specific talents of each team member.
We know that the world of medicine is very hierarchical. What then could have occurred in the teams for these ‘high performers’ to reach these levels? Positive psychology, which I promote, has always focussed on the benefits of personal relationships and ‘social connectedness’. Studies such as the classic Lewin model, demonstrate that for a collective to work as a team, the individuals don’t just ‘work together’ they strive for that common purpose.
To talk about elite leadership and elite team work takes it a step further. It demands a higher level of connectedness which was clearly demonstrated in sports this Sunday. It is evident in business too for a few but it could be for so many more. To achieve that level of connectedness takes time and requires strong vision and clarity from the leadership. Not all businesses have the capability and capacity to do that.
There is a way though to reduce the time required and that is through introducing a Thinking Environment as developed by Nancy Klein.
I am consistently struck by the power of TE when I work with individuals and teams. It is particularly powerful when attempting to bring people together who have no common knowledge or connection. The beauty of TE is that it is driven by the belief of equality, diversity, inclusiveness and positive psychology. It allows for a deeper, more profound connectedness and communication with your team that allows you to go to the frayed edges of your thinking in a safe environment. By doing so it bonds teams together more rapidly and more deeply allowing everyone to be part of that elite group and show elite leadership to the rest of us.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.