In this article, Katie Churchman explores the world of professional team cycling to understand the transformative power of systems inspired leadership. If you and your team have a mountain of work to conquer, what might be the most effective and efficient way of helping your team overcome these challenges?
Let’s take a look at Team INEOS - the world’s most successful cycling team- to understand how we can become a ‘king of the mountains’ in our personal and professional lives. Sometimes life throws us an unexpected uphill climb, so how can we- as a family, team or organization- pull together in order to quickly and creatively make it to the top?
Now Team INEOS, led by David Brailsford CBE (former head of UK Cycling), has taken the meaning of ‘team cycling’ to a whole new level. The team doesn’t see themselves as just a collection of cyclists, but a whole system of mechanics, physios, designers and trainers to name just a few. And you might be surprised to hear that data scientists are also integral to the success of the team.
Aggregation of Marginal Gains
Brailsford encourages everyone involved with Team INEOS to seek out marginal gains. Some of these changes include changing the fabric of cyclist’s seats to improve comfort and rubbing alcohol on the tires for better grip. Yet, Brailsford’s team goes beyond the more obvious adjustments one would expect from a cycling team. They once brought in a surgeon to teach the riders the best way to wash their hands to prevent them from catching a cold; they work out which pillow and mattress will lead to the best night’s sleep for each rider; and they even paint the inside of the tour bus white so that they can more easily detect dust particles that might affect the performance of the team’s finely tuned bikes. When added together these minuscule changes made a whole lot of difference. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Team INEOS won the Tour De France with Chris Froome, who also went on to win the 2017 Vuelta a España and the 2018 Giro d'Italia, making him the champion of all three Grand Tours at once. These tiny changes, from the quality of the cyclists’ sleep, to the fabric of their bike seats have had a huge impact on the team’s overall performance.
A Systemic Approach
So, whilst a 1% improvement might not seem impactful on its own, doing a 100 things 1% better will make a big difference. So how can you- like Team INEOS’ David Brailsford- inspire your team to search for a 1% improvement in what they do? And how can you make them feel integral to the success of the team? As we say in systems coaching, ‘the sum is greater than its parts’ and by the utilizing the intelligence of the system, teams of all shapes and sizes may find that they not only survive- but thrive- through challenging times. Instead of focusing on the mountain we have to climb, let’s connect with the team around us, and consider what we can do together- today- to create positive change. One small percentage at a time.