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The best teams run like “a well-oiled machine” in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  So how can you unleash the power of the team?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

– Helen Keller

Two of the best performing teams in world cycling in recent years have been the Sky cycling and the British cycling teams.  Under the leadership of Dave Brailsford, these teams focused on a strategy of “marginal gains”.

Marginal gains are the incremental improvements that could add up to major change and significant performance improvements – from the rider’s diet to the design of the bikes.  Following this strategy, the results changed from “rubbish” amongst the best in the world.

Inspired by this tale of success, a headteacher at a “failing” London academy, in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the city, decided to adopt the philosophy to see if it would help to improve the performance of the school.

It began with a “relentless and open-minded search” for every conceivable improvement.

In the school context, this meant: opening free breakfast clubs; extending library opening hours; using “behavior mentors”; banning bad language; and ensuring pupils returned home swiftly after school.  The results in the first year were staggering: the biggest statistical improvement in London – bringing results in line with some of the most affluent areas of the country.

It led to the cycling team leader visiting the school to understand how his original philosophy had been applied.  Between them, Brailsford and headteacher Mark Emmerson identified the common themes:

  • Understand each team member’s motivations and ambitions
  • Problems must be raised and dealt with face to face
  • Proactively listen and help other team members
  • Understand that “we own each other’s reputation”
  • Focus on process, not outcomes – and seek ways to improve it
  • The people who succeed take ownership
Through these maxims, we can see clearly the power of the team and how the sum of the individuals involved become more than the sum of their parts.

The success of both City Academy in Hackney and the British cycling team demonstrates the truth of Andrew Carnegie’s statement about the power of teamwork.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together towards a common vision.  The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives.  It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”