“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.
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:
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.”