What can we learn from the world champion Olympic teams?

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As the country is overcome with Olympic fever, what can we as project managers learn from the world champion quality teams that will take part?  

Can we learn anything from the way these teams prepare, execute and deliver in a competitive environment?

I think we can.

If we consider for instance a world champion relay team each having to do their bit and pass the baton to someone else. No one person delivering the whole thats a bit like a project team. 

It is the sum of its parts, requires individuals to make a whole, has a clear achievable goal and is driven to achieve success thats a bit like a project team.

Each member knows their role, where they fit in the team and what is expected of themselves, each other and team as a whole thats a bit like a project team.

Most importantly everyone knows that whilst individual effort is essential only the whole team can win thats a bit like a project team.

The world champion level relay team:

  • has clear expectations
  • knows each others roles and responsibilities
  • has clear handover interchanges
  • is prepared
  • is in tune
  • has strategy to win
  • knows each others strengths
  • compensates for each others weaknesses
  • maximises each others talents
  • celebrates their success.

The team is required to be:

  • trained
  • prepared
  • cognisant
  • aligned
  • clear of the end game

It requires each individual in the team to be:

  • fit
  • agile
  • skilled
  • trained
  • unburdened, aerodynamic
  • correctly equipped
  • focussed
  • committed
  • finish line oriented
  • passionate
  • motivated
  • disciplined
  • clear about what it takes.

What the world champion level relay team is not:

  • confused about the expectations
  • harbouring hidden agendas
  • heading towards an alternative finish line
  • disillusioned about the ability to achieve
  • allow weakness to impact the overall success through blame and conflict.

All of these are not only transferable to the project team, but desirable and aligned to best practice.

The world champion level  project team should:

  • have clear expectations goals, deliverables
  • know each others roles and responsibilities visible structure & interactions
  • have clear handover interchanges lifecycle, gateways
  • be prepared plan for the future, equip for success
  • be in tune harmonised, no blame, no politics
  • have a  strategy to win clear objectives and how to achieve them
  • know each others strengths right people in the right places
  • compensate for each others weaknesses respect the differences
  • maximise each others talents develop trust
  • celebrate their successes congratulate, praise, thank.

Team members should be:

  • fit with stamina and pace
  • agile quick moving and flexible
  • skilled knowledgeable, experienced
  • trained learned, capable
  • unburdened/aerodynamic no baggage, lean, slick
  • correctly equipped has everything they need to do the job
  • focused determined, resolute
  • committed aligned
  • finish line oriented complete/finisher
  • passionate caring, honest
  • motivated fulfilled, driven
  • disciplined efficient, focussed
  • clear about what it takes no surprises, accountable.

Whilst there is nothing new in any of this , it is my experience that project managers often give nothing more than a cursory nod to these key elements of achievement, before diving deep into the doing.  

Perhaps just a little more conscious competence, focus and application in these areas could lift mediocre project teams to champion level ones.


Posted in People

Posted by Irene MacDonald on 14th Mar 2012

About the Author
As a Project Management professional Irene has been an APM member since 1998 and a Fellow since 2007. As an active volunteer Irene served on the committees of the APM People SiG and the SiG Steering Group. Currently Irene is a member of the ETAG and a book reviewer for Project Magazine Irene has a wealth of experience, particularly in the people and cultural areas of project, programme and portfolio management and shares this through public speaking, university lecturing and APM events.

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