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At Leading Teams we often receive enquiries from teams that have clearly identified the challenges they are facing and know that they need help.

In recent times we’ve seen an increase in people enquiring who feel that they are currently performing at a high level and want to know what we can do to help them maintain / improve that performance.

The great thing about performance is there is always another level to go to.

My colleague, Justin Peckett, wrote an article in which he states that when starting work with a new client, the only assumption he makes about them as a team is that they can improve. I believe this is one of the key strengths in our program. Through the questions we ask the people that make up the team, it is the team themselves that decide where their improvement will come from.

Marginal gains

When you have absolute clarity in your team’s purpose, and a truly trusting environment that allows for rigorous review, you can start to look at the finer details that can help your team win/improve.

Team Sky, a British professional cycling team that has won four Tours de France, call this ‘marginal gains’.

Essentially, the idea is that if you can improve lots of things by a small amount, the net result can make the difference between winning and losing. They focus in on every aspect that will have an impact on the result of a race and try to improve each little thing. You can only do this once you have a solid foundation both in the ‘mechanics’ (processes and procedures) and ‘dynamics’ (people and behaviours) of your team.

One example of their focus on marginal gains is how the team sorts out their equipment well in advance.

Team Sky use tyres and wheels on their bikes that are very popular among other teams as well, so they buy them a year in advance and store them to ensure they will have time to sort out any issues.

Also, because they know that in the early season races the weather is quite cool and in later races extremely hot, their mechanic’s workshop is a climate-controlled truck, ensuring the working environment is always comfortable. The idea is to keep everyone on the team feeling good.

The importance of sleep

My favourite of Team Sky’s marginal gains approach is that their athletes use the same mattress and pillows before and during every race.

The team know how important rest and recovery are in one of the most physically demanding sports around, so while the riders are on the course, carers are in their rooms preparing for the night ahead, removing the mattresses and pillows and putting their own in. Obviously, it is logistically challenging to move such bulky items around but they value the importance of sleep and recovery for their team, so they invest in it.

Our own experience

Roughly 10 years ago, Leading Teams held an induction for some new staff.

We went away for two days to the Hawkesbury River, doing different activities to test the team and individuals and to enable us to review against our Trademark under some duress and pressure.

We were a very diverse group of people with varying levels of fitness and age. I was the youngest and was still playing country football; we also had an older member who had been through heart surgery and everything in between.

We did hiking, mountain biking, and activities designed to test us mentally but there was one activity that has stuck with me since.

We walked down to the river to find tandem kayaks on the shore. We were told to pair up with someone and we would be paddling downstream. We didn’t know where to or how long we would be paddling. I jumped in a kayak with Justin Peckett who was still playing local football as well. Obviously, there were varying levels of paddling skills within the group but Justin and I were having a great time, paddling amongst the others, supporting and encouraging. After about 7-8kms we were told to paddle over to the bank where we would have a break.

During the break, Ray McLean facilitated a review about the team’s performance to that point. We were very positive in the fact that we had all stayed together, encouraged and supported each other and had some fun along the way.

Ray then told us that we were going to be paddling back up the river against the current and asked us had we learnt and therefore what would we commit to doing to improve our performance for the return trip (we call this the Learn/Commit/Do/Review cycle).

Because we all had a desire to improve, and we knew we had created a safe environment, everyone was forthcoming with ideas.

We discussed our strongest paddler pairing up with the weakest as well as staying on the inside of the bend to protect us from the current. Ray, as a good facilitator does, kept challenging and pushing us with questions to think about further opportunities.

After some time, someone mentioned we could paddle the kayaks in a straight line and take it in turns to be the lead (as by now, each kayak was at a similar paddle strength). The lead kayak could then swap to the back and benefit from the slip stream from the others and conserve their energy – much as you will see teams of cyclists doing. The return trip was a success, despite the current, and everyone was very happy with our performance.

At the end of the camp we were given a task to paint something that reflected our greatest learning. I painted the kayaks paddling in a straight line on the river. It was such a strong message to me that no matter how well you believe you are going, if you are willing and able to look hard enough, there is always another level of performance you can get to.

The willingness comes from a desire to always improve and continue to push each other. The ability will come from creating a safe, trusted environment where all ideas are valued and time is dedicated to reviewing and thinking.

You should also have your team’s agreed purpose and trademark on-hand to guide your decision-making to ensure you are not stepping outside your ‘rules’ or doing anything that may cause damage to your team, business or reputation.

With this kind of focus, there are no limits to how high your team can go.

To find out how we can help your high performing team to improve, give us a call today on 03 9654 3744.

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Simon started with Leading Teams in 2000 as an athlete facilitator then progressed to a full-time facilitator. He rejoined Leading Teams in 2015. Simon is based in Brisbane.