The Business of Cycling

With the Tour de France finishing in July and me training for a century ride in September, between watching cycling and training myself, I have cycling on the brain so I wanted to share some thoughts about the parallels of a good cycling team and a good business.

As a brief introduction for those who don’t know, the Tour de France is the most famous cycling event in the world. It spans 23 days with 22 teams of nine riders racing over 2100 miles in 21 total stages (or race days) throughout Europe. Each team has a leader and the goal is to put their leader in the position to wear the yellow jersey, signifying they are winning the race. The team leader with the yellow jersey after the 21 stage wins the race, a very prestigious honor for the team.

So, in watching the intricacies of the Tour de France, there are a lot of similarities between how good cycling teams operate that I believe many businesses today can learn from.

First, each cycling team has a leader and a shared vision for the team. Teams are all riding for their leader with the goal putting him in the best position to win the race. Individual achievements are secondary to the leader succeeding because when the leader succeeds, the team succeeds. This is a philosophy all members agree to when joining the team. In business today, the CEO is the leader of the organization and it’s critical that he/she commands the respect of his/her leadership team as well as everyone else in the organization. For the CEO to ultimately succeed, he/she needs to have a clearly articulated vision. Ensuring all key leaders have bought into that vision is critical for the company to operate at it’s best. Check out 10 Qualities of Superior Leaders(http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/204248) for more on the importance of leadership and vision.

Second, in a good cycling team, everyone has a key role and needs to fulfill that role for the team to be successful. You have the team leader who is a cycling jack-of-all trades and his goal is to win the race. There are riders who specialize in the mountain stages or the sprint stages. Riders are selected for their particular strengths, which complement the team, and each rider knows his role. This philosophy applies to a good business too. The leadership team needs to be comprised of members with a variety of strengths who complement each other to make the overall team better. With the fast pace of business today, everyone needs to be contributing and when one team member is not or a leadership team lacks a certain strength it needs to be successful, this can bring the entire team down. Knowing you have the right mix of strengths on your team is critical for success and one tool I’ve used in the past is Strengthsfinder (http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx), an online assessment that helps you uncover your strengths. Knowing the strengths of all members of your leadership team is a great opportunity to better understand your key leaders to ensure that each has the right strengths needed to succeed in his/her role. If not, training is needed to help this individual become better. If after training, a team member is still weak in a key strength needed to succeed in his/her job, perhaps this individual is in the wrong role. Effective leaders assess their teams to ensure the strength mix for the team is right.

Third, good cycling teams communicate really well. Each member has an earpiece so team management can proactively communicate what’s happening during the race providing their team as much information as possible to assess their situation. There’s also lots of verbal and non-verbal communication happening between team members during the ride from alerting riders about potholes in the road to deciding when to try a break away from the pack. Riders know how important it is to concentrate on good communication and be alert and ready to react when needed. They communicate well because they’ve practiced together, they trust each other and they anticipate issues. In today’s business climate, business needs to react quickly and the only way this can happen is with great communication. And this takes effort to be effective. Good communicators listen well and react accordingly and finding leaders who listen and are good oral and written communicators is vital for your business’s success. Good communication leads to trust and leaders who trust each other work well together as a team. For more on good communication, check out The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh, a great book on the art of listening. You can find it at Amazon.

And that leads to point four, teamwork. Cycling is the ultimate team sport because for the majority of a race, the riders ride in the PELOTON, defined by Wikipedia as “the large main group in a road bicycle race. Riders in a group save energy by riding close, near and, particularly behind, other riders. By riding together, the reduction in drag is dramatic; in the middle of a well-developed group it can be as much as 40%”. For the Peloton to work, all riders’ needs to ride at the same speed, share the workload of riding in front when it’s their turn and be alert so they don’t cause a crash. Compromise and trust is key.

What business wouldn’t want to increase efficiencies by as much as 40%? Like a peloton, an organization needs to work together in an integrated unit as the power of everyone working together far outweighs individuals working alone. Great teamwork is achieved when there is a shared vision, the leaders have complementary strengths and the organization is focused on great communication. With these fundamentals in place, you have an organization built on trust that will be tough to compete against.

So, the next time you’re having issues with your team, watch a good cycling race, or even better, go for a ride yourself. Why not get some exercise and see how you can help your business.