Olympic Gold-winning rower and performance consultant Ben Hunt-Davis has applied the principles of competitive team sport to the business boardroom, in order to help companies continually improve. He believes many of the lessons learnt from training and competition can be applied to SMEs, and his book Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? sums up his approach: even small changes can have a positive impact on success.
From boats to boardrooms
Olympic rowing is a highly disciplined and fast-paced team sport that requires a finely tuned performance. During his career, Ben and his crew identified tweaks to their technique that increased the speed of their boat. Part of the process was setting clear objectives for each training session and agreeing how they were going to achieve these objectives – a practise that resulted in quantifiable gains.
The same rule can be applied to business, and performance objectives – or goals – are critical. Ben recommends starting the week with a meeting to establish what people want to achieve. “Is there something they want to do better, a target they want to hit, or is there an area they need to work on, in order to move forward?”
To achieve goals, businesses must constantly review their performance and this is another lesson that can be lifted directly from competitive sport. “You need to look beyond the results and analyse your performance so you’re constantly striving to do better,” says Ben. “Top sportspeople finish the day by reflecting on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. It’s not good enough to perform a task just because you have always performed that task. Ask yourself why you’re doing it in a particular way, and whether a change of approach could achieve better results.”
Daily reviews also ensure team members remain clear about their goals and stay motivated. “The team has to believe in the same goal, even if individuals have different reasons for wanting to achieve it,” says Ben. In business, as in sport, this means everyone must have an understanding of each team member’s role, so they value each other and the contribution they each make. “There has to be a certain amount of mutual reliance. Team success relies on everyone needing each other.”
Ben highlights the issue of isolation that business leaders often face, and this is where competitive sport has the edge with regards to performance review. “Sportspeople have coaches watching them perform and constantly posing questions. This feedback is vital and businesses could use a formal coaching or mentoring format. Alternatively, talking through certain issues with a friend can really help you raise and answer valid questions.”
Constructive feedback enables teams to improve, and third party observations can have a meaningful impact on performance. This reiterates Ben’s ethos as applied to both sport and business; that the smallest changes can have a positive impact on success.
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