What Does the Sport of Cycling Teach Us about Teamwork?
An analysis of Steve Jobs’ career revealed that his rather unceremonious exit from his first tenure at Apple made him learn new skills that were needed to run a large corporation. One of the skills was improving the ability to work with a diverse set of people, which is broadly an attribute of good teamwork. Of the many sources available to learn about teamwork, sports-related metaphors are often the best.
The Tour de France is one of the most arduous cycling events in the world. Being strong, aggressive, and strategic are often mentioned as key skills needed to master this event. But in addition to these skills, teamwork is usually the key factor that separates the winners from the losers. As a New York Magazine article mentions:
Teams are usually built around a single leader, the guy with the strongest chance of lasting till the end. Around him are worker-bee domestiques, the equivalent of wingmen, usually strong climbers in their own right whose job is to exhaust themselves wearing down other contenders so their fearless leader can maintain his strength long enough to crush his rivals at the right moment.
This event teaches us two things about the fundamentals of attaining teamwork:
Have a sense of reciprocity.
What motivates the domestiques to support their leader? The leader of the pack, apart from being an influential and competent figure, usually returns the favor by being a domestique to his fellow teammates in different cycling events. Chris Froome, who won the 2013 Tour de France, was a former domestique of last year's winner (and Olympic champion) Bradley Wiggins.
Teamwork becomes more effective if there is an unsaid reciprocity in the relationship among team members. It is key to note that the sense of reciprocity should come out of respect for each other and not as an obligation. If it is the latter, then it may ruin the relationship.
Focus on the big picture—not who gets the credit.
Chris Froome was quite a strong contender but sacrificed himself to serve his team leader, Bradley Wiggins. In the end, he finished second, which means he managed to dominate the rest of the field while simultaneously exhausting himself for Wiggins' win. Froome thus had his sight on the bigger picture rather than really standing first for the sake of his personal milestones.
It is not to say that personal milestones are of lesser value, but this case highlights the fact that focusing on gaining experience under the tutelage of a champion helped Froome make bigger strides the next year. Rahul Dravid, a legendary cricketer, echoes this sentiment in the book The Winning Way: ”...good team players view success differently from the rest. They are motivated without really worrying about the credit.”
These behaviors are hard to master and require an individual to be willing to turn the spotlight on others and not hesitate to play second fiddle at times. Would you be comfortable playing second fiddle for the sake of the team?