Why team members should do sport together

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Regular readers will know I did my first Olympic distance triathlon last year in Noosa, Australia. An Olympic distance is a combination of 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike ride, followed by a 10 km run. It was a highlight of 2014 for me, made more special with the rounds of well wishers and supporters in the days that followed. Totally appreciated.

This year our business entered Noosa again but this time as a team event. I got to do the bike part only which is just as well as I struggled with the swimming anyway!

As the event took off and Vernon ran into the water to start the swim my thoughts turned an article I wrote this time least year on the lessons of leadership stemming from doing a triathlon. This time I started thinking about the benefits a team can have from training for a sporting event together. Without prompting or indeed much effort I came up with the lessons we had learned from the months of our training individually and together and how that relates to the work we do. Of course I could have been thinking of the warm bath, cold beer or the long sleep that would follow the event, but no! The mind does wander into some strange places under stress.

  1. Set a clear goal and outcome as a group

    Committing to entering the triathlon was one thing. Getting clear on the desired outcome was entirely different. Previously I had entered 3 half marathons but only completed one, retiring early in two of them with injuries, most probably induced from a lack of training. Jed and Vernon, my counterparts in this event, had completed marathons and ocean swims in the past. But this was our first time doing an event together.

    Our goal of completing, uninjured, under 3 hours: 20 minutes and enjoying it”. Some people will look at that goal and laugh. However that is not the point. The goal has to be the right one for the leader/team/organisation to achieve and believe in.

    Even though we were doing individual legs of the event we often trained together doing the bike sessions or runs. Many 05:30am training sessions were almost abandoned until I reminded myself that I want to enjoy this and want to complete the triathlon with my team mates.

  1. Evolution or revolution? Choose strategically

    Teams often discuss innovation in somewhat mythical or even mystical tones as if innovation is the be-all and end-all of their endeavours. Yet innovation exists on two ends of a continuum, being evolution or revolution. In 2014 when I decided to compete in a triathlon for the first time I needed to take some drastic action, i.e. revolutionary! I had chosen to do an Olympic triathlon within eight months with no prior experience in this sport, a lack of overall fitness going back five years and I had not swam or biked for over ten years. For this outcome to be achieved, a revolution was required. Radical decisions and resources had to be mobilised accordingly. Once I committed, I understood that anything less than revolutionary would not succeed.

    Thankfully in 2015 a revolution was not necessary but rather incremental – improvements on all three legs of the race, with individuals who were good in those areas taking the lead, i.e. playing to their strengths. We realised early on that Vernon was better in the water, and Jed had been a runner all his life until recently so lets take those experiences and optimise the team to our respective strengths.

  1. Consistency is the key, always

    Woody Allen famously said the first secret to success is showing up. As busy executives with young children, families and client demands all seeking our individual time, ensuring that we did our individual training was key. However the training together – when we managed to do that – was the most fun part, and where we got the best leverage from each other.

    Leadership teams often talk about tacking issues together but never actually practice for them or review/reflect upon issues once dealt with. Similarly, leaders seek feedback maybe once per year from colleagues in a 360-degree feedback but forget to do so on a regular basis. The simple learning here is whatever the leader or team wants to get good at, time needs to be spent on it consistently, every week. Simple.

  1. Expect to be derailed along the way

    Teams do not always operate well or achieve what they set out to do. Likewise training for a sporting event such as a triathlon is not easy, otherwise everyone would do it. Expecting and preparing for tough times is key to overcoming them.

    In our early training sessions we were warned about doing ‘transition sessions’ as part of our training. Essentially it is the handing over from the swimmer to the biker and from the biker to the runner. The professionals manage this under a minute, some as fast as ten seconds. Not easy at all!

    Regardless of the number of triathlon articles read, speaking to experienced athletes, watching videos, eventually the athlete has to do the sessions.

    Like any team, there are handovers or overlaps of responsibility or decisions. Mistakes often happen in the ‘in-betweens’ as Peter Hawkins likes to describe the spaces between functions in organisations. Teams that get good at managing the transitions between each other get really good at delivering outcomes.

  1. Some people may get injured and/or drop out

    Every time we work with a leadership team embarking on a transformational journey we alert them to the likelihood that not all of the existing members will be present in 12-18 months. Experience tells us that when a change process unfurls some leaders self-select out and leave the organization, or are asked to leave. Others will be cynical about the likelihood of success and almost seem to be hoping for failure because staying with how things are is known.

    In our training group, we suffered hamstring and back injuries (being old men of course!), time delays and at one stage almost cancelled the whole event. “Life happens in between all the plans we make”, John Lennon kind of said once. I believe that teams that learn to overcome obstacles that occur when training for a sporting event together have more confidence when overcoming work related obstacles.

  1. Celebrate crossing the line together

    High achievers regularly set the next goal before completing the one. Yet there is something really important about taking time to celebrate the achievement. Fredrickson’s work on the Broaden and Build Theory suggests that positive emotions can have an impact on resilience. Resilience feeds ability to continue with performance. Celebrate the achievement before moving on, especially if leading a team. It is fair to say we celebrated well in Noosa following our team event and continued to do so in our office the following week. At a personal level completing a triathlon for the first time was huge satisfaction. Entering a team event was far more fun.


Further more we have planned a series of events in 2016 that we will partake in, including conscripting more members from OSULLIVANFIELD to join us in a second team!

What are you doing with your team that could be turned into some fun or even serious sporting events?

Contact us now to discuss how we can ignite your team.