In Change Management, People Skills, Project Management

Very soon we will all once again be happily jumping up and down cheering the world’s Super-Humans, the Paralympic athletes.

After Team GB’s hugely successful performance in the 1st stage of the London 2012 Olympics, expectations are high and the focus is on our GB Para-Olympians to deliver the much coveted gold, silver and bronze medal results. And I am sure they will try to match, if not better, their exceptional 102 (42 Gold, 29 Silver and 31 Bronze) medal tally from Beijing that gained them the No. 2 spot overall. But there will be even more pressure on our track and field team; in Beijing they only managed to deliver 2 golds and were finally placed 18th in the medal tables for track and field events

But things have changed. Following Beijing, Peter Eriksson, the hugely successful Swedish coach, was brought in as UK Athletics sport’s performance director and head coach. Over the last three years, he has been developing and improving the team’s coaching, training and performance, culminating in an amazing 3rd place in last year’s world championship. So how did the team achieve this in such a short space of time? What changed?

Eriksson says ”the most significant change since I started working with UKA is the overall improved level of integration.”

His comment struck a chord with me. Getting people from different areas of the business, with different skill sets, working together as a cohesive team is critical for the successful delivery of projects and change.

According to Jarvis, who writes in the field of sports psychology, there are four factors which affect team cohesion:
1. Shared goals for the team
2. A clear role for each team member
3. The quality of communication between team members
4. A willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of the team

As project managers, no doubt you will be very familiar with the first two points – the idea of setting a clear project objective for the team and clarifying roles and responsibilities. These help provide a strong sense of purpose and motivation. Each team member should not only understand their own but others’ roles and how these link to achieving the team objective.

The last two factors from Jarvis are less tangible but nevertheless just as important. You need to actively encourage team members to share information, communicate openly, and respect differences. Establish some ground rules for the team upfront – how are issues going to be highlighted? How will decisions be made when there are disagreements? Agreeing these at the beginning means tricky situations can be handled smoothly and won’t distract the team. This all creates a better working atmosphere and helps build trust, as shared experiences grow.

Team members are more likely to put the needs of the team above and beyond their own needs when they accept they cannot achieve the end goal alone, and that that they are dependent on everyone else in the team.

Team cohesion doesn’t happen overnight or on command, but you can facilitate it by creating the right environment and support for your team.

The rigour needed to achieve Olympic success is extreme, and we can learn from their approach.

What have you found to be helpful in bringing teams together?

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