Over-educated toffs taking part in an elitist sport – is this what you think when those ads for the Oxford vs Cambridge boat race start to show on the TV in the run up to the race? I would like to suggest that what you should be asking yourself is “what can these elite athletes teach me about running my business?”.
As someone who’s been rowing for over 15 years (for those of you who know about it, I’m in seven seat in the photo) I know that rowing isn’t all about over-privileged individuals with lots of spare time. Between working for Atom, running a house and looking after my three children, I row several times a week, at unearthly hours, and have to keep myself in shape to make sure I don’t let down the rest of my crew. I think there are several valuable things that my favourite sport can teach you about running a business…
Rowing is a sport that uniquely combines individual skill and excellence with the ultimate in teamwork. The only way to make the boat move faster is for each individual to work at their optimum, completely in sync with the other seven members of their crew and the coxswain. So what does that have to do with running a business? The obvious thing is working as a team. But it is important that your team is striving towards a common goal, and understands what that goal is. In the boat race it is beating your arch rival – in business it could be achieving a certain number of sales, successfully establishing a new product or completing an order to a tight deadline. Decide on your goals and make sure they are clearly communicated to your team.
When you watch the boat race one of the things that stays with people is the frantic yelling of the coxswain. The cox is the ninth and arguably most important member of the crew. The cox steers the boat, chooses the best line and tells the crew what to do and when to do it (“NOW!”). But they also give valuable feedback to the crew throughout the race (and during training) on how they are performing and what they need to do to get the boat to move faster.
Regularly reviewing your progress towards your chosen goals is essential – be honest and realistic. Assess what is working well and what hasn’t succeeded – and then use this information to move forwards. Reviewing individual progress and performance is also useful but ensure feedback is constructive – and don’t forget to praise your employees for their hard work and dedication.
Finally each member of both crews that will be racing on the 6th April will have dedicated a large part of their free time (and many, many cold early mornings) to try and achieve the optimum in fitness and technique. This requires a huge amount of discipline, focus and a constant desire for improvement. Obviously you cannot make the same sorts of demands on your employees but you can encourage a working environment where your team wants to perform to the best of their ability. If your employees have ‘bought into’ the common company goals they will want do their best and work their hardest to achieve them.