Three business lessons from Team GB’s Olympic success

I read this morning’s Guardian article on British Olympic success with a lot of interest. With the 2016 medal tally climbing, I was keen to understand what had changed since the disappointing performance in Atlanta exactly 20 years ago.

Reflecting on this article, I realised that there are valuable lessons here for business owners and entrepreneurs:

Marginal gains

Business lessons from Team GB - cropped portraitWhen I met with my friend and business coach Rob Wood earlier this year, we discussed the British cycling team’s meticulous pursuit of excellence, including how they break down all aspects of their work to make a series of tiny, almost imperceptible improvements, the sum of which gives them an edge over their opponents.

Whether we’re running large, established businesses or just getting started on our own, we can all continually look for even the smallest improvements to the way we work. These changes can help to save time, reduce costs and improve the experience we provide our customers.

We can also improve our own personal performance – understanding when and where we work best (what Tom Kelley calls finding your muse), who we need on our bench in order to succeed and what tools help us make better use of our time.

No compromise culture

In her book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 (which, incidentally, I read in one sitting yesterday), Stanford Professor Tina Seelig talks about the need to target our precious time at the products, projects and businesses that are most likely to help us achieve our goals. This includes knowing when to walk away from a failing idea.

Letting go can be hard, and sometimes we need to take an objective viewpoint. The sooner we do this, the less we invest and the easier it is to step away. In Seelig’s words: ‘Even though it is always difficult to abandon a project, it is much easier in the early stages, before there is an enormous escalation of committed time and energy.’

Regenerate talent

The Guardian article refers to Team GB replacing a reliance on ‘maverick geniuses’ with a system that delivers sustainable success.

We probably all know a maverick genius. They can be great when you’re getting started or trying to generate ideas. To ensure our businesses are successful in the long term though, we need to design practices and cultures that ensure an ongoing supply of talented, reliable and motivated people – not just staff, but partners and supporters, too.

We might think about how more experienced colleagues coach and mentor newer members of a team, and how, when staff inevitably move on, their knowledge and skills are captured and shared.

What else can we take from the team’s success this summer?