Teamwork – it’s about excellence

Posted by on March 11, 2013

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As I write this Post, exactly one week ago I was sitting in a grandstand in the Adelaide sun at the Clipsal 500, which is Australia’s largest domestic motor sport event.  While I love the excitement of the racing, what I find the most fascinating is the stuff that goes on to get the cars onto the starting grid, and then to get the winner to the chequered flag.

Motor racing, like many other sports, recognises individuals as winners and champions, but behind every winner, there is a team.  Without their team, the driver’s chances of winning are almost impossible – but sometimes it can be the team that costs the driver their chance to win.

In the final race on the program, I saw five drivers who were fairly evenly matched, but two lost track position because of mistakes by their pit crews.  Then, one team executed a clever pit-stop strategy, and that was it – their driver went to the lead and stayed there until the chequered flag.

After the race, the winner’s team gathered to celebrate their success together – the first thing the winner did after getting out of the car was to run to the team and hug them.  Together, the whole team had contributed to the victory!

What made it even more interesting for me was that this winner’s team is privately funded, and is also relatively new to the competition. They had prevailed against the two strongest teams in the competition, each of which has very high-profile sponsors supporting them.  Talent and teamwork combined to produce excellence.  For the winning team, the result was the sweet taste of success (and also a bit of champagne)!



There are many definitions of team (some are quite wordy and complex); here is my simple definition:

  • a group that works together for a shared purpose

That purpose may be related to sport, business, social activities, or something else.  While there may be some differences between how sports teams and business teams work, there are also many similarities.  Indeed, many professional sports teams operate along business lines.

Sports teams usually have an ‘on-the-field’ leader, however the real direction for the team is provided by the head coach or team manager.  Business teams usually work to the direction of a designated team manager.

To keep the team headed in the right direction, coaches and managers develop plans.  In a good team, nothing should happen without a reason (to deal with the unexpected, ‘contingency’ plans are created).

In sport, teams play to their strengths, and attempt to mitigate their weaknesses.  While any team is only as good as its weakest link, skill and performance deficiencies can be addressed by training and practice.  Alternately, the strategy might be to recruit new team members who have the required skills.  Business teams often use a similar approach.

For many sports, it is not uncommon for team mates to also be direct competitors.  It is not necessary for all team members to ‘like’ each other – provided that they do have respect for each other.  The same holds true for business teams.

Teamwork is about ‘team first’.  Team members efforts and performance are aligned to achieve the goal.  In sport, and in business, this is where top teams separate themselves from the rest of the field.

When I think about the teamwork that I observed at the Clipsal 500, it ranged from “hopeful, but somewhat inept” to “trying hard, but still falling short” to “close to perfection”.  Watching those at the top end of my scale, they all demonstrated five characteristics:

  • focus on the immediate task in hand
  • trust in the other team members
  • commitment to complete the job
  • confidence in doing the hard things
  • accuracy in everything that is done

Aspects of these characteristics will be present in all winning teams, whether sports, business, social, etc.  To demonstrate this, let’s turn to the world of nature for a couple of examples.

Our first free nugget for this post is – Bottlenose Dolphin – Unique Teamwork for Catching Fish.  A short BBC Life video (3min:15sec) that looks at how a pod of dolphins in Florida Bay works together to catch fish [May 2012]:

The second free nugget is – Lessons From Geese.  This is a short (2min:35sec) video that explains about how geese flying in formation support one another [June 2012]:
Actually, this is a remake of a Saatchi & Saatchi commercial made (I understand) in the 1990s – there are copies of this on YouTube ( – 2min:15sec)

The third free nugget is – Teamwork on the Fly.  In this short (2min:32sec) video from Harvard Business School, Professor Amy Edmondson looks at how to quickly bring a team together [April 2012]:

Coming next:  Explanation – a key to learning (in the meantime, enjoy the free nuggets!).

And finally – here are some of my memories of teamwork and excellence from the 2013 Clipsal 500:

On the grid - ready to rumble!

On the grid – ready to rumble!

The 2013 champion (foreground)

The 2013 Champion (foreground)

Everyone loves a winner – Victory lane!

Everyone loves a winner – Victory lane!


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