Three weeks ago, few people outside the cycling world had heard of a 32-year-old Welshman called Geraint Thomas. An experienced cyclist from Cardiff, he is a shy and understated individual who likes to keep himself to himself. But an outstanding victory in one of the world’s most prestigious sporting tournaments has propelled Thomas into the global spotlight as the deserved winner of the 2018 Tour de France.
As Team Sky have so determinedly proven by winning the Tour de France for a record-equalling fifth time, collective achievement and uniting around a common goal is a critical enabler to success. In fact, it is more than just an enabler: it is the fundamental bedrock.
So what is collective achievement, how does it differ from collaboration, and what can Team Sky teach us about it?
Put simply, it is when everyone in a team knows what is expected of them and what goals they are working towards. It takes true accountability to ensure everyone does their bit to contribute to the overall objective. I like to think of it as: “When the team wins, we all win”. It may sound obvious, but in a societal culture of entitlement, there is plenty that prevents this from happening as soon as someone feels their needs may not be met. Groups of people can collaborate, but have competing aims and personal agendas. True collective achievement requires everyone to share the vision.
Each team in the Tour de France has eight riders, each playing a crucial but very different role in working towards the goal – that the strongest rider crosses the line first and in as fast a time as possible. From the captain to the rouleur (pace-setter), and everyone in between, each member has a role and without each one, the team would fail.
This year, with teammate and rank outsider Thomas outperforming the odds-on favourite Chris Froome, the decision was taken to make Thomas the number one racer with just a handful of stages remaining. Egos were set aside and ultimately what could have been a thorny discussion was concluded with Froome in full agreement: his teammate should lead the charge for the Champs-Élysées.
By its very nature, the Tour de France epitomises collective achievement. While there can only be one winner, the remaining seven members of the team expend immeasurable effort and experience uncompromising pain over the 21 days, for only one rider to bask in the glory of being the winner and go down in history at the end. The slightest show of entitlement or selfishness would derail the whole team’s ability to win.
Now, take this sense of collective achievement into organisations and imagine the results it can deliver. Engender a culture where instead of competing with and blaming each other, different teams and departments work with and for each other to achieve a common goal, the attainment of which they can all celebrate and take pride in individually and collectively. And consider what else cycling as a sport has spawned – Sir Dave Brailsford’s now-ubiquitous concept of ‘aggregated marginal gains’ that is espoused by management consultants everywhere.
The key to organisational success is bringing your captain and pace-setter together with the rest of the team to work towards a collective goal. For everyone in Team Sky, as long as they are drinking champagne at the end, they are ambivalent about who wears the yellow jersey across the finish line.
Dennis Bacon is executive chairman of Pulse UK