Why did they do it?

On the 7th May 2015, Charlie Mitchell and Dominic Irvine plus support team (of which I was part) set a new tandem cycling record from Lands End to John O’Groats. They covered the 842.6 miles in 45 hours and 11 minutes beating the old record by over 5 hours. The previous record had stood for 49 years despite attempts by Olympians and others. Through the application of best practice in business development, two ordinary amateur athletes along with the support team were able to transform themselves into an extraordinary high performing team. We took on a record many thought would never be broken and smashed it.

The last article looked at how this team performed at the level it did when it had no real right to do so. A large part of that was down to having ‘the right people on the bus’. The question here is why those people wanted to be on this bus in the first place – why did they choose to give so much to support this attempt? Having been left battered and bruised by two previous failed attempts what compelled them to come back for more?

Was it a purely altruistic act? Altruism is described as the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others – so did these people do it simply for somebody else? No. Yes they made sacrifices but they were motivated to do so for their own personal reasons and not simply out of concern for somebody else.

This was an awesome goal – we’ve written plenty before now on the subject of performance (see here for some examples) and on the subject of what great goals should look like. Without wishing to debate here again the relative merits of SMART versus awesome goals, what’s evident in this instance is that our goal was truly awesome. This was I think important for a number of reasons but primarily because if people are to feel a sense of real achievement then they need to feel challenged too. To keep good people motivated and engaged the goal has to be challenging, all the more so if the people are great, and the individuals on this team were well beyond that.

We had a clear vision of what success looked like – crystal clear! Every single person on the team was able to articulate exactly what success looked like, right down to the second. On this there was no debate, no ambiguity and no deviation, we had absolute consensus on what we were trying to achieve. Furthermore, every single person on the team was personally bought into the vision and owned their part of delivering it. Some people on the team, most notably the riders, had a greater contribution to make and therefore had to work harder to get where they needed to be. Others joined the team much later in the process but every one of them was equally committed to the outcome and, very importantly, understood the part they had to play in delivering it. We all had a very clear ‘line of sight’ – it was a compelling vision that we could all get behind.

We all wanted to be part of something special. We knew that whatever the outcome it would be a fun and rewarding experience for all of us – we all knew that by being part of this, even if we failed, we would gain from the experience in some way. And of course, what one person finds rewarding and enjoyable, another finds tedious and unfulfilling – so whilst one person may find great pleasure and satisfaction from getting up at 5am to train hard in order to improve their endurance and lose another 1% of their body fat, another will derive equal pleasure honing the logistical plan that gets everybody and everything to where they need to be, and a third person will be equally content to know that they are there purely to solve a crisis and that the success will be all the sweeter if they are not called on to do their stuff. This is the nature of teams – we can’t all be the centre-forward that scores the goals and gets all applause, but we can all make an important contribution that allows him to score the goals. What’s critical in teams, and what we had here, is that all the players recognise this….what I do or what happens to me is unimportant as long as the team succeeds.

So we all did it because we recognised that it was a truly awesome challenge, because we could all readily get behind a simple yet compelling vision and knew the part we had to play, because it had that “you can’t quite put your finger on it” feeling that we all perceived as something special and because, selfishly, we all knew that there was ‘something in it for me’. For me (and I suspect for most if not all of the rest of the team too) I got to help a very close friend, somebody for whom I have the utmost respect, realise one of his life’s dreams – how cool is that?

Nigel Harrison © 2015 All Rights Asserted

If you are interested in reading more about teamwork see our article here.