On your bike . . .

I’ve been reading about the concept of marginal gains that Sir Dave Brailsford applied to the Team GB cycling team.  While I’m aware that professional cycling has been beset with more than a scandal or two recently, I did nevertheless wonder how a marginal gains approach might apply to people working in other teams.  In summary, it focuses on:

  • small incremental improvements adding up to a significant improvement when they’re all added together
  • gains might represent only 1% improvement in a host of areas – but cumulative gains then become important
  • looking out for weaknesses in a team’s assumptions, and all their latent problems, enables improvement on each of them
  • each weakness isn’t a threat, but an opportunity to make adaptations
  • a questioning mindset
  • a commitment to continuous improvement

I don’t know a lot about cycling, but I do know that in the last two Olympics, Team GB won 16 gold medals.  Regardless of cycling, here’s what Sir David has to say about the success of marginal gains being as attributable to culture as to anything else:

“Perhaps the most powerful benefit is that it creates a contagious enthusiasm. Everyone starts looking for ways to improve. There’s something inherently rewarding about identifying marginal gains — the bonhomie is similar to a scavenger hunt. People want to identify opportunities and share them with the group.  Our team became a very positive place to be.  One caveat is that the whole marginal gains approach doesn’t work if only half the team buy in. In that case, the search for small improvements will cause resentment. If everyone is committed, in my experience it removes the fear of being singled out — there’s mutual accountability, which is the basis of great teamwork.”

I think that’s worth a gold medal in any team.

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