Team development

What the Brownlee brothers can teach us about teams

Occasionally there are special, unique moments that come along that blow us all away – and in the world of sport, more than occasionally.

There’s nothing quite like being part of the crowd when a team gets into the zone and really starts to fly. Whether it’s a goal, a try, a match point or a maximum break, there’s something about raw, naked talent that captures the national imagination.

A winning choice

But this week it hasn’t been winning that’s caught my eye – it has been watching someone make the choice not to win. At the World Triathlon Series last Sunday, the simply amazing Brownlee brothers – Jonny and Alistair – were on their way to winning Gold and Silver respectively, when heatstroke struck, and Jonny’s legs started to fail him.

As you’ve no doubt seen (since the footage has gone viral), as Jonny starts to collapse, Alistair comes running behind him and - without a moments’ thought - puts his own assured victory aside, to loop his brother’s arm around his shoulders, and carry him, gasping, over the finish line.

When instinct takes over

It was the most extraordinary display for someone who must surely be, by nature, fiercely competitive. But what struck me most about it was not that Alistair put his brother’s health above a Gold medal, but the fact that he didn’t even blink before making the decision.  Making sure that they crossed the finish line wasn’t even a conscious decision that Alistair made – pure instinct made it happen before he could even think about the implications. I’m not ashamed to say that watching the brothers cross the finish line together – one strong and determined, the other close to fighting for his life – made me simultaneously shout with joy and wipe a tear from my eye.

Kindness enables successful teams

It made me think of all the qualities we say are necessary for successful teams. At Insights, we help companies create teams which are focused, determined, agile, highly-skilled, effective decision makers and which are reliable, potent, candid and committed to results. These are, no question, qualities which are non-negotiable in order for a team to be truly effective.

Looking at the example set by Alistair Brownlee, it’s hard to deny that the bedrock of all good relationships, whether at work or not, is kindness. In fact, more than kindness, it’s a willingness to forgo your solo pursuits for the good of the collective. After all, if an ambitious athlete can sacrifice a gold medal for the sake of this brother, surely we can all take one for the team in our own way from time to time?

Crossing the finish line together

So the next time your team is struggling to meet a tough deadline, take a look around and see who chooses to pitch in and help without even taking a blink. Whether it means staying late, being away from home, working out of their comfort zone, getting their hands dirty (literally or figuratively!), you’ll know that you’ve got a team worth their weight in gold if they automatically throw their arms around each other’s shoulders and cross the finish line together.