30 Jul 2018
Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas, a Welshman, has won the 115th edition of the Tour de France. He was the strongest rider of the strongest team, compliant with the rules, tested every day (sometimes twice a day) for illegal drug usage and managed it all as one of the most popular riders in the Peleton.

How? That is easy and demonstrates the parallels that sport has with business, let’s discuss.

The first Tour de France was organised and run in 1903 as a way of boosting the circulation of the newspaper L’Auto. Run over the month of July, it comprised a complete lap of France in 6 stages all of which were longer than today’s events, typically 300-400km. The yellow leader’s jersey was created to reflect the fact that L’Auto was printed on yellow paper in the same way that the Financial Times is printed on pink.

In those early years, illegal drugs were not the problem they present today. Racers found other ingenious ways to cheat the system. One bribed a friend to knobble a rival’s bike, another was disqualified for slipstreaming a car for more than 100km, one more took the train and several were found to have hitched lifts in cars and trucks.

Back to business. Geraint was good, and is now great and profited by being part of the best team in cycling, Team Sky. A great deal is known about the way Team Sky operates, their concept of ‘marginal gains’ has entered the language of management and mirrors the kind of attention to racing detail that has been common in Formula 1 racing teams. This will become the minimum standard for all sports teams in the future – if you do not strive for the smallest of advantages you will lose to those who do.

While the term ‘marginal gains’ has been widely heard, the concept is not new. In manufacturing, these small incremental improvements have been standard practice for perhaps 200 years and in the making of weaponry for perhaps 5000 years. It would be a sloppy production manager who settled for 95% uptime for a process or automated line. Continuous operations in automated production lines commonly hit 100% efficiency targets for extended periods, this can only be achieved by rigorously eliminating the smallest obstacles to maximum output. These production people set the bar really high in terms of ‘marginal gains’, and so did Team Sky.

What can we learn from this? Three things.

Build a strong team and strong teamwork

Your people have to be equal to your ambitions. For this to happen, ambitions have to be understood and the capabilities of the group matched to such ambitions. Shortfalls in ability should be addressed, commitments gained and development paths put into play.

Teamwork is not a skill. Teamwork is a state of mind based on commitment, it does not require friendship or even camaraderie – only commitment.

Great organisation matters

Those who know this really understand the value of eliminating barriers to high performance. If ever you needed an example that illustrates the importance of being organised, just remember the last time you suffered at the hands of public transport disruptions – Air, Rail or Sea. I know you can feel it.

A winning culture and a culture of winning

When did you last celebrate a small win? Enough said, you can understand this concept without further discussion.

Here at Mitchell Phoenix we are celebrating our 30th year in providing development programmes for the ambitious. Our leadership and management programmes have been chosen by more than 6000 people over that time and we delivered seminars on every continent. These programmes remain relevant and useful today because of our commitment to ‘marginal gains’ driven by delegate feedback and the demanding requirements of our clients. Our next series of programmes begin in the Autumn, sign up on our website for:

Governing Change

Foundations of Management

Securing the Future

Finally, our respect and congratulations to the Team Sky squad for the 2018 Tour de France:

Chris Froome
Egan Bernal
Jonathan Castroviejo
Michal Kwiatkowski
Gianni Moscon
Wout Poels
Luke Rowe
Geraint Thomas