What Business Owners Can Learn From Professional Cycling Teams

Similar to conventional businesses, professional cycling teams have many specific goals and objectives. Team members need to work cohesively to deliver results for their sponsors, with every individual playing to their strengths and contributing to the overall success. This can take the form of rider breakaways raising the profile of the team in a televised race, a stage win or a final podium placing. In this post we'll look at the parallels between the world of cycling and managing and growing a successful business. Sir Dave Brailsford, formerly Performance Director of British Cycling and currently General Manager of UCI World Team Ineos Grenadiers, famously talked about "the aggregation of marginal gains" where small incremental changes made by riders can bring about a noticeable cumulative improvement in their overall performance. This is as true in business as it is in the world of professional cycling.

Play to the strengths of your team. The Directeur Sportif (DS) follows riders in a race and communicates details of obstacles and challenges ahead, provides tactics to overcome these, updates the team on their position relative to competing teams and coordinates the mechanical support where needed. They're able to easily observe the progress being made by individual riders and provide on the spot coaching and moral support. General classification (GC) riders are those that have the greatest probability of winning or placing highly in a race due to their smallest cumulative time. They're seen as the best all-rounders with a good mix of physical attributes. Sprinters have incredible, explosive power and will be supported by the team until the final kilometres of a stage where they'll use this to accelerate through the peloton to cross the finishing line first. Climbers are gifted at traversing steep terrain, taking turns at the front to pace the GC riders and sprinters, helping them to place highly by the end of the stage. Domestiques are not there to win a stage but to provide support to other team members, providing a slip stream to those behind them and hydration, by distributing energy drinks, and food. Every member of the team plays to their strengths ensuring that goals and objectives are met. When building your team, what were the core competencies and behaviours required in each role? How did you go about identifying people's strengths and leveraging these?

Encourage specific training. It's not unusual for professional cyclists to spend 15-20+ hours a week developing specific fitness, their bodies becoming highly adapted to aerobic exercise. The volume and intensity of exercise is cycled to ensure they don't become overstressed and burnt out. Nutrition, hydration and adequate rest all play an important part in increasing overall fitness levels. What specific training does each member of your team do to perform optimally? What development plans do they have in place to ensure they can meet the demands of the business both now and in the future?

Use data and analytics to make better educated business decisions. As professional cycling has evolved, the DS has had access to even more detailed information about the performance of their team. Sophisticated telematics systems provide details of a rider's location, the gradient of the terrain, their power output, heart rate, speed and even the prevailing weather conditions. The DS continually monitors these metrics and can change tactics accordingly to ensure the rider conserves energy, paces themselves, can time a winning break to perfection and have the best chance of a stage win. What have you determined as the key metrics of your business? How are you monitoring these? What have you identified as indicators of success? Are you continually communicating this to your team?

Optimise customer contact points. Professional cycling teams make significant investments in bike fit and setup to ensure a perfect connection between bike and rider. Doing so will improve rider comfort, power and efficiency, all of which will increase the probability of a stage win. Riders have three contact points on their bikes: their pedals, saddle and handlebars and small adjustments to the position of these can result in marked changes in performance. Considering all the contact points you have with your customers, what small changes could you make that would have a positive effect, improving your acquisition, management and retention of new business?

Understand the importance of coaching. Riders will meet with the DS and other members of the management team to discuss tactics and team working pre-race. Both the DS and riders will often have done a reconnaissance of the stage and will be familiar with the terrain and obstacles. The current situation, the proposed outcome and a race strategy will be discussed. Internal and external factors will influence the mindset of the riders and their ability to contribute to the overall team effort. Post-race, individual and team performance will be evaluated and lessons learnt. How do you go about coaching your team? What motivational techniques do you use? What have you learnt from past performances and how have you applied this in your business going forward?

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Bruce McLeod
Experienced coach, mentor and sales professional.

Helping ambitious startups and established businesses to grow quickly and profitably.

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