Since 776 BC in Ancient Greece, the Olympic Games have become more than an athletic competition where “the tallest, the fastest and the strongest” took the gold. Sportsmanship is more than a set of physical qualities. It is companionship, it is fair play, it is perseverance and it is knowing how to lose, win and participate. Lessons in work, also in teamwork, that we have seen in the games held in Tokyo 2020.
When raising your hand becomes crucial
Simone Biles’ story is full of milestones. Her fame came with a double gold in floor and individual all-around gymnastics at the 2013 World Championships. At just 20 years old, the American gymnast won four medals, three of them gold, at the Rio Olympics. This year she seemed unstoppable… until she decided to stop.
The pressure Simone felt, like many other elite athletes, is something that can also happen in a job. An important project, a tight deadline, a difficult personal period… have you thought about raising your hand before the situation gets the better of you? Asking for support at key moments from your team or your boss will not only help you to see things from a different perspective, it can also mean the success of something that, on your own, you wouldn’t have carried out as you would’ve liked.
Within a work team it is important to support colleagues both psychologically and emotionally.
Biles’ story does not stop at her decision not to compete in Tokyo 2020. After the unexpected and highly publicised news, the athlete finally decided to compete in the last artistic gymnastics event, the balance beam, obtaining as a result a bronze that tasted like gold. Her decision was perhaps a way to reconnect with her work, to stop and come back stronger. And her story at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games served to boost other exciting stories, such as that of her teammate Jade Barey.
Teamwork lessons worth their weight in gold
A debutant in Japan, Jade Barey entered the individual floor gymnastics event after Biles withdrew. She went in just a few days from being left out, being the third classified of her country, to competing in the event and performing a perfect vault with which she got the best score and the gold medal. Jade Barey was a teammate at Tokyo 2020 who responded and exceeded expectations.
When you form a team, you sign an invisible contract with each other, committing to support each other, to be prepared for the unexpected, and to take advantage of opportunities brought by each member. This has been demonstrated by the US gymnastics team. And it is demonstrated by strong teams in companies with a culture that supports diversity.
A culture of diverse teams enriches the final result, enhances the skills of each member and allows them to learn about other figures and skills within a company.
The value of diversity in teams
Ray Zapata and Ana Peleteiro have made history for Spain in their categories, triple jump and artistic floor gymnastics. A victory that the female gymnast accompanied with a message that not only speaks of her skin colour, but also of the richness of the mix of cultures and races.
The aforementioned diversity in the workplace seeks different roles, intelligences and experiences to form teams where the voice is not homogeneous. And that not only generates a better result, but also a better working environment, greater motivation and, therefore, effective retention of talent. Take a look at this Pixar short film, which exemplifies this perfectly:
Nobility in competition
“Can we have two golds?” asked Qatar’s high jumper Barshim, in order to share with his opponent and friend Tamberi from Italy. For the first time since 1912, two athletes have shared the top spot on the athletics podium. Both athletes‘ careers have been filled with sacrifice, competition and injury, but they reach the top of the Tokyo Olympics with a shared victory that tastes of success and nobility.
Rivalry is a term that is often associated with negative definitions, especially in sport and business environments. But competition is often the best ally of teamwork. It can become healthy when it helps to react, to think “outside the box” and to be more critical of each task.
For competitiveness not to become a toxic factor in a team, the spirit of cooperation and honesty must prevail. Coopetence is a relatively new term applied more to marketing, but it is a good way to illustrate this idea: working with ambition to do things well, but with the banner of cooperation and empathy always flying high. In the popular imagination, it’s no good to put “tripwires” or “nails on the floor” to sabotage the efforts of others. Before anyone else, you compete with yourself, against your best self.
Stories to improve every day
Know how to ask for help. Have the ability to take over from a colleague. Encourage diversity and inclusion in companies. Create a climate of healthy competition and equal cooperation. Four teamwork lessons to learn from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, for both professional and personal profit. Are professionals truly elite athletes? Of course we are.