Teamwork: The importance of defining your team’s values

At a recent presentation, I was asked how I selected my Support Crew for Race Across America (RAAM). It’s a great question and one that leads to the heart of what we accomplished as a team – not just at the three major races we competed in, but also along the way.

When I started my journey to RAAM back in 2014, I set out to raise money for charity, to inspire people to do the things that inspired them and to have an adventure with a great group of people. At the time, I didn’t know who the group of people would be but I knew that it was important that they were the right people. They needed to be people who understood the size and scale of the mission, who believed in my overall vision and who could work together in difficult environments and put aside personal discomfort and gripes for the overall success of the team. Whilst I needed to be able to quite literally trust them with my life, I also wanted the RAAM journey to be fun, something that would provide us with experience and memories for the rest of our lives.

Right at the beginning of my journey, I took time to consider what was important to me about RAAM and the set of principles which I considered were important for team members to believe in. These were:
• Believing in the potential that we all have inside us – it wasn’t just about achieving the goal, it was about believing that it was possible in the first place
• Committed to achieving the goal – drive and determination to see the mission through
• Respect – for each other, our fellow racers and their crews, race officials and the people that we encountered on the way
• Leadership – people leading by example and being prepared to step up and lead at the right time. Lead self, then lead others.
• Grace – knowing when to follow and pull together behind the leader, whether that leader was me, the Crew Chief or someone else taking charge at the time

I wrote these into a simple set of core values that I wanted to uphold myself and that I wanted the team to embody:

We believe that dreams and potential are there to be fulfilled
We are driven and committed to achieving our goals
We treat others and the environment with respect
We have the courage to lead and the grace to follow

I also defined the behaviours that I felt represented these values. Values are powerful words but the same word can mean different things to different people; defining behaviours helps people to understand how that value should be expressed and what they need to be doing. What we see are people’s behaviours and in a team these should be consistent and recognisable. In a high-pressure environment like RAAM these are even more important; people will be tired and you need to ensure that the default behaviours are the right ones and that the team stays true to itself when challenged.

In his book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins talks about how getting the right people on board is fundamental for the success of a business and stresses the importance of asking “first who, then what?”. He compares a business to a bus and recommends that Step 1 is always to “get the right people on the bus”.

I was incredibly lucky; most of my team volunteered themselves at various stages of the journey. We like people who are like us, i.e. people who share our values and we had some close friends who were drawn to the adventure and the principles behind it. There were certain specialised skill sets that I knew that we ideally needed within the team, namely a bike mechanic and some form of physical therapist (essentially someone to fix the bikes and someone to fix me!) and I was very lucky that the right people stepped forward to fill those roles. Team members recruited other team members; a great statement about how people felt about the team, the mission and the values. Get the people you trust on board and then ask them who they trust and grow organically.

In our first team meeting, I shared the Values and Behaviours and we discussed them alongside the overall mission. We worked with Damian from Effective Challenge on team development. Part of his work was to help us take the behaviours and the values and shape them into Ways of Working; in the real-life situations that we were going to face on the road, what were we going to do? Ways of Working are the behaviours that you expect from others and what they in turn expect from you. It sets your standards and you agree to be held accountable to them both as individuals and as a team.

A few of Our Ways of Working were:
• Describe what you want, not what you don’t want
• Check in with rider before changing the plan (no point creating a great plan if Pen can’t deliver)
• Always ask “does it make the bike go faster?”
• Be positive – work with the hand you’re dealt with

Team development sessions helped us build trust, identify “bump strategies”, improved our communication and made us focus on the team itself, not just about race logistics, bicycles and the nitty gritty detail. In business terms we were working “on the business not in the business”. Great teams don’t build themselves; like building anything, you need to invest time and energy in them.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some great teams and under some great leaders, both in sport and in business. RAAM for me was a chance to put some of what I’d learnt about leadership and team development into practice – after all we learn by doing. An equally important part of the learning process is that after any event we objectively review what happened, what the results were, why these things happened and then answer the key question “what will I do differently next time?” Whilst much of the reflection was my own, I talked at length with John my RAAM Crew Chief, the team and Damian to understand what worked, what didn’t and why.

With regards to values, behaviours and ways of working, three key learning points emerged:

1. The values and behaviours were mine as the “founder” of the mission. Whilst I shared them and we defined a set of ways of working together that we all physically signed, it would have been more powerful to define our team values and behaviours together. Next time I would do this as part of the initial team exercise and keep revisiting it.

2. One of our “ways of working” that we defined together was “in as friends, out as friends”. We endured some tough challenges as a team along our 3 year journey. Difficult conversations were required at some points but they were possible because we had built trust based on the core value of “respect for each other”. Taking time to articulate our values and behaviours paid off.

3. The team truly lived the “courage to lead and the grace to follow” value. Leadership was dynamic during our journey and even during races themselves owing to the nature of the event, but this only works if you have people who are also prepared to follow. Courage is this context is more about moral courage than physical courage, something that is a key essence of leadership; doing what’s right.

For me, the biggest statement about our values and behaviour came in the way in which we walked away from what on paper could be viewed as a failure – a DNF (Did Not Finish) at Race Across America. We stated at the start that “we believe that dreams and potential are there to be fulfilled”. We believed in the dream, we reached for it and we fulfilled our potential. We may not have reached the official finish line but we delivered on our charity pledge, made memories for life and put heart and soul into the adventure. My hope is that we have inspired others to believe in their own dreams….

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results”
– Andrew Carnegie

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