It’s the greatest UK peacetime operation in decades, with over 150,000 daily visitors to the Olympic park and it’s being run by over 72,000 volunteers, so what can the heads of business learn from the greatest feat of leadership; the Olympic Games?
There may have been a few minor glitches, but it is fair to say that so far, the Games have been a success. As the kinks get ironed out in these first few days, the Games Makers look set to make this one of the most successfully run competitions yet. There are several reasons for this, all of which can be implemented into businesses to improve the way they run and the success they have, with their clients, achievements and bottom line.
Much of the Olympic success can be put down to the Team Leaders, the band of unsung heroes who manage the volunteers; a disparate group with all the idiosyncrasies you would expect from a cross section of the British public. These volunteers are not chosen by the Team Leaders in the same way that a company manager chooses who to hire, nor are they given the same incentives to perform as normal employees. So much like the coaches of the athletes, it is down to the Team Leaders to optimise conditions and get the most out of their team.
The climate of the work place is crucial. (I don’t mean the British weather, the women’s road race proved that to be utterly beyond the control of even LOCOG). Research shows that creating the right climate has a direct impact on performance. Consciously or not the team leaders have created a positive climate that keeps the volunteers engaged. With some volunteers and security staff working for up to 16 days in a row, this engagement is essential and has an impact on the overall success of the games.
To ensure the perfect workplace climate, business leaders must instil clarity, high standards, commitment, responsibility, team work and recognition. In my position as a driver for the Olympics, myself and the rest of my team are dealing with some real VIPs, world leaders, and executives of multi-national organisations. This is a group under incredible pressure with exacting standards and sometimes unexpected and surprising demands..
It is vital therefore that the Team Leaders keep up a positive appearance and from what I can see through the instruction and guidance I have received, they are totally committed to this. They remain constantly positive, are clear about the standards they set and demonstrate strong commitment. They exhibit the behaviours that they ask from their team. They recognise team work through consistent communication, both face to face and via email and remain supportive regardless of the time of day. They absorb all the pressure from above and do not pass it down to their team. These are key skills that business leaders should take heed of. When the pressure builds, the Team Leaders step up their own input, to ensure their team does the same.
Another crucial aspect is making sure that every contributor knows they are working as part of a team, right from Sebastian Coe to the ticket inspectors and auditorium cleaners, everyone is a Games Maker and everyone must be encouraged to work as such, giving their all to the end goal – a successful Olympic event. The same is true for any business, and it is the role of the business leader to initiate, maintain and control the collaboration throughout their company. Anything that works on this complex level can be narrowed down and focussed to an individual company in any sector or industry. From the word go, I knew both my own responsibility as a volunteer, and also how I fitted into the wider whole. Allowing me to see the bigger picture and just how important a role each and every one of us has.
With a staff of over 210,000; including volunteers, employees, contractors and security, not to mention the athletes and audiences coming from all around the world, there is plenty of room for error. Business leaders must learn to communicate effectively, not only with their own teams, but also with all those they connect with; service providers, competitors, potential clients, anyone in your extended network, this is the only way you will make the most out of your business.
It seems that the people selected to be Team Leaders for the Olympics have a natural instinct for creating a positive climate, through their own attitude resilience, collaboration and communication. As First Line Leaders, they get into the mind set of a leader; they become great coaches and they know how to deliver results through understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their team members. It may be the volunteers that get the credit for making the Games a success, but it is the Team Leaders who do the real work, the people behind the scenes, sitting in underground car parks, keeping an eye on traffic jams and boosting the morale of their huge workforce. If only more businesses appreciated the importance of these First Line Leaders, we surely would have many more successful companies.
Graham Scrivener is the Managing Director of Forum’s European, Middle East and Africa division, he manages all aspects of marketing, sales and project delivery for corporate clients. He also manages a team of client directors supporting the local implementation of international projects, ensuring cultural sensitivity, appropriate resourcing and project management excellence. During the Olympics Graham is acting as a volunteer driver for LOCOG.