Some time in early December 2016 I was asked about the role of Team Leader for the Bahamas 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games. Obviously the location sounded attractive. However so did the opportunity it presented. Reasons included:
- help develop young Scottish athletes,
- work with an exciting and ambitious management team,
- challenge, and hopefully improve myself, operating in a different role,
- work with a range of sports and,
- put some of the theory I have been presenting on about leadership and teamwork into practice.
As Chef de Mission of Team Scotland for the Commonwealth Youth Games it was about creating a high performance environment for the young athletes to best experience a multi-sport environment. This task was made more of a challenge because of the distractions that accompanied taking a team of 58 Scots to the Bahamas. Nonetheless, distractions are a major part of life wherever you work. And whatever you do.
Scotland competed in seven sports who each had a manager with them. Our team also had:
- a doctor
- four physiotherapists,
- two media,
- an admin,
- a deputy general manager and,
Much like any organisation, a wide range of individuals (58 including myself), each with their own agenda, priorities and opinions. All busy with their day to day tasks. So how did we ensure the team succeeded and we delivered our primary aim of creating a positive atmosphere for the young athletes to have a great multi-sport games experience? First of all, we all agreed what our primary aim should be. In our first meeting, way back in February, buy-in was generated for this common goal. Each member of the team had the athletes interests at heart, and wanted to create a safe environment. An environment in which they could give their best and understand what representing Team Scotland at a multi-sports competition was all about.
Another major factor was our communication. Team Leader was a new role for me. I didn’t have all the answers and I shared this with the team. I hoped that showing some vulnerability would increase the openness within the group. During our Team Meetings prior to departure there were some concerns that some management were quiet. however when away there was more opportunity to speak with them. Maybe they didn’t want to speak up in meeting’s however opportunity was created to allow their opinions to be heard. This was important learning for me. Just because somebody doesn’t want to speak up in a meeting doesn’t mean they don’t care. Or that they don’t have an opinion.
To create a positive experience for the young athletes we had to create positivity and energy around Team Scotland. There were some entertaining characters in the management team who ensured this happened. We also had a What’s App group that was a great way of sending information quickly. There was a good mix of key information and “banter” that aided in fostering team spirit. However there is no substitute for face to face discussion. We had daily meetings, the medics requested a daily check-in and there was plenty of opportunity to talk on buses to and from venues, or around the hotel. We also operated a “No Phones at the Table” policy. This shocked many of the management and athletes but it was great to see Team Scotland chatting to one another at meal time. This was in start contrast with other nation’s who sat playing on their phones in silence. It was more frequent for the management to be trying to use their phones than the athletes!
A few gentle reminders were required on occasion. Again, it was how the message was delivered rather than making a big deal about it. It also stayed true to our overall aim to make it a positive experience by encouraging interaction with teammates.
I wasn’t in the dining hall when every athlete ate however I trusted the management would keep an eye out for rogue phones. They had bought into the idea so wanted to make sure it happened.
Ensuring a common purpose is vital to a team succeeding.
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. CS Lewis.
One must ensure clarity in how the messages will be delivered. I am no expert in seven different sports, nor in medicine, media or administration, so why would I waste my time trying to be? It was fascinating for me to watch all the sports in action, and learn more about how they train. I joked that because I held a stopwatch during one swimming session that I was now a Commonwealth Games Swim Coach (my timing was clearly a major factor in that athlete winning a medal!!) In all seriousness, preparation of the athletes was not my responsibility. The same applied to medical and media. I had to trust my team. Equally they had to trust me to provide the necessary leadership for the Team. And that if there were issues that needed resolved then I would see to them. We all knew our roles. The New England Patriots mantra is Do Your Job. That’s what we had to do. Let the respective person do what they were there to do and you do likewise. The reward: we achieved our aim to provide a positive experience for all of the athletes.
As mentioned earlier, the aim was agreed a long time before we departed for the Bahamas. I say agreed upon because it was a shared goal that we all wanted to achieve. Everybody wants to win medals but at this stage in an athlete’s development it was looking at the bigger picture. The Youth Games were all about the athletes, about providing them with an awesome experience and helping them develop for future multi-sport events. We wanted them to know Team Scotland was bigger than their respective sport and to achieve this the management team had to be a united team. This was not a problem. Credit here goes to the medical team who drove the positivity and fostered an excellent team spirit. Whether it was meeting for a morning run at 6am or organising the game of “Human Cluedo”, it all helped to bond us.
For all things Team Scotland, check out their website
I have touched on the importance of a common goal and how this message is delivered. Of how important a fundamental axis of trust is to any team. Next time I will go into more detail about the importance of effective communication, looking at other aspects of communication, such as body language.