I’m glad to see that the third Foundation Forum’s notes (originally sent to me by Medinge life member Patrick Harris) are now public, which means I can refer to them. The latest one is on the Olympics, at a forum held in June, where the speakers were Olympic medallist Steve Williams, Dr Pete Bonfield, CEO of BRE, and Simon Scott, a former Royal Marine who coaches and advises Olympians and business leaders.
The triumph of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was delivering us a successful Games, which illustrated how an organization of 20 ramped up to 10,000, while maintaining an innovative culture and an ideal of collective purpose. An organization that could have been hampered by politics—as the satire Twenty Twelve showed could be possible—and actually achieved its goals at £500 million under its £9,000 million budget.
Its lessons are relevant to New Zealand, not just because we are a sporting nation whose teams have succeeded because of collective purpose, but that they remind us that it’s possible to take these ideas into business and even politics. Simon Caulkin at the Foundation summarized the main points as follows:
- Whether on the track or in the office, Olympic performance requires a whole systems approach in which all the parts are focused on a clear and single aim
- With science and determination, nurture can trump nature: only ‘deliberate practice’ can hone raw material into sustained performance, as in the Marines
- What goes on ‘outside the boat’ is as important as what goes on inside. Values are part of performance
but one might go a bit further. The Foundation expands upon them, but what I take away from the session’s notes are:
- with the right leadership, and a strategy shared at every level, Olympian tasks can be achieved—but it shows that that leadership needs to have the right attitude, charisma and empathy to understand how to make it beneficial to all parties, and all audiences;
- in sport, that collective purpose is easier to define; in business and in politics, it’s not. The trick is to put everyone on the same side—the One-ness that Stefan Engeseth wrote about in his book and which I cite regularly in my speeches and in my consulting work—so that a business, organizational or political objective is felt strongly by all;
- that realistic milestones need to be set—which goes without saying in management;
- and that the vision must be meaningful to all audiences, internal and external—the importance of “outside the boat”.
The London Games have been a success so far, and the next major event for the general public will be the closing ceremony. While my wish that a Benny Hill tribute with ‘Yakety Sax’ played to complete the London Games with an appropriate level of British culture might not be realized, I have faith in how it will be pulled off. The right ingredients seem to be present in the ODA, and I’m confident that the Organising Committee was similarly inspired.