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Great Britain’s Cycling Team’s Chimp Within

When you break down the timeline of events you can see quite perfectly how this has happened in my opinion. There are lessons to be learnt so please take note.

Back in the Olympic glory of 2012 the GB cycling team not only had Shane Sutton as head coach, you also had sir Dave ‘marginal gains’ brailsford as team manager (now with the Sky pro cycling team) and Steve ‘chimp paradox’ Peters as team psychologist. It was an incredible management structure that ultimately lead to a heap of medals. So how did it work and what has any of this got to do with legal recruitment?

Shane Sutton it seems is the archetypal hard nosed coach who says it like it is, upsetting people along the way but nobody can argue with the performance levels he can get out of people so people turn a blind eye to his approach because the team is successful. Dave brailsford was the team director, the visionary, the blue sky thinker, the strategist that every successful team needs but perhaps not brutal enough to tell people how it is, you have Shane for that. And then there is Steve Peters, the buffer between the team members and the senior management team, the person who people go to to air their emotional, often totally irrational, outbursts (Steve refers to this as getting your chimp out) to the coaches’ approach or methods imposed from on high by the director. Once the team member has calmed down they return to black and white rational thought process because they know the methods and approach will work. Their chimp is back in their box.

You can liken this team set up to successful teams in almost any industry sector including law firms and legal recruitment, all over world. Unsuccessful teams are often not structured in this way. That’s why they are unsuccessful.

So how’s it all gone wrong for the GB cycling team? I’ll tell you.

Fast forward to present day 2016 and there is no longer sir Dave or Steve, what you’re left with is a world class coach but with no higher level strategist/Director and no shrink to calm everyone down.

When Jess varnish learnt that she hadn’t qualified for Rio, instead of being taken away for a chat with Steve Peters, she instead was left to turn up in front of live tv to thousands of people and let her chimp out of the box, in other words she let her emotions run wild for the whole world to witness, effectively criticising the way the team is run, airing all her grievances. It set off a massive chain reaction that has left the GB cycling team without a coach less than 100 days before the games in Rio.

The point I am making here is that successful cohesive teams function on the basis that the key decisions it makes are not driven by emotion. Emotional responses need to be let out in a controlled manner and away from other team members and the public eye. Emotion is often irrational and defensive. Every team member needs a vent and if a team is lucky enough to have an outlet (often it’s a manager who is willing to listen and not react emotionally to often irrational rants), then you’ll find that team members will perform a lot better and relations between senior management and underling is very convivial.

Take away the vent, or in the case of GB cycling take away Steve peters, and team members will unleash their chimps on each other and that only ends in disaster because chimp on chimp is not a rational conversation, it only leads to upset and disharmony.

James Brewster BCL Legal.

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