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Over the past two years as Stockport President of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, I have written a weekly business column for the Stockport Times as well as various articles for 53 degrees and the Chamber magazine. Each of these has also appeared as a blog on the Gorvins website.

As my two-year term of office as Stockport President comes to an end, I wanted to share again my favourite column which was the one that generated the most responses.

August 2012

Anyone who knows me knows that I am cycling obsessed! For the three weeks of the Tour de France, I have been watching the exploits of Bradley Wiggins and the Manchester-based TeamSky. So this got me thinking about what businesses can learn from TeamSky’s unprecedented success and approach to the greatest cycle race on earth.

Firstly and foremost TeamSky set themselves a single objective and stuck to it. The objective was for Bradley Wiggins to win the Tour de France. The whole team supported this and worked together towards this overall objective putting personal interests aside. As a result, Mark Cavendish (the current world champion and serial Tour stage winner), was regularly seen dropping back to the team car to pick up water bottles and carry them back up to his teammates. Where else would you see a world champion performing such a “menial”, but vitally important, team role?

Chris Froome (who finished second overall) played the loyal teammate role and dropped back to support Bradley Wiggins even though he was arguably the better climber in the mountains. On one occasion he sacrificed an almost certain stage win to stay with Bradley. Had he gone for the stage win he risked pulling Bradley’s rivals with him and leaving Bradley behind which would have risked the overall objective.

Secondly, TeamSky has a philosophy of “marginal gains”. This involves looking at every single aspect of the team and trying to improve it as far as possible. If 10 things can be improved by 1% each, that’s a 10% aggregate improvement.

Thirdly TeamSky has a strong management structure with David Brailsford (TeamSky and British Cycling principal) introducing concepts he has learnt through his business MBA into the sporting arena. His philosophy is all about challenging the “accepted norm” in professional cycling. One example was when it came to fitting out the team busses used by TeamSky who were told there were only two companies who fitted out buses for professional cycling teams. Instead, TeamSky turned to the Mclaren formula one team for advice and approached a firm that fit out formula one motorhomes who used their expertise to come up with something revolutionary in professional cycling providing the riders with the most comfortable, practical and relaxing environment possible allowing them to relax, unwind and focus on the task in hand.

Finally, TeamSky looked outside professional cycling and recruited Tim Kerrison an Australian swimming coach. He was allowed to observe TeamSky for a season before implementing his suggestions on a different style of training. Normally professional cyclists start the season at 60-70% of full fitness and work their way up to a peak of 100% at some point in the season and then taper back to 60-70% by the end of the season. Kerrison introduced an approach used by swimmers that saw Bradley Wiggins maintain a fitness level of 90-95% throughout the season with multiple smaller peaks up to the 100% mark that coincided with various events/targets throughout the season. This allowed Bradley to win an unprecedented quadruple of stage races over the course of the season that led many to believe he had “peaked too early” for the Tour de France: how wrong were they?

So what can business learn from TeamSky? 1. Set a clear objective and communicate this to all stakeholders so everyone knows the objective and works towards it. 2. Look at, and try to improve, every aspect of your business, no matter how small. 3. Be willing to challenge the “industry norm”. 4. Look outside of your sector for inspiration on alternative ways of doing things. If your business follows TeamSky’s example it could be the “yellow jersey wearer” of its sector.

Posted on behalf of Christian Mancier, Partner at Gorvins and Stockport President: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce