A few of years ago, three friends and I embarked on a journey that none of us had ever attempted before. As members of a bicycle racing team, we were accustomed to riding and training together in preparation for races, but we had set our sites on something a bit bigger. Our goal, to ride across the Southern part Florida, from the Gulf coast to the Atlantic coast, leaving Naples, Florida headed towards West Palm Beach, Florida, a total of 156 miles one way, and then to return the following day….two days, 312 total miles. Our time goal was seven hours each way.
We encountered a number of obstacles, some of which we expected and planned for, and some that were unexpected. Some of the obstacles we faced included:
- Extremely high heat and humidity (95+ degrees, near 100% humidity)
- Long stretches of stiff headwinds
- Long stretches of rough pavement
- Speeding traffic – 60+ mph – just a few feet to our left
- Road debris – LOTS of it!
- Flying insects and BUGS
- Very high risk of dehydration
- Mean people – tossing things at us as they rode by (hadn’t planned on this one)
- 312 miles!
The journey was a lesson in leadership, team work, individual effort, and planning. Looking back on the experience, I realized that many of the key elements necessary for success at work and in my career were also key elements in the success of our journey. Let me explain….
Setting BIG Goals
All too often we settle for mediocre goals; goals that don’t inspire us or “light our fire.” Setting really big goals or “stretch” goals can take you to bigger and better places. The experience of achieving those big goals is sometimes more important than the actual achievement of the goal itself. The experience allows you to grow as a person, as a team mate and as a leader.
Having a Shared Goal
Setting a goal that is shared by others lays the groundwork for team-based behavior. Our experience and achievement is something that would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish alone. As a result of our experience, we gained a whole new level of respect for each other, knowing that we were much more powerful as a team working together toward a common goal – which is the cornerstone of success at work and success in bicycle racing.
Clear Direction and a Plan
Having a goal is one thing, charting a path and developing a plan to accomplish that goal is another. Our success in accomplishing this particular “stretch” goal was definitely a function of the level of detail and comprehensiveness of our planning process – charting a clear course (our map) and avoiding major highways, having adequate water and food supplies available, having emergency resources available and having repair and maintenance tools and supplies readily available. Without clear direction and a well-designed plan, our success would have been severely compromised.
For several months leading up to our journey, we rode a number of longer-than-normal rides – 100+ mile rides — to properly condition our bodies. In the days leading up the big ride, we prepared our bikes – ensuring they were tuned-up and in proper working condition. We also drank extra fluids and consumed higher-than-normal levels of carbs in preparation for the ride. The preparation process also laid the groundwork for team “esprit de corps” – allowing us to work closely together well before the main event took place.
It is simply amazing what you can accomplish as a team. Team members offer encouragement and “cheerleading” to each other, share the work load, look out for each other, and help remind each other to stay focused on the end goal. Team members trust each other and work with the best interests of the team in mind. All of these lessons specific to our journey and experience are relevant in the workplace.
I think we forget sometimes all of the “behind the scenes” action and activity that takes place to help us accomplish our goals as team members. The gracious friends of ours who chose to drive their cars at 22-25mph to accompany us for the 312 mile round-trip journey were truly our guardian angels – helping to deflect speeding cars, providing a place to store our food supplies (each of us drank 12 bottles of fluid each way), and providing “road side assistance” for flats and mechanical problems (which we fortunately had very little of). Our supporting cast was as much part of our team as the riders, and I do a much better job now of recognizing and thanking those at work who support me and my team.
Breaks and Rest
Yes….we did stop in route….several times for lunch, to stretch and for “nature” breaks. The lesson is that breaks are important, and in our case, necessary for the body. Breaks during marathon sessions at work are also important. Breaks help keep you energized, serve as a time for conversation, reflection, and sometimes for evaluation of the necessity for a change in course or plan.
In the end, we achieved our shared goal and celebrated our shared success. Our shared success brought us closer together as teammates and friends. It gave us a point of reference for reflection and remembrance in future years, and it gave us a shared experience – the many miles and tens of thousands of pedal strokes each of us made to accomplish this shared goal. Shared successes do wonders in bringing a group of people together as teammates and setting the stage for heightened levels of team work in future endeavors. The same applies to work, without question.
Each of did succeed as individuals in the quest we shared. We can each say we accomplished the goal, for each of us individually crossed “the finish line”. Yes, we’re better teammates, but we all grew individually as well, and we’re all, individually, better cyclists as a result of this shared journey. The same applies at work — we each grow professionally through our efforts as teammates, through shared goals, shared direction and, ultimately, shared success.
Helmuts off to the team!