With the Paralympics now underway in Rio, and the golden glow of Team GB’s success last month still fresh in our minds, there has been much talk of how our sporting achievements have been transformed since our dismal performance at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Reading about the strategic approach taken by the British Olympic Association, it strikes me that our Olympic success is built on Lean thinking.
Firstly, taking a long-term view has been instrumental. Yes, there were some important short-term wins, with a creditable performance just four years later in Sydney, but really Team GB and the BOA were focusing on the distant horizon and now in 2016 we’re seeing the benefits of this strategy in our Olympic success.
As with any transformation, investment has played a huge part. The role of the National Lottery (founded in 1994) in funding UK sport was mentioned by virtually every medal-winning athlete at the Games and it’s easy to see why. Our elite sportspeople are now able to be full-time athletes thanks to Lottery funding, no longer having to fit training and competitions around their day jobs.
But actually it’s not just the amount of money, it’s how it’s been spent that reveals Lean thinking. It could be argued that the BOA took a zero-waste approach to distributing the funds, choosing to invest only in the sports where we were most likely to succeed. This has been controversial, with several disciplines (such as water polo, volleyball and basketball) receiving no financial support at all, but the strategy has paid off for sports such as cycling and rowing where we now dominate globally.
Leadership has also played a pivotal role in transforming Team GB’s Olympic success rate. By bringing in the best coaches from around the world and the best technology (much of it originating in manufacturing and commerce), as well as identifying and building up talismanic athletes to champion their sport domestically and globally, we have become a force to be reckoned with. When Dave Brailsford, former head of UK cycling, told a French newspaper that the British team had rounder wheels, it may have been a joke but it was part of a wider plan to demonstrate leadership and prowess.
Pick the right team
The team ethic is another illustration of how our Olympic success is built on Lean thinking. It’s not just that our athletes now spend more time with each other (thanks to the funding that enables them to train and compete full-time) and therefore bond better; it’s also about how team members are selected.
Interestingly, in some sports (such as rowing), athletes have been identified from outside the sport, picked for their physical attributes, skills and strength rather than any previous experience. Just as in Lean business, where teams need to be made up of the right mix of talent and attributes, it’s not necessarily about who looks best on paper, but who has the right attitude and raw ability to succeed.
Never stop improving
Team GB’s record-breaking medal tally – our best ever performance in the Olympics – is impressive in itself. But coming four years after a record-breaking home games at London 2012 truly is continuous improvement in action. There has been no resting on laurels since London and already the BOA is looking forward to Tokyo 2020 and setting new targets for success.
If your organisation would benefit from a greater focus on Lean thinking, get in touch to see how we can help.