Gold Medal Team Building: 7 Ways the Olympics Can Strengthen Your Team

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Jul 30, 2012

The 2012 Olympic Games in London have just begun.

Records will be shattered, new champions crowned, an esprit de corps built among teams and collective pride among nations on display for the world to see. This makes for an ideal time to build greater esprit de corps within your organization through the passion and competition of sports.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, the Olympic Games are significant. They represent the last great amateurs, people who are competing for something far greater in significance than a paycheck.

Building organizational esprit de corps

Your organization can build its esprit de corps and compete at a higher level by catching the Olympic spirit. With that in mind, I share with you seven actionable strategies to strengthen the bond between your people and enhance your collective performance.

  1. Office Olympics: Games are meant to be played not just watched. You can organize a series of games for your employees to compete in both individually and by department. A couple easy to set up on-site options would be games such as badminton, table tennis or archery. You can also expand to conducting some off-site activities such as golf, volleyball, tennis or triathlon and play to raise funds for a designated charity the organization supports. To tap into your employees sense of creativity you could even leave the Office Olympic events up to your staff to invent their own games. Be sure to reward all participants at the end of the events and take lots of pictures to remember the event by. You don’t have to wait four years to do this again, make it an annual tradition.
  2. Focus on key sports and athletes: The Summer Olympics run for 17 days featuring hundreds of events. It is an act of futility to try and carefully follow all of them. Add meaning to the Olympic experience by focusing on specific athletes that are relevant to your geographic location or specific sports that are popular amongst your employees. For example, I live in Maine and enjoy closely following Boothbay Harbor’s Eleanor Logan on the U.S. Women’s Rowing team. If you can’t take a break during the day to watch the event live at the office, DVR it and gather later for viewing.
  3. Teamwork and work ethic on display: The Olympics provide leaders in all industries a platform to teach and reinforce how essential teamwork is. Each Olympiad you will find numerous teachable moments on display featuring examples of an individual sacrificing personal gain for the common good of their team. You can highlight examples of outstanding teamwork by various Olympic teams involved and use it as a metaphor for your project team or department within your organization. A good example of that would be the communication, coordination and effort in unison involved in the sport of rowing. Everyone pulling in the same direction, keeping open channels of communication and working hard not just with one another but for one another to achieve a common goal. Perhaps you may want to point out the way the latest USA Basketball “Dream Team” has melded together a group of egos and all-stars into a cohesive, unselfish, high performing unit. If the message you want to drive home to your people is one of resilience and overcoming challenges you may want to highlight the story of South African runner, Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who will be running the 400 and 4 x 400 relay using prosthetic legs.
  4. Historical perspective: There are incredible stories of overcoming the odds and standing up for your values and beliefs which have been associated with past Olympic Games. Examine and discuss stories such as Jessie Owens winning four gold medals as Adolph Hitler looked on from the stands in the 1936 games in Nazi Germany or runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists upright in silent protest against racial discrimination at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. A little more recently, Arthur Ashe speaking out against apartheid and Billie Jean King discussing women’s equality come to mind. There are many compelling stories that can help your people gain a better appreciation of the power of the human spirit and remind them that what may appear impossible is indeed possible in your workplace and your industry.
  5. Hometown heroes: An incredibly small percentage of Olympic athletes ever advance to professional careers in their sport. Most Olympic sports don’t even have a professional counterpart. Once the games have concluded the overwhelming majority of Olympians return home and return to careers. They live in our neighborhoods and work in our communities. For example, four time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez was a copier salesman turned motivational speaker and author in Colorado Springs. While they don’t all return wearing medals like Gonzalez, they do all return wearing a badge of pride along with stories of perseverance, discipline and courage. These are all highly sought after qualities in every workplace, so why not invite a local Olympian or former Olympian to share their story with your people and celebrate them in the process.
  6. Embrace change: As adults age, a natural byproduct of this aging process is for our comfort zone to steadily shrink a bit as time goes on. Yet to grow and mature personally and professionally we need to embrace change and attempt new things. The Olympics provide a great venue for you to challenge one another to try something new. Perhaps it may be an event you watched in the Olympics such as: cycling, fencing, sailing or triathlon. The Olympics can be a great vehicle to help your people simultaneously expand their horizons, embrace change and get more physically fit. As a leader, isn’t one of your responsibilities to help enrich the lives of your people? Capitalize on the momentum this opportunity presents.
  7. Olympic Trivia: Quick quiz — What is the Olympic motto? How many rings there are in the Olympic logo? How about which colors they consist of? And lastly what do the rings of the Olympic logo stand for? The five rings of the Olympic logo stand for: passion, faith, victory, work ethic and sportsmanship. These are critical values in the workplace as well as in athletic competition. This question of what the five rings stand for is one you can ask your people. It provides an excellent way to enter a facilitated discussion on what the company, each department and each employee stands for.

Break the overall group up into five sub-groups, have them select one of five rings colored blue, black, red, yellow and green, then ask them to select one of the five Olympic values (red = passion, black = faith, red = victory, blue = work ethic , green = sportsmanship) and ask them to discuss in their small group how this Olympic value relates to the organization, their department and their individual roles within the company. Reconvene the group and ask each person to share their answer and a representative from each sub-group to share the group’s answer about the Olympic value they selected as what the organization stands for.

Drill down and ask them to share a success story in the workplace which illustrates this value in action. If you’d like to keep the momentum going, have each sub-group restart the discussion with a different colored ring to stimulate new thought on a different value. You could also make this a series of five conversations over a period of weeks and have the groups trade rings each week until each group has discussed all five Olympic values.

A motto to remember

An appropriate time to enter into this conversation with them is at the closing ceremonies. You can take the opportunity to ask each member of your team to pledge to live by those qualities they shared and carry them forward in action from that day on. Making this pledge together will serve to strengthen the group’s sense of purpose and serve as a great reminder of not only the core values of the organization but how they look in action each day.

Additionally when adversity strikes, it gives them something meaningful to help keep them grounded and press on during those tough times.

The Olympic motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” The Latin words mean “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.” Apply these strategies and your organization will grow swifter, higher and stronger as well.