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Team Spirit - Notes

Story of the authors experience of leading the winning team on the Clipper Round the world yacht race.

Particularly about what he learned about teams, the importance of leadership and making decisions under pressure.

Clipper race is unique because apart from the skipper all the crew are amateurs and around 40% have never sailed before. They go through a selection process and then pay a fee to participate in either all or some legs of the race. All the boats are the same specification and this matched fleet makes for a very close race where the skill and judgement of the crew become the key deciding factors.

More people have climbed Everest than circumnavigated the world under sail.

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do Epictetus

1St step of relentless preparation before the race that Hall made was to talk to as many previous captains as he could ask a lot of questions and take notes. Became very clear that winning the race was 20% sailing skills and 80% people management skills. These insights were critical because without this he would have undoubtedly focused his efforts on technical aspects of the job.

Asking them about mistakes particularly enlightening – ‘the chance to share mistakes and failures with a non-judgemental confidential listener is usually welcomed.’

People skills more important than technical skills, attitude over aptitude always.

Made a detailed spread sheet analysis of all the factors that could help win the race. (Preparation) Wrote the objective down: To win the clipper 09-10 race, through belief, teamwork, performance focus and continuous improvement.

Understanding others motivation – first and most simple step is to ask.

A leader does not need to be well rounded but a leadership team does. Very careful in selecting the watch leaders from the crew with this in mind.

Crew worked together and defined their goal; ‘Our goal is to sustain a campaign of continuous improvement. To do all we can to win the race and feel fulfilled.’

‘The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice and the fifth teaching others.’ Solomon Ibn Gabriol Hebrew poet and philosopher.

Constant reference to the guiding question – does it make the boat go faster? Lots of preparation around thinking through what if questions.

Once the race was underway debriefs were conducting frequently to keep to the campaign of continus improvement. Hall facilitated these but crew provided the input. Quickly they were taking responsibility.

‘My ultimate goal was that by the end of the race, I would be acting as more of a consultant to the crew’

Made a focus of setting and celebrating milestones.

1st big mistake of the race was to let his emotions get too impacted and driven by the sched results (daily radio updates of where everyone was positioned) classic external out of control results focus. Mood then allowed to impact the crew when the results were disappointing – badly. Your mood becomes their mood. Solution was simple – needed to keep a better control of his emotions.

Importance of delegation to show and develop trust and build confidence of every team member.

Have to remember to look after yourself, need to sustain an optimal state for clear thinking and good decision making.

Was careful to get feedback from the crew – ‘what I needed to hear was not necessarily what I wanted to hear. Essential to development as a leader.

‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’ – Winston Churchill

‘No great achievement is possible without persistent work’ – Betrand Russell.

Importance of good briefings – what’s going to happen. Really important to set expectation (sailing some of the most dangerous seas in the world anxiety bound to be high) hit upon using the journal accounts of previous crews as these had a really credibility and connection with the crew. Knowledge dispels fear.

Persistence probably the super strength of this crew. Had the discipline to keep working at little things even in very marginal conditions. Eg very frequent sail changes in poor conditions to squeeze every drop out of the wind.

‘I fundamentally believe that persistence is the single most importatnt quality for any person to have and is the differentiator between a strong character and a weak one’.

‘Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.’

Sharing responsibility was the single most important factor in the success of the crew. Leadership style of deliberately developing others became critical when due to a serious accident involving the skipper of another boat, Brenden had to leave his boat and crew the other dis-masted boat back to safety on one of the most treacherous and demanding legs of the race. His own crew coped fine without him.

To reach their potential the team have to be able to manage without you.

Our success was not due to a brilliant tactical plan or having better sailors on board. ‘Out winning formula was dogged persistence, overcoming brick walls, sharing responsibility and daily communication.’

It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.’ Sir Edmond Hillary