11 Management lessons from a 650 km cycle race

It’s been a tough race! Apart from training, endurance and cycling, the race has put in perspective several management lessons. So here goes, 11 management lessons which I learned from the Deccan Cliffhanger…

1. Selecting the right team

Probably the most critical and yet possibly the most casually taken factor. A lot of times, our personal biases dictate team selection. Another factor is our tendency to get any available person to join the team when we’re in a crunch situation. In this case, it might just be better to kill the project before starting it. Not giving enough attention to team selection will anyways sound the death knell for the project.

We were trying to find a technician for the race and weren’t able to get the right person. We decided to get an additional bike rather than getting someone who wouldn’t fit in with the team. Worst case scenario, the two main bikes will fail and we’ll use the third bike to complete the race. A decision which in hindsight worked very well for us.

Finding people who fit into the culture and are in sync with the team is a critical aspect. Getting a star performer with an abrasive personality, is not the best way of building a team.

2. Plan, plan, plan

Our team met 1 day before the race. This turned out to be too little time to plan. We had multiple conversations one-on-one with each other, but as a team we didn’t discuss together. As soon as we met, we were already in the thick of thing and we went straight into execution.

Once the execution phase starts, planning isn’t really possible and you figure it out along the way. It just means you depend on luck. Had we met a few days before the race, we would have been able to set up ourselves much better. In this scenario when we couldn’t meet, we should have discussed together as a team on multiple conference calls and planned everything for the race. Projects are similar, spend most of your time planning and the execution becomes easier. The race was 32 hours, we should have ideally spent 3 – 4 days planning these 32 hours.

3. Assign roles and responsibilities

Project or race, assign responsibilities to the team. Deciding responsibilities in the execution phase leads to chaos, ego clashes, not getting things done and being clueless. Ownership of key aspects of the project is critical. If ownership isn’t assigned, it leads to a scenario where it’s no one’s baby and a high probability of the baby dying. Thankfully we assigned tasks like food, hydration, bike management, tracking support vehicles and control stations to individual team members. Unfortunately, one of the race teams was disqualified because they missed a control station. Perhaps the reason was that this responsibility wasn’t assigned to one person.

4. Ensuring that the team gets to know each other

It is critical for the team to get to know each other and understand strengths and weaknesses of individual team members. What drives one, doesn’t necessarily drive another. One might be trying to prove her/ himself while another is doing it because they love the project while yet another is doing it just to see what it’s all about and perhaps it’s a good place to be seen in.

5. Lacking killer instinct

You want to win, you want to achieve the goal, you have to have the damn drive to get it. Easy going attitude isn’t going to get you there. During the race, as a team we were taking it too easy. Taking long breaks, taking short breaks, taking it casually etc. That’s no way to win the race. You want to win, you need to get your ass moving. You don’t rest when you feel like or when you’re tired, you rest when you’re done. Keep your killer instinct in place to achieve that goal and finish that project.

6. Overconfidence

Well begun is half done, right? Yes, right – but it is only half done. Who is going to do the other half? If the first half is going to make you overconfident about your abilities, think again child. You’re doomed to failure. That’s exactly what happened to us during the race. We became over confident because we were doing well. At the end of the race, it was a nail – biting finish for us. We finished 6 minutes before cut-off time. Ideally, I’d love to finish well in time so that any emergency situations towards the end can be dealt with. Next race, we will prepare accordingly.

7. Knowledge of the environment where you’re operating

While you’ll never be able to understand the environment you’re operating in 100%, it’ll go a long way to understand as much as you can about the environment you’re operating in. During the race, we didn’t know where the toll booths were – this has to do with 1 car being required to follow the racer at all times. Because we didn’t know where the toll booths were, 1 car was behind or ahead, while 1 car was stuck at the toll booth and the racer was stuck with the car at the toll booth.

We didn’t know just how bad the road will be at night (200 kms) and consequently, we weren’t prepared with the right kind of bikes and strategy.

We didn’t know just how badly foggy it’ll be at night – otherwise I would have planned to wear contact lenses. My specs kept getting fogged at night slowing me down tremendously and making the ride a scary experience.

Try understanding your environment – competition, market dynamics – which stage of evolution is the market in, regulatory issues which can cause havoc etc. Just because your home market operates a certain way, it doesn’t mean your target market is going to be the same; The roads where I train are smooth (and I know them really well) doesn’t mean the race route is going to be smooth (I didn’t know the route at all).

8. You will screw up, figure out what happens when screw ups happen

Truer words haven’t been spoken. There will be screw ups – team, environment, internal factors, external factors all kinds of things. What are you going to do about it? During the race, there was fatigue, chafing, bad roads, mist, fog etc etc etc – a lot of it unplanned – ride on… ride on… ride on.

9. Team motivation/ fatigue during the project

At some point during the project, team fatigue is going to set in. What are you going to do at that stage? During the race, we encountered bad roads for 200 km, and got into a pretty bad state. We were exhausted by the last stage. It is at that stage that the project leader needs to step in and motivate the team – despite the fatigue she/ he is facing. This is the critical stage of the project which can make or break the project. Thankfully all through this stage during the race, someone or the other in the team was able to motivate the racer to keep moving.

10. Don’t stop the self motivated bugger

The previous point brings me to this. Even when team fatigue sets in, there will be at least 1 self motivated bugger who will keep going. If you can’t motivate (or keep your head down and keep moving), then don’t come in the way of the self motivated bugger who is trying against all odds to finish. Because at the end of the race, that self motivated bugger will carry you across the finish line – where YOU will celebrate as a team. It’s critical to understand this and your own state during the project – are you the motivator for the team, the self motivated bugger (usually infectious) or the one coming in the way – figure this out and don’t be the one that comes in the way.

11. The final sprint

And finally, the final sprint. Right now it’s time for everything and everyone to come together. The last thing you want is a breakdown of anything – team motivation, equipment or anything to fail. So plan well in advance for the final sprint – irrespective of anything, there will be a final sprint and that’s the time for the team to come together as one well oiled machine.

End of the day, there’s that one critical component: Do it so that you’re proud of putting your name on it.

6 Comments

  1. You came with these learning because you have done a retrospective of a success /failure.
    Its a success or failure, retrospective is a important aspect to understand what went well and what went wrong.
    I really enjoyed this post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Girijesh :)
      Learning and introspection is in retrospective and this was an amazing learning experience.

      Regards,
      Saurabh

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