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Teamwork: the heart of successful performance

Teamwork doesn't come from a book, it doesn't come from a job description and it doesn't even come from performance-related rewards. It comes because those involved want it to happen and because they are truly committed to the success of the team and put their own personal agendas as secondary to this aim.

Finance and Management newsletter, Issue 132, April 2006

Published by the Faculty of Finance and Management

After eight years' research into why teams succeed or fail in Formula 1 motor racing, I believe the answer is teamwork. However, I'm not talking about teamwork merely as a term for small group dynamics, but rather as a quality that conveys the spirit of an organisation. When an organisation has a culture based on teamwork people within it want to make it work better and better, causing them to push themselves and support others to levels that were hitherto unimaginable.

Teamwork doesn't come from a book, it doesn't come from a job description and it doesn't even come from performance-related rewards. It comes because those involved want it to happen and because they are truly committed to the success of the team and put their own personal agendas as secondary to this aim.

Unrealistic? Well perhaps it is, but it is the one thing that explains exceptional performance in Formula 1.

The Formula 1 key to success

Teamwork is when everyone is looking out for everyone else, stepping into the breach to help when needed, but also recognising the strengths of their colleagues and giving them the space to do what they do best. Like all good things it's very hard to develop and very easy to destroy, so what are the foundations of teamwork that provide the breathtaking levels of performance that can be witnessed in Formula 1?

What can managers do to try and emulate these incredible feats in the most competitive of environments? This was the motivation for undertaking a research study to explore these factors and to consider how they were sustained or destroyed through the actions of organisations.

We conducted 24 in-depth interviews with some of the most influential people in modern-day Formula 1, visiting all the major teams and supporting this analysis by developing a detailed database of secondary material sourced from the motor racing press, biographies, other books and a raft of websites.

In the end we came up with 10 key factors that supported the teamworking culture underpinning exceptional performance. Two of these are discussed here in more detail.

A no-blame culture

The first factor is a no-blame culture, which sounds simple but is far from easy to achieve. Take the example of the Formula 1 pit stop. Until 2005 a pit stop required the changing of all four wheels and tyres and refuelling the car with up to 90 litres of regular grade fuel. This involved at least 21 individuals all with a specific job to do to complete the entire operation in under eight seconds.

On September 22 1991 at the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril near Lisbon, driver Nigel Mansell was leading the race for the Williams team and was a strong contender for the 1991 world drivers' championship when he made a routine pit stop.

Everything appeared to go as normal and Mansell was released from the pit in order to resume his lead. As he accelerated into the pit lane his right rear wheel broke away from the car and went rolling down the track. Mansell was stranded in a car with three wheels; he could not go back as this would involve immediate disqualification. The mechanics were also forbidden from replacing the wheel and tyre while the car was in the pit lane so Mansell retired, not only losing the race, but also ultimately the 1991 world championship.

Full article only available to Finance and Management Faculty members.