I’m sure many of you have been watching the 2020 Tokyo Olympics over the last 2 weeks. I always enjoy watching the Olympics and seeing the world’s best athletes perform and do amazing things. On the not so amazing side, we have the US men’s 4 x 100 relay team. An embarrassment and failure on many levels. The US team on paper should be medal contenders every 4 years because the individual sprinters’ run times are usually far better than their competitors, but they haven’t won the event since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

I’m not an expert here, but I did run the 4 x 400 relay in high school and at Baylor for a few years. It appears quite simple to have 4 runners go around the track and in the rather small passing zone hand off the baton from one runner to another runner. Come on, how hard can that be? Trust me, it’s way harder than it looks folks!

One athlete is slowing down slightly to hand off the baton smoothly to their teammate who is accelerating as fast as they can to stay competitive. The first 2 US runners this year pretty much collided into each other vs. passing the baton smoothly. That collision in the semifinals took them out of the finals. Yes, they didn’t even have a chance to win a medal this year!  I agree with Carl Lewis who won the 4×100 Olympic gold medal twice as well as seven other golds who posted on Twitter, “The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay.”

As I pondered the train wreck that took place here, I saw several key learnings to apply to business:

1)   Practice, practice, practice… This is as much on the athletes as it is on the coaches. Many of the Olympians haven’t run a relay since college and are very rusty. Each Olympian is working hard individually to qualify for the Olympics and competing in the relay becomes somewhat of a side note without much practice on working as a team. In the past, some of the teams who have won the relay are not the world class sprinters, but teams who have become proficient in the teamwork of passing the baton with each other. The US needs to go back to these basics. If you haven’t done something for years, you need to relearn the skills to get proficient again. This exact principle applies in business.

2)   Communications. There is a huge amount of communication in the relays, during the critical passing of the baton between one athlete and the next one. In many organizations communication is either bad or non-existent. Don’t assume anything – especially if your company is growing or going through major changes. The biggest void in communications usually happens with mid-level managers not cascading the message down. Make sure all managers are equipped to drive messaging down from leaders to employees actual performing the work.

3)   Focus on the small things. The baton pass in a relay race is less than 10% of the race, but this is where you typically win or lose the race. The same thing is true in business. If you overlook the details or the lack of fine tuning in your organization, you can also lose the race. Do the small things well and the big things will take care of themselves if you have the right culture and people in place.

I am hoping the US men’s 4 X100 can learn from their mistakes and implement some teamwork strategies! Let’s stay tuned to see if it goes better in 2024!

If any of this rings true for your organization, schedule a free call with me below.