Putting the “i” in team

Something that has been eating away at me for a while is a feeling of loneliness that pervades society these days. Whilst the initial reaction of many will be to think and assert that they are not alone, I would lay down this challenge: in order to be recognised do you have to do more on your own or as part of a team?  A tough question when you start to think about it. Just to ease the seriousness for one moment, this question reminds me of an episode of The IT Crowd in which Moss and Roy feel left out of the celebration of the end of a project that they delivered and where Denholm thanks everyone but the people who deserve the thanks. Quite justifiably the boys from the basement feel hard done by. But ironically this clip also highlights they way in which others can be thanked.

For me this thought process has been ongoing during my return to work. Regular readers will have followed the deficiencies of the organisation I work for in their recognition of human resource needs and the way in which success is a misunderstood commodity.  This forms the context in which my thinking has further formed.  It has become increasingly evident to me that your contribution in this environment is measured by your individual achievements rather than your contribution to a team. I wondered if this was just me, whether it was a product of the institution or the sector that I worked in but there is growing evidence that this might just be a wider trend.

Measuring success is always going to be difficult but the metrics by which we achieve this have become increasingly individualised and ignore the contribution one person may have made to another’s accomplishment(s).  What finally made the connection for me were two articles which appeared on cyclingnews.com in the last 2 weeks. This week the UCI have announced the all important World Rankings which determine the number of starters each nation can have in the UCI Mens Road Race in Copenhagen in September.  The ranking of each nation is determined by the number of points riders from those countries have scored on the World Tour*. With a course that is believed to suit Mark Cavendish, Team GB needed to qualify as many riders as possible. By being ranked 6th they qualified for 9 starters. Only, they can only start 8 riders because only 8 British riders have scored World Tour points. On the face of it, fine. Luxembourg are in a similar position only their pints have been scored by only 2 riders, the Schlecks.  But where as Luxembourg have a lot fewer riders at the highest level of the sport (as noted in the cyclingnews.com article), Great Britain have a fair few more. And in gaining some of those qualifying points, other riders are likely to have contributed to the racing. For example, the 181 points that Bradley Wiggins has scored are not just the result of his effort alone but have been secured through the hard work of domestiques, quite a few of whom are British and who have not scored points themselves.

Which brings me neatly on to the role of the domestique.  For the non-cyclists reading this, a domestique is as the name suggests a servant to the team. They are the riders who, as HTC have shown for Cavendish, chase down the break so their sprinter has a chance of winning the race. They are the riders who, rarely seen by the TV cameras, go back to the support cars to drop of excess layers of race clothing from their team leaders and fill their jerseys with bottles and food to bring back to the front.  Without them racing would look a whole lot different for the stars. And yet there has always been some unwritten value of this role to the extent that those riders who had made this their career role have been known as super-domestiques, for example Team Sky DS Sean Yates.  And so reading Cyclingnews.com’s piece on Dimitri Champion a fortnight ago added further fuel to my thoughts. Champion was French national champion (if you can forgive the alliterative pun) 2 years ago. Since that win he has suffered a spate of injuries and now has no ranking points to his name.  Just as ranking points are important to nations, they are one of the means for professional teams to gain access to cycling’s premiership, the World Tour. Riders with points are valuable, riders without points it would seem are increasingly seen as a liability.  Yet again, the ranking system, the metric used to measure success, fails to acknowledge the contributions of others in non points scoring roles. It is an issue discussed in Richard Moore’s book Sky’s the Limit, where Team Sky principle Dave Brailsford discusses the shortcomings of ranking systems based solely on points on the line and how any system can recognise the water carrying, the break chasing and the pacing back of leaders after a fall/mechanical.

And this brings me full circle. Whilst there are lone voices like Brailsford’s intelligently questioning the system, much of the disquiet is muttering and there are few alternatives put forward.  Until then we all make our contributions but increasingly feel less satisfied with what we do, especially when part of larger entities and organisations.  For me this means contributing to research yet feeling I am not valued as much as the person who writes a paper based on the findings of that research.  No longer do we play to our strengths nor a jack of all trades, we must be a master of all trades.  I have no easy answers and of course much of it comes down to interpersonal dynamics. But I still can’t help feeling we’ve gone wrong somewhere and have taken a big step to focussing on the “i” in team and do so at our peril.


*There are many flaws with this system which deserve a blog or book in their own right and which I will not tackle here.

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