The Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race is not only the toughest ocean race on the planet  it’s also an excellent B2E platform, and a metaphor for modern business in today’s VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). Here’s why.

As a sponsor of Volvo Ocean Race, you’re able to connect your core business to the essence of the race. It’s all about the search for competitive advantage. In business, leaders have to be able to anticipate ever-changing environmental conditions that they’re not able to predict. That’s really challenging. To sail a Volvo Ocean 65, identical to that of your competition, is today’s business reality. Just as the race is One Design, most modern businesses have
to work with exactly the same hardware as their competitors. The only competitive advantage is in the human factor. The rivalries and competition is fierce, and when you’re racing against world-class athletes, you really need your team mates if you’re going to win. Research tells us that, in this VUCA world, business leaders need all of the information, data and perspectives they can gather in order to make the right calls. To run your business slightly smarter than your competitors, you need a strong, diverse team. Forget about gender, it was already hugely diverse The Volvo Ocean Race has hit the headlines recently with a pioneering rule change to encourage more teams to take female sailors onboard. With immense curiosity I look at this change; in any case it will lead to more perspectives and therefore more possibility for change. But the Race was already incredibly diverse.

Take Team Brunel for example: the age ranged from 23 to 53 years old. There was a huge gulf in experience onboard, with some sailors who have sailed the Race six times, and others who had never done it. At one point, the crew of eight contained seven nationalities. And the crew covered a wide range of expertises. You see that kind of diversity in business too. And when you need your team to constantly grow and innovate, as a leader you’re simply not ‘enough’ anymore to gather all information, interpret the data and make the right calls. You do need more perspectives than just yours. It requires CEO’s to make as huge transformations in their leadership styles as Bouwe Bekking had to in the last race. Bouwe devoted a lot of time and energy to making changes to his leadership style. He even hired himself and his team a mental coach to create new perspectives. I know he will keep stepping up and will be able to lead women in exactly the same way as he learned to lead such a diverse team last edition.

The Volvo Ocean Race is all about honouring differences in order to produce innovation and creativity. There is no difference between decisions made at the top level of global business, and those made by a skipper on a Volvo Ocean Race boat. In fact, business could learn a lot from the dynamic on board. There is almost never a boardroom where every single board member is truly intrinsic aligned to a collective goal. Everyone has his or her own responsibility, and with that comes budgets and pressures. On Team Brunel, all of the crew genuinely shared in a collective dream to win the Volvo Ocean Race. This mindset triggers talent, motivation and team work. You need each other to reach the goal. Research and business psychology suggests that a collective intrinsically valued ambition allows people to grow steep learning curves and realise their potential. I knew when I started working with Team Brunel that this was important in order to become a high performance team or organisation, but now I’ve seen the proof first hand. Because the team aligned their individual values to this unique team identity, they were resilient enough to pull themselves together when they disappointingly finished fifth twice, and they came back to grab second place on the final leg into Gothenburg. There will be disappointments, it will get tough. Almost daily in organisations, this happens in some form. It’s at those times that you require your collective identity and shared ambitions.

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