How can I get more for less?
No, that’s not an advertising slogan for a large retailer chain, It is a question that ultimately is at the heart of efficiency.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating examples of getting more for less can be found in road cycling.
In competitions like the Tour de France, competing cycling teams form a group called a Peloton and they stay in this form for most of the race. The teams, although in direct competition with each other to win the various stages of the race, cycle in this form as it is ultimately more efficient. The riders go faster while expending less effort, this is down to the level of drag reduction experienced by being behind or part of a group of riders. The teams jostle for position in the peloton to gain this benefit but all experience it, just to varying degrees. The peloton then is a team of teams.
To measure the level of drag reduction riders experienced in the peloton, a group of researchers led by Dr. Blocken used computer simulations in an experiment to predict the speed benefit of being in the peloton relative to cycling alone. The simulations suggested that if an individual rider were to pedal at 12-15km/h in a peloton, their equivalent speed would be 54km/h. That’s a staggering effort to speed gain.
What’s all the more extraordinary is that the teams that form the peloton are competing, they do not have rigid structures, they are constantly reorganised as different riders and teams move through the peloton from front to back. To prevent absolute chaos, there are informal understandings about shared workloads across teams and there are differing roles within each team. The fluid nature of the peloton though has some interesting parallels to a business-based phenomenon: agile working.
Over the last 18 months, agile work practices that have long been part of the software and technology industries, have gradually moved into non-technology businesses. Project teams and cross-functional ways of operating have become more prevalent in business and not just for large IT infrastructure projects, they now are a more popular way of responding to customer challenges and dealing speedily with operational issues. In some cases, project teams can be formed for as little as two weeks in order to solve short-term problems.
In general, businesses are now becoming more project-driven and therefore more fluid in their structure, which is a far cry from the hierarchical, department-style structures of the last 20 years. When there are problems that need solving or customer challenges that need focus, project teams form and swarm to solve the problems subsequently disbanding to form other teams as required.
As a way of working it has key benefits that are similar to the benefits of the peloton: less drag, faster speed of response, and much more agility resulting in higher efficiency.
However, both the agile way of working and the Peloton rely on feedback. The agile way of working, in its technology-based origins, was largely centered around getting a minimum viable product into the customer’s hands as quickly as possible, then using that customer feedback to evolve and grow the product. Customer feedback and fast feedback more generally are critical to the agile way of working. In the Peloton, the support cars provide situational and biological feedback, whilst a team’s riders are always in contact and working off the latest flow of data from GPS and the team’s support cars.
In a team of teams approach, where there are multiple teams forming and disbanding on a regular basis the question of how you get fast feedback, not so much on the project goals and operational actions of a team, but on how the teams are behaving becomes critical to visibility on performance. The team of teams means there is likely to be a more dynamic fluidity to a company’s culture.
Employee feedback in the form of annual engagement surveys are going to be too slow. Feedback, like the agile way of working itself, needs to both be more flexible, more instantaneous and based on the attributes that underpin a team of teams concept.
In their excellent 2020 article ‘Building the Peloton’, Deloitte consulting list the qualities required to build a successful peloton culture in your organisation. They are:
- A supportive environment (Relationships & Trust)
- A compelling direction (Shared purpose)
- Balance (Diversity and multiple contributors)
- Effective practices (Agile processes)
- Psychological safety (Freedom to communicate)
It makes sense then that as part of the fast feedback approach, these five qualities are continuously measured. Here at MyPeople, these five qualities are core components of our Culture HealthCheck (CHC), designed to provide regular insight into the quality of your team environments and identify actions to improve teams of teams. The CHC has been used by MyPeople throughout our sporting life and has been transferred into business to enable better measurement of team conditions in agile work practices.
When performed little and often it provides you live insight into your organisation’s peloton and helps you make better organisational decisions to support your people’s way of working.
To summarise, with an Agile, Peloton, or just a more flexible project-orientated approach, you need dynamic feedback. The support cars in the peloton are constantly providing feedback on position, sustenance (food and drink and emotional support) and the riders are communicating regularly. In business, the fast feedback is of the team environment.
If the agile way of workings sounds like your organisation, it is worth considering the visibility you have of your team of teams and explore measuring at least the five key attributes of team environment listed in the Deloitte article. This provides fast feedback on how your teams are tracking as a group and is usually a strong statistical indicator of performance. This fast feedback gives you visibility and enables you to sniff out problems in your peloton before they cause a crash!
Bert Blocken, Thijs van Druenen, Yasin Toparlar, Fabio Malizia, Paul Mannion, Thomas Andrianne, Thierry Marchal, Geert-Jan Maas, Jan Diepens. Aerodynamic drag in cycling pelotons: New insights by CFD simulation and wind tunnel testing. Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, 2018; 179: 319 DOI: 10.1016/j.jweia.2018.06.011
‘Building the peloton’ by Jessica Watson, Peter Evans-Greenwood, Andy Peck, Peter Williams, 2020. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/high-performance-team-building.html