A winning combination

Success at work doesn’t just happen and it is rarely about doing one thing 100% better. Usually successful outcomes requires regular and mindful tweaking of numerous factors. Regular contributor and employment relations specialist, Charles Watson, considers his success at sailing as analogous to getting the best outcomes in the workplace. His view is that most of the work is done before the starting line.

It ended a few months ago now, and took almost 5 months of commitment, but by the end of last sailing season we won everything in our competition. We won every trophy for every category in the competition…still feeling it!

Boasting over, there was much more to our success than luck. Consistency, preparation, strong leadership, healthy competitiveness, and a diverse but cohesive crew set us up for that winning feeling. With those factors in place we were always going to have an impact, and best placed to get the results that followed. Looking at my career to this point and remembering golden periods at work, reminds me that the factors that brought results on the water also bring strong results in the workplace.

90% preparation

Sail racing is a sport that requires preparation in the weeks before you even leave the mooring. Given you are reliant on the wind (sometimes) or a breeze (usually) yachts are regularly placed under considerable tension and stress. Components break and the sun and saltwater eventually dissolve most everything they touch. Racing yachts require a yearly audit to compete, regular maintenance to keep them in top form, and a clean bottom for hydrodynamic performance.

Practice and thoughtfulness makes for excellence and occasionally perfection. I do a kind of mental tai-chi of my role and map the race course before we start so I know when those bursts of extra effort will be required. Fluid and sustained effort and not wasting time are key when you get on the water. Pfaffing around will just waste energy.

Come race day, the moment you get on board there are equipment checks and prep work to ensure everything is functioning. Having and following a checklist, whether actual or remembered, effectively systematises the process thereby saving time and effort. When you power up the sails to hit the starting line, you want to be concentrating on racing. Prep done, good to go.

We did not win every race every week. The yacht we sail on is built to handle heavier weather and we enjoyed the most success in some howling conditions. Conversely, a drop in the breeze could see the sterns of lighter boats moving off into the distance, leaving us working hard to make use of the slightest puff we could get into. However, being prepared allowed us to make the most of any conditions and without prevarication.

The skipper – like a boss!

I have sailed with the skipper for a few years now, and would sail with her anywhere. Her helming and leadership abilities are the result of experience and developed expertise. She is considered, tactical, adaptive, and communicates clearly. She is supportive and shares responsibility, but doesn’t scapegoat if we don’t get a great result. Everything a comfortable leader should be to create an environment for a crew to keep coming back week after week, and allow success to occur.

I have incorporated elements from her style into my own when managing up and coming Rockstar’s in the workplace. Learning directly from others in a non-work environment is always invaluable and definitely transferable. I love reading my Harvard Business Review tomes, but lived experiences are as equally important.

Not a motley crew

A win at all costs mindset when sailing doesn’t work long term and gives rise to disengagement and negative fallout. Surrounding yourself with poor attitudes is never a positive experience and will not bring results. Thankfully the crew on our boat are enjoyably competitive, and any negative ego is left in the carpark. Although the core crew have been together for several years, new members are welcomed, fit in quickly, feel valued, and keep coming back. We have a broad age range, primarily female crew, and a mixed bag of personalities and experience. We are agile, inclusive, diverse and can deal with whatever the conditions throw at us. We keep it light, even in 20 plus knots of wind.

Ultimately you can’t prepare for every eventuality, but even in the worst conditions you can be prepared to move quickly when the unexpected occurs. Generally, having a plan, the right people, and well-maintained equipment are a good start to achieving strong outcomes in any environment. If you see these factors present in a team or a workplace, then get on board as it will be a high-water mark by which to judge all other experiences.

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