USA Women’s Gymnastics: A True High-Performance Team

There are numerous articles and books about high-performance teams. I am influenced by these sources and use them in my work with executive and sport teams. However, when you are witnessing a true high-performance team in real time you are emotionally moved and intuitively understand the elements involved. I had that experience while watching the USA Women’s Gymnastics Team win the gold medal. Some of the key elements of a high-performance team (transferable to business and other performance oriented fields) I experienced were:

Talent & Work Ethic

Any performer at the highest level has talent. But in the interview with Bob Costas most of the team members referred to all their hard work and preparation. Clearly there were no slackers on this team. Lesson: Allowing anyone to remain on your team (regardless of their talent level) who doesn’t pull his or her weight and isn’t equally committed to team success is toxic.

Support, Encouragement & Leadership

During the individual performances, you could hear boisterous comments of encouragement coming from teammates. They had a sense of what their teammates needed to hear at the right time in their balance beam or floor exercise. This undoubtedly boosted performance. Between performances, leaders on the team were seen providing encouragement and advice to others. Lesson: True teams root for their teammates even when they aren’t the performer. They know their time will come. Leaders show up in the right way at the right time during competition.

Mental Toughness

Towards the end of the team competition, the Russian team made it a point to sit very close to the floor and watch the Americans perform–presumably an intimidation tactic. When the Russians performed, the American team did the opposite. They did not watch the Russians and stayed together as a team focusing on their next routines. Lesson: Focus on your own performance during competition–others don’t matter. Intimidation and distraction tactics will only work against those who lack mental toughness.

Passion & Emotion

Passion and emotion are related but not the same. Emotion alone can be detrimental to performance. Emotion that is the result of passion for a job well done is performance fuel. The last performer on the floor exercise had tears welling up in her eyes as she stuck the final landing just before finishing her routine. Lesson: If you are playing with passion emotion will follow. Emotion without true passion is shallow.

Regardless of your specific form of performance (e.g., business, sport, art or life) do you have a team with the characteristics of an Olympic champion? If not, create one!

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