"We start as individuals; We finish as a team!"
That thought came at mile 199 of a 201-mile bicycle race, as I was getting close to the finish line in Port Hueneme, CA.
I finished a few minutes later, at 9:15pm, as a part of the team of people that I met earlier that day. Many of us started as individuals or small groups and became a team after 200 long, hot, grinding, and windy miles.
It is very similar to the business environment.
We often start our jobs or projects as individuals. We meet other professionals as we go. We build teams that make the most impossible things become possible. The ability to form such teams separates successful companies from the mediocre ones.
Just like riding 200+ miles in a single day. What I realized that day is while hard projects (like riding 100 or 130 miles) can be completed through preparation and perseverance, much bigger projects require teamwork to complete.
Prior to that ride, I had completed 100-mile rides many times and 130-mile ride twice. But 200 miles were elusive. I tried once and was not able to finish it, just to get a DNF (Did Not Finish) status. It turns out that the missing ingredient was the team. The team did it!
The key things I discovered during my first successful 200 mile ride were that strong teams make the biggest difference in extreme situations by:
- Helping each other through situational difficulties, such as shielding against the wind to go faster with less energy spent
- Helping with directions when there are no pointers, it’s dark outside, and when many team members feel lost. One of the team members happens to have planned the ride better, the other one had a better app, and someone else knew that particular area from previous rides.
- Mentally supporting each other when the going gets tough and the doubts start creeping in about the sanity of the project and the ability to finish
If you think about it, this mimics business challenges as well. By working closely together, we go faster through overcoming extreme difficulties, we give each other mental support and find directions when we get stuck. And then we finish and win as a team -- way ahead of a collection of individuals.
The feeling of an accomplishment was immense at the end of the race, similar to the one when you launch a product, or a web site, or close a partnership, or deal that seemed impossible just a few months ago.
The right team makes that crazy undertaking look normal. With the right team, you push the limits even further, asking, “What else is impossible?”
Just to prove that point, I did another bike race 3 weeks later, to push my limits even further. I completed the STP (Seattle to Portland) ride in one day. 213 miles. 5,200 ft climb. 9,200 calories burnt.
And like in the first race, I started alone and finished as a team! It was much easier than the first time, faster, and more fun.
And the best thing was that my family was at the finish line to celebrate with me!