When the British men’s eight rowing team finished eighth in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, it was a low-point that seemed to place them well outside the ranks of the rowing superpowers of the time. They were clearly some way off the top table in an event which is notoriously unforgiving and where losing seems to be such a thoroughly gut-wrenching experience.
An experience as miserable, dispiriting and painful as that would have been enough to end careers and send the losing athletes off to seek new lives in the nine-to-five where the frustrations and disappointments are unlikely to ever be quite so brutally delivered. But this isn’t how Ben Hunt-Davis responded to the lack of sporting success. Ben was a member of the men’s eight team and when he and his team members again fell far short by coming seventh at a regatta in Cologne in 1998, they realised that if they were going to taste victory, they were going to have to change the way they did things.
The team rethought their entire approach, stripping it down to the essentials and removing anything which didn’t serve their goal of succeeding. It clearly worked, because what they learnt and implemented in the next two years turned them into the team who took the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Hunt-Davis, along with Executive Coach, Harriet Beveridge, wrote a book documenting this transformation called ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’, which captures and bottles their strategy to succeed. It’s been so popular, that the authors have also branched out into corporate training and motivational speaking, where they pass on the secrets of their approach to those keen to apply them in their own lives.
The Power of the Team
I can’t claim to know much about rowing, but Hunt-Davis and Beveridge’s book is an illuminating and entertaining read and easily translates the techniques of the rowing team into tactics we can all employ in our professional and personal lives. The chapter on the strength of teamwork is a topic that is more relevant than ever for us at Quadrant. Having recently joined Progeny Group, together we are uniting our talent and resources that will hopefully lead to an exponential leap in achievements and opportunities for our clients and businesses.
The authors don’t pull their punches in assessing the value of a team, acknowledging that operating as one unit can often be hard work: individuals have to compromise; they need to suppress their own immediate instincts; it can often be easier for us all to just do our own thing. So, they ask, why do we bother with it? Well, quite simply, the benefits and outcomes of successful long-term team-working can far outweigh the short-term disadvantages we may have to put up with.
Teams can accomplish feats that no one can achieve on their own. For example, planning successfully for the financial future of your family involves input from a number of experts with a range of skills. As part of the Progeny Group, we can now offer access to specialists (corporate lawyers, private and family lawyers, accountants, wealth managers and tax advisers) with all the knowledge necessary to plan successfully for your future. This would not be possible for a single financial adviser operating alone.
There is also a strength in breadth and depth that is only present in a team. Teams allow us to dip into the knowledge of others, and learn from their mistakes and experience, without having to go through the pain of it ourselves. A wider pool of references and interpretations of events can help us build a resilient and resourceful strategy for dealing with what comes our way. In terms of our investment advice and financial planning services, it means that clients can be confident that we can adapt to whatever their situation, helping them to plan for the predictable while being agile to respond to the unpredictable too.
Setting Your Own Gold Standard
‘Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?’ is a fascinating account of the single-minded determination the team needed to get themselves to where they wanted to be. The book’s title itself is taken from the key question they asked about every single decision they made in formulating their strategy for success. The book discusses the importance of setting a series of clear goals and monitoring progress towards them as a vital component in this strategy. In the context of the men’s eight rowing team, their clear goal was a gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. They describe how they plotted every step along the way and meticulously deconstructed the training journey into tangible and measurable daily tasks:
“The crew broke Gold down into concrete goals about rhythm and power that they could measure day to day. If it isn’t obvious when goals are achieved and benefits materialise for everyone, people will lose momentum. Sydney 2000 seemed a long way away in 1998, so the crew used milestones along the way – Regattas and ergo tests – to keep the goal tangible.”
This has many parallels with the way we approach financial planning with our clients. We look ahead with them to determine and define what their financial goals are for the future. Then we put in place a plan and set the milestones they’ll need to reach along the way to achieve these goals. Given that we’re dealing with much longer-term forward planning than the two-year programme of the rowing team, constantly checking and monitoring becomes vitally important. We meet regularly with clients to assess whether their circumstances or goals have changed, allowing us to closely monitor progress and adapt the plan as necessary. This gives them the confidence that they are on course to achieve their own gold medal ambitions and to build the financial lifestyle they desire.
As a final point, I should add that a colleague of mine at Progeny, Frances Davies, can not only provide specialist professional advice in her area of tax and succession planning but she also has significant experience as a rower. Frances was part of a four-woman team which set a new world record for rowing across the North Sea. In February 2016, she successfully completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge with three other women, breaking the world record for being the oldest female crew to row any ocean. They also wrote a book together ‘Four Mums in a Boat’ about their experience and friendship. I mentioned the benefits of the breadth and depth of talent that working in a team can offer – as examples go, they don’t come any better than this!