How Teams Win and Individuals Lose

Nov 25, 2016 1 Min Read


Olympic cyclist Mara Abbott suffered a heart-breaking loss in Rio this year. With only seconds to go in the race, Abbott fell from gold to nothing. Like a champion, she was dignified in the loss.

You never win – in any meaningful way – on your own.

The image of three cyclists reeling in Abbott burns in my memory. She’d pumped her heart out. But three is better than one.

Sweden’s Emma Johansson, Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini and Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands worked together, while Abbott laboured alone.

Abbott’s riding partner, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten horrifically crashed on the downhill before the final flat along Copacabana beach.

Individuals, regardless of their talent, need teams to thrive. Abbott’s 40-second lead – with minutes to go – vanished as three riders took turns fighting the wind. Two rested while one worked. Abbott, drenched in sweat, battled on her own.

With less than 200m to go, she lost the fight.

7 team principles:

  • No. 1. Put yourself in situations where others depend on you. You won’t matter until you matter to others.
  • No. 2. Engage in something where failure matters. Eject casual and safe.
  • No. 3. Think first about getting on someone else’s team. Don’t fret about who’s getting on your team.
  • No. 4. Celebrate diversity. Tension is the doorway to creativity.
  • No. 5. Eliminate drifting. Expect participation and contribution from every team member.
  • No. 6. Work through conflict in the open. Secrets make teams dumb.
  • No. 7. Work on the way you work together.


Three or four times a year, ask:

  1. What words best describe the way we work together?
  2. How might our meetings be more effective?
  3. Who needs to speak up more?
  4. How might the leader of our team improve our meetings?
  5. How would you orient a new team member to our mission and culture?

Remarkable success requires a team.

What do successful teams avoid?

What suggestions do you have for building successful teams?

Dan Rockwell is a coach, speaker and is freakishly interested in leadership. He is the author of a socially shared leadership blog, Leadership Freak.

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