What Would Lance Armstrong Do?

Last Updated Aug 24, 2007 3:03 PM EDT

Managers can line their shelves with books on collaboration and not get as much actionable information on teamwork as they would from watching one week of competitive cycling's annual gauntlet of pain, Le Tour de France.

Football, baseball and basketball have always been fertile ground for team-building chestnuts - but none of those pursuits hold a laser pointer to the Tour, one of the most striking displays of teamwork in all of sports. Here are just a few of the ways that the almost two-dozen nine-man teams that compete in the twenty-day July race are an exemplar of collaboration.

You're Never Too Big To Carry Water -- If there could only be one thing that you hear about team dynamics in the Tour, it should be this: Even the team's best rider will be seen heading back to the team cars to carry water bottles back to his supporting riders, or domestiques. A step beyond buying some Isotoners for your offensive linemen, I'd say.

Business Behavior: There's very little genuine evidence of this kind of behavior in the corporate world. If you're the boss, don't just go pick them up some ice cream sandwiches to soften the blow of decimating the health insurance plan, a la The Office's misguided honcho Michael Scott. Do something when you don't need to. Check in on team members when they are especially busy and see if there's anything you can do to make their day a little easier. Pick them up lunch, drop something in the mail, anything.

Take Turns Shouldering the Hard Work -- Riders will take turns pedaling into the wind and letting their teammates sit in their slipstream. They will often do this for a team leader, sprinter or climber so they can conserve energy until the time comes to take on their task, to make their push.

Business Behavior: Sometimes being there for the team means knowing you are working harder than the rest of the team at a given time, but trusting that they will take their turn in the hamster wheel when the time comes. If this kind of trust and respect exists within a team, it is probably well on its way to achieving its goals. And if you know that your teammate is going to have an especially rough go at the end of the month, maybe you can do what you can to pitch in and keep him from being overworked in the beginning.

Get the Lead Out -- It's a low-profile job for one of the quicker riders on a given team to lead his faster teammate out of the front of the pack a couple hundred meters before the finish with a burst of speed, then allowing his teammate to ride in his slipstream, conserve a bit of energy, and then kick out his bike to one side and put in a strong finishing burst for the win. The lead-out man is left to finish out of the glory, but in well with his teammate and the rest of the squad.

Business Behavior: It's a fact of business life that certain jobs bring all the glory and others are destined to play out behind the scenes. Salespeople close because of the diligent research and correspondence of their coordinators. Analysts deliver excellent reports because of the number crunching and attention to detail of the metrics staff. As a manager, you should recognize everyone's role in these victories by surprising that coordinator with the details of their work that brought the account home.