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How much does the way we measure success stand in the way of organizational performance?

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

The Winter Olympics are over, and an impressive team from Norway has outranked every other country in medal count. Sure, they are a (wealthy) Nordic Country and thus naturally inclined to be on top of every game that involves snow and ice. However, they spend a lot less money on Olympic games than other nations, and they ranked not so well in their recent past (13th in 2006 and 4th in 2010) either. So what has changed in the last years? And might there be a different explanation than superior founding, equipment or more mountains covered in snow and ice per capita?

It seems that the Olympic Team from Norway has quite a unique approach to success and how it is measured - and that is valid for the nation as a whole. While countries like the US are almost obsessed with medal-count and create quite a hype and stardom around selective individual athletes, Norway´s approach is much more collective. The team is spending an average of 250 days together, not only for trainings but also meals (which are informal meals on Fridays including family). Key values promoted are humility, collegiality, egalitarism and respect. The focus is on fostering success as a team - and not just a group of individuals. A colleague´s success and win is just as much celebrated as one´s own.

So, if you draw a parallel between the sports and the organizational world - is there not a lesson there to be learned from this Olympic Team? Collaboration, creating synergies, networking...key for performance but so hard to implement, many organizations say. What if it is the way that organizational success is DEFINED that makes it so hard to get departments, business units or even project teams to work together and support each other´s success and performance? If your promotion, salary increase or even allocated budget depends mostly on goals by business line or even indivudal ones, then why would you spend any energy in fostering success of your colleagues or peers?

“There are no rookies and no champions on the team,” said Aleksander Aamodt Kilde from Norwegian Olympic Team. “We’re all equals.” It sounds like there is no definition of who is the leader, who is the newcomer - everyone is treated the same and they all support each other to the best of their abilities. There is no secret of tactics either, or withholding information: the team shares everything they know. Despite the fact that sports like alpine ski racing have a defined individual winner at the end of each race and season, the team philosophy behind it makes all the difference for the Norwegians, and it is simple: winning is not what defines success. “If you have teammates who consistently lift you up, then the environment will make you happy. You’ll work harder and stay motivated. You’re giving yourself your best chance to win.” It is by not focusing on winning but being the best team they can possibly be that they equip themselves and each other with the mindset and skill required for success.

Maybe that is exactly they key for building, and growing, high performing teams and organizations. As well as fostering an organizational culture that will be attractive for talents and sustainable.

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