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Team GB at Rio 2016: Winning medals by improving organisational performance

In the run up to Rio 2016, we saw Team GB working non-stop, both on and off the field to prepare for the upcoming Olympic games. From the use of data and analytics within training during the day, and sleeping with hypo-allergenic pillows during the night, every part of an athlete's regime was analysed and improved in order achieve sporting excellence.

Now as the hype of the Olympics has faded away, it’s a great time to reflect on how Team GB has been able to develop a more reliable flow of high quality medal winning athletes in recent years and what we can learn from the success.

Training and preparing athletes for an event is no simple stretch. It is however wrong to say athletes are entirely responsible for their considerable success at the last two Olympic Games. Since Team Sky’s coining of the term ‘marginal gains’ in 2012, we’ve played witness to how technology has been utilised to improve organisational performance and develop better, stronger, and more successful athletes. Over the last few years we’ve seen whole sporting organisations become more strategic and data focused, turning good athletes into great athletes. I believe the success we’ve seen Team GB generate in recent years has been in no small part down to a focus on organisational excellence through technology.

For any organisation, great preparation is fundamental to success. But the key to great preparation in sport is not just understanding how quick someone is or how many calories they should be consuming in a day. Psychology is equally impactful on performance. The life of an athlete is immersed in their respective sport. Once one set of games is over, preparation begins for the next so it’s vital that an athlete remains passionate about their sport in order to perform at their best. A balance is needed in these athlete’s highly specialised lives. As a result, fostering a positive mindset throughout an organisation can make a big difference.

Data and analytics is being used to improve training regimes and create strategically balanced schedules that are in keeping with a positive mindset. It can be easy to overwork an athlete without realising; physically and mentally. Gold medal winning athlete Laura Trott is set to return back to training much later than she did four years ago on returning from Rio 2016. Trott noted in 2012 she found it difficult to find the motivation to perform at her best following the successful London games.

Analytics allows organisations to be more rigorous and efficient within their coaching, balancing performance, training and medical data to generate a better picture of how to best support individuals. From a business perspective, it’s an approach that many companies could learn from. In an area such as sales for example, understanding what individuals expect from their employers and building the models to generate this insight can dramatically improve performance collectively.

Every athlete and person is different so a ‘one-size-fits-all’ training regime is impossible to apply to all. We’re increasingly seeing data being used as a tool to record, measure and gain strategic insights into how different aspects of an athlete's training is impacting their performance. This in turn helps to make intelligent decisions and achieve critical gains. The same engineer led techniques should be embraced by businesses dependent on employee performance to provide both the capacity to make intelligent decisions and to ensure high standards are maintained.

Collating data on highly specific details can help organisations outside of sport achieve similar marginal gains and generate the business intelligence to make quantifiable improvements. All of these recent Olympic achievements are in no small part down to a dedication towards organisational improvement. Adding and improving capabilities at the organisational level can help do things faster, better, with more precision and using more data types resulting in a better outcome that can be confidently delivered.

British Athletics was one such team that was able to produce a high number of medal winning athletes when it really mattered in Rio last month. In the years between London 2012 and Rio 2016, the team saw an opportunity to improve the way in which athletes are managed and performance measured. Coaching staff therefore looked to integrate a system that could rapidly control, and combine a range of physical measurements together with high-speed video data. Online or offline, information could be presented visually, time-synchronised and within seconds to enable in-session analysis by coaches and athletes, ensuring better, more intelligent decision making on and off the field.

Organisational agility was also enhanced by making these solutions internationally portable, enabling British Athletics to have the same levels of organisational agility at competition sites as they do at their HQ. The new technology has meant that for the first time, British Athletics can review time-synchronised information from multiple data types and multiple manufacturers, and analyse it within seconds as part of a training session.

As organisations continue to adopt new measurement and approaches to improve performance, the challenge becomes not one of data scarcity but of data management. As a result, improving technology solutions at an organisational level must not just be about collecting data, but about reducing the time to insight by effortlessly combining all relevant data, often in ways never thought possible before. The aim to be constantly learning and creating a more productive and effective environment for success.

The record medal haul that Team GB has seen this year has been in no small part down to a multi-discipline focus on embracing technology to provide real improvements. The lesson for the business world and other lesser data-focused sporting areas is simply embrace data and lean engineering principles to technology usage. Measuring the right things to the right precision will help organisations learn about what impacts performance.

The right data, presented in context and made available at the right time, provides a platform to put insight into action, make better decisions and take less risk to maximise resources and opportunities.

Samir Abid, Founder and CEO of Pace Insights (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/oatawa