The Olympic Games kicked off over the weekend and man was it an extravagant opening ceremony. I’m always mesmerized by the power of the games to bring together the best athletics from all over the world competing for glory. Sure only the best of the best, i.e. the top three, win medals, but being called Olympians, in its own right, is a matter of great pride. It’s like being the top 5-10% of your organization’s talent pool. The best of the lot. The future leaders of the organization.

There are 28 sports being contested in the Olympics this time. And while the end result is the same, medals for the best three, the approach of each sport is different in terms of how the skills of Olympians are managed. Sure they’re the best, the most skilled and talented individuals, but achieving their goal requires different management skills and utilization of their talents.

Here are a few sports which you can learn from to manage your talent pool.

Synchronized Swimming

This sport is without a doubt beautiful to watch. Simply termed it can be called “harmonized motion”. Two Olympians doing the same thing, mirroring each other in every move to produce the same output. Synchronized swimming is the perfect example for manufacturing firms where quality, consistency and efficiency in product output is critical.

Sure, individuals behave, react, and are motivated differently, but what’s important is to ensure that all that results in the same achievement of targets. Having structure and discipline is key here to ensure no one gets out of line and misses an important step.

Relay Race

Probably the trickiest sport to manage mainly because of two factors:

  1. How to pass the baton while running and without looking back
  2. The order of the runners, i.e. who goes first and who goes last.

This sport is probably where teamwork is at its peak. Four Olympians working hard to deliver speed, however, making a mistake (like dropping the baton) will disqualify the entire team. Who would you blame then? Would you blame anyone or just admit to the mistake as a team?

Also it’s important to consider the timing of when to use each Olympians’ skills. Sure, collectively they’re all trying to be fast, but in reality they aren’t equal. One of the four will be the fastest – and of course one of them will be the slowest. Hence, when aiming for a common goal it’s imperative to drop their egos and know how to structure their contributions in a way that’s collectively beneficial. In most cases, the fastest person goes last and the slowest comes in third. The key is, to know what your contribution will be and not try to step on each other’s toes (pun intended).


You have cyclists, runners and swimmers – all of whom train hard to expert their skill. But being a triathlete is in a league of its own. Three distinct disciplines which require three different techniques and three different mindsets to produce results. Put them all together and quite honestly you have ultimate Olympians (resources)!

In an organization you have a talent pool of individuals who are specialists in their chosen field. They’re excellent at what they do, but let’s face it, you’ll hardly find someone who’s versatile to excel cross-functionally. This breed is probably not more than 5% of your talent pool. With such “triathletes” you’ve got a golden opportunity to use their skills in multiple functions, help enhance cross-function synergies, improve processes and procedures and fast track them to leadership roles.

Rowing with Coxswain

Rowing is a team sport that requires discipline and immense concentration – much like what we all do in our work. And now throw into the mix a Coxswain who doesn’t actually row but is still part of the team and contributing to its success.

Unlike a team in an organization where everyone is making significant contributions to the output of the function, the coxswain doesn’t directly contribute to the team’s output. However, in spite of their limited physical contribution their role is pivotal. They steer, motivate, and critique the team’s performance to ensure they’re on track and utilizing their full potential. Similar to a mentor, the coxswain drives the best out of the team.

In organizations people often “talk” about a leader’s direct contribution in the team’s output. Well here’s an example of a leader who doesn’t literally lead from the front (like other team sport’s captains), but contributes enough to significantly improve performance.

The Olympic Games are surely a marvelous occasion for the world to come together, put aside their differences and engage in healthy competition. Much can be said and learnt from this global phenomenon where talented Olympians come together to represent their countries and take home glory as heroes. Your team is no different. They all represent your function and strive for glory. As a leader, are you watching the Olympics to implement what you see?