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How to Transform from Group Work to a High Performing Team

How to Transform from Group Work to a High Performing Team

Imagine you are on a sailing boat, in the middle of the ocean, under the extreme weather conditions. You are freezing. You are exhausted physically and mentally. It is extremely dangerous. You are fighting with the winds and waves. You are shouting in the dark to the rest of your international team members on board, trying to get stable on the water, go to the right direction; and the toughest thing is to go faster than your competitors. Imagine it is not just one day nor one week like that, it is 263 days through different oceans around the globe.

Now imagine you are not on the water, but in an office. You work with tens or hundreds of colleagues from different departments. Your goal is to double the already-good-results in production and revenue. Every year, for the last 5 years you go to the same office, do the same tasks. At the end of every year, you get informed that the company does well. You are satisfied. Now think about how to double the already-good-performance? Is it possible? Everyone, including the company, seems to be doing their best. Are we already at maximum capacity? Do we need to try and work harder?

Above are the two stories that the guest speakers shared with the audience of MBA and Master students during the first event of emlyon MBA Club on 7th February 2019.


The first story is from Guillaume Semblat, CEO of Dongfeng Race team who won the Volvo Ocean Race 2018 by the difference of 16 minutes and 1 second compared to the second team. Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s longest sport competition. Considering the length of the race of 263 days, they won by the difference of 0.0088%. There were 6 teams with 6 identical boats, so it was really the team that made the win or loss. It is clear to see that it is not the competition of the best sailors but of the best team! According to Guillaume Semblat, besides the budget part, the next crucial points to make a high performing team are:

  • Hire professionals who are experts in the field
  • Set ambitious targets
  • Manage the diversity and create the story to connect the team
  • Training, training, training
  • Get into details which make the difference
  • Share the highs and lows and communicate with your team
  • Have fun

Beside the tremendous difficulties during the race due to nature conditions and uncomfortable accommodation, the biggest challenges that the team faced were communication and trust. One simple example was that when the team faced difficult situation, naturally they switched to their own language which unintentionally excluded other members of the team. That simple action created frustration and trust-building-problem in the multicultural context. Gradually, all team members learnt and adjusted themselves and, in the end, by trusting and listening to each other the Dongfeng race team won the race, even just with 0.0088% of time ahead of the second best one. It’s the detail which makes the difference!


The second story is from Bernard Louvet, owner and CEO of CNSE. When taking over CNSE in 2012, Bernard did not want to just achieve a growth of 5% or 10% annually, he aimed for 100% of the company’s capacity and revenue. The challenge was how to build a team that shared the same vision and could make it happen. How could you tell good employees that they could work even better and give them the right fuel and tools to do it? According to Bernard, in order to work efficiently together, a team must share the same values which can be done through “FISIC”:

  • Flexibility: adhere and adapt to changes
  • Initiative: proactive in the search of solutions and share initiatives with the team
  • Select priorities: focus on the necessary, abandon the non-value-added tasks
  • Involvement: engage and motivate team members
  • Creativity: propose new ideas, implement and develop

By putting people in the right position to develop their right skills and strengths, by keeping “FISIC” in shape, CNSE indeed transformed and doubled its capacity and turnover in 2018.

To some extents, working on a boat and working in an organization is not that different. The boat will be unstable sometimes, will experience big waves and bad weather conditions but will also experience beautiful sunny days. If the sailors do not coordinate to work together correctly, the boat will sink eventually. Same for the company, if the people working in it do not cooperate efficiently or do not function right, the company will be pushed out of the market. Now we all know, sport is an easy area to connect people together. The question is how to connect and engage people in the professional working environment the same level of a sport team who always aims to win and do their best to win? That is the secret of a high-performing team!


Guest speakers and emlyon MBA Club members


Written by: Nhung Hoang, MBA Club Member, IMBA candidate 2018-2019


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