Don’t Compete. Dominate.

Stretch Goals Make Teams More Effective

Their goal was a record 30 Olympic medals. They achieved 39. Norway didn’t just compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They dominated.

When the Olympics were just getting underway, NBC ran a video segment on the Norwegian ski team. It opened with about 15 of them dressed as Vikings on top of a snow-covered hill.

They charged at the camera with swords flailing and headdresses bobbing while screaming their war chant.

They looked ridiculous.

It then showed them training. Pushing each other to do better. Try harder. Lift more. Do more reps. “If I can do it, you can do it.” Encouraging. Sweating. Running. Getting up early together. Challenging each other. Loving and respecting each other. The guys who didn’t fit in, who weren’t up for this kind of preparation, were already gone. The core team was ready to work toward and achieve the Norwegian record of 30 medals.

Nothing less was acceptable.

This reminded me of a software development effort I led. We were in the midst of selling the company, and a new computing platform was announced. This new platform reduced the price of the computing solution to our market by half. This meant potentially massive new market share. The problem was, we had no software to sell on this platform.

My partner, Richard Brock, said, “If we can’t start selling software for that machine now, we are dead. A major competitor announced deliveries starting in 90 days. We need to have our two core software products up and running and deliverable in that same time frame.”

“That’s impossible,” I said

“Impossible or not, our future depends on it,” he said firmly.

We had 150 people in our company at the time. I convened a meeting of our best developers, testers, documentation writers, and customer support reps.

A dozen of us were in that meeting. I was the leader, user interface, and industry expert. I explained the situation and asked if they were up to this challenge.

We discussed a possible schedule to hit a 90-day ship date. Each of us came to realize in short order what a personal sacrifice this would be. We understood the importance of the project and believed it needed to be done. Working three months night and day scared us all.

We shipped in 90 days.

We got it done and closed on the sale of the company. I’ll never forget how close this team of people became during that time. I’ll never forget the people I worked with and the personal and family sacrifices they made. We took on the impossible and achieved it. For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Norwegian ski team achievements reminded me of my software development team experience. I asked myself, What makes these teams world-class, once-in-a-lifetime successes? What are the ingredients?

You have to start with the very best people. Norway made sure the best and fastest skiers were asked to be on the team. I picked the best and most talented people we had at our company.

The goal was an absolute commitment.

There was no way Norway was not going to achieve 30 medals. No way. Each team member knew he had to prepare and perform beyond his very best to reach this goal. But each team member was just that, a team member. One person, no matter how talented, could not dominate the Olympics.

They had to do it together.

They were sold out for dominance as a nation and as individual competitors. This was true on my software development team. Every team member had to do what they were assigned to do and get it done when it needed to be done.

Winning together is the only option.

Norway’s team was completely interdependent. They were like Navy SEALs in battle. The culture was set by the team, not the leader. There were no parents praising on the sidelines, but instead, team members cheering on team members. They fit together. They were friends. They trusted each other. They respected each other. They were Norway’s ski team. The will to win was baked into the team, not just the individual. They would win as a team. No name. No personal brands. Just Norway.

They not only hit the goal of 30 Olympic medals, they blew it up. They achieved 39 medals. And the most impressive part of this great achievement is this: I can’t name one person who was on that team.

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