Creating a successful top-level professional cycling team takes more than just hiring fast riders and getting sponsorshiph dollars. While the new British squad, Team Sky, has yet to get started in races, manager David Brailsford revealed the innovative management methods that have gone into planning the operation in an interview with The Times this week.
Brailsford, whose leadership brought the British national team to multiple world and Olympic championships during his tenure, borrows philosophies from the business world and applies them to cycling, much like other succesful managers like Bjarne Riis of Saxo Bank and Bob Stapleton of Columbia-HTC.
In a sport where most staff are hired by word-of-mouth, Brailsford required resumes even from the mechanics. He refused to hire more than four riders or staff from any one team to avoid having cliques among the team. He requires that everyone speak English because communication is key.
Norwegian rider, Edvald Boasson Hagen, was one of the team's hottest recruits not just because of his prowess on the bike, but also because of his culture, and the team was built around him.
"We identified him from Day 1 as the hottest young property in the sport," Brailsford told The Times. "Phenomenal potential. We want him on board, so what do we want around him?"
"I think Scandinavians in the main are good communicators," Brailsford said. "We can sit down and have a conversation and you are pretty close to being on the same page; that may not be the case with someone from Portugal, southern Spain and southern Italy.
"There are cultural traits of Scandinavians that lend themselves to the idea of nurturing and mentoring as against dictating and controlling. Their societies are democratic, caring, and I think that is reflected in their bike riders."
Above all, Brailsford's goal is to make sure everyone on the staff feels valued, and that conflict is kept to a minimum.
"If individuals feel valued, they will be far more productive in their work," he said.
With lofty goals such as a podium at the Tour de France in 2010 and a win in the race within five years, there is the potential for the team to become a stew pot of pressure, and Brailsford made it clear that he won't tolerate anyone standing in the way of those goals.
"We are not malicious or vindictive, but if anyone's behaviour is not allowing us to get to where we want to be, we'll give them a chance to modify it and if they can't, then they are out," Brailsford said.
"I guarantee some people, when they get into this, will find they'll not like it. Some people will get it. Some will be quick learners. Some will be laggards. You will lose people, for sure. It's inevitable.
"So what we will do is say, 'If you feel you don't know what's going on, it's probably normal.' And we need to manage that. But some will carry on feeling that and will go, 'This isn't for me.' Well, sorry, get off the ship."
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