Magazine article Workforce

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Olympic Management

Magazine article Workforce

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Olympic Management

Article excerpt

I was the field-of-play coordinator for the Team Handball competition at the 1996 Summer Olympics. I arrived in Atlanta six weeks before the Games to assist with the last-minute preparations and stayed until after the closing ceremonies. My role? To ensure the competition ran smoothly during the Games. That meant managing a paid and volunteer staff of 100 people.

What an experience! To be involved in the Olympics is not only an honor, but also an intense learning experience. It's as if years of management training were packed into a few short weeks.

I have for a long time had some theories on management and specifically organizational development that I felt were critical to the success (or failure) of any major undertaking. My Olympic experience confirmed all of them.

Solid relationships support team work. Relationship building is the key ingredient to success when you bring together a group of people to complete a task. If the relationships aren't on solid ground and well-defined before you begin, you're in for trouble. Within our management structure, we had strong relationships onto which we built a solid event competition-the core management team all knew each other from the Olympic test event held a year prior.

Our group was composed of Americans from at least a dozen states, two French Canadians, a Native American and one Australian (myself). Our core staff comprised 30 people, with eight of them composing the management team. We also had a total volunteer force of 150. In addition, we had to deal with another 150 people from other functional areas, such as medical, security and press. Plus, the International Handball Federation brought a staff of more than 80 people from around the world, the bulk of them being from Europe.

At one point during our Olympic preparations, new staff were joining our merry band each day. By this time, the core group had become very task-specific. The result was that the newer staff felt they were left out in the cold (or in the heat in Atlanta) and our relationships suffered. The new staff were key to our overall long-term success but they were forgotten. If this had continued, the entire team performance would have suffered. Two members of our team (the two who were most aware of both the importance of relationship-building and the fact that the new members weren't being included) made an extra effort to include the new staff members.

What did we learn from this teambuilding experience that can be applied to the workplace? Spend time upfront to get to know your work-mates, clients and contractors. Only by understanding and knowing someone can you form a relationship with him or her. The coffee room or water dispenser may be seen as a time-waster but it allows for relationships to be developed and kept. Look around your workplace. Do you have a relationship with everyone you see? If you don't, have a cup of coffee with each of them every day until you do.

False expectations lead to failure. Part of building relationships is building trust. Trust comes with meeting expectations. Our own expectations at work are critical to our performance and happiness.

It's management's responsibility to clarify and know the expectations of their staffs. At the Olympics, I saw countless examples of reality not meeting expectations. Here are two examples of how the ACOG (Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games) set our expectations. In the first instance the organization did a good job of meeting expectations. However, the second example shows how ambiguity and an organization's unmet promise can have a major negative effect on workers' morale. We were promised accommodations in a college dorm. This is what we received. Although some people weren't happy with the quality of the rooms, nobody could argue about a broken promise or false expectations. (We were only a 10-minute walk from the venue for our sport, so in this respect I believe the expectations were exceeded. …

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