From transitions to teamwork — what triathlons can teach us about business development

PERSEVERANCE, determination and commitment. Triathlons have more in common with business development than first meets the eye.

I’ve been fortunate over the years to work in business development roles with teams of problem solvers: a bunch of people always driven by clients’ requirements and a desire to meet — and exceed — their expectations.

And that approach has always worked well, whether it’s providing tailored QHSE training for the oil and gas and subsea sectors; IT managed services; or professional services.

But that’s only part of the story.

I’ve always loved the outdoors, and am just as happy bagging a Munro as I am presenting in the boardroom.

However, after having my second child in 2016, I thought it would be a good idea to commit to my first triathlon in Westhill last summer.

Balancing training with being a mum and with other work commitments clearly came with its own challenges, including finding the time to get out and put in the hours on the road, and in the water.

It was tiring — especially taking into account school runs and the usual plethora of children’s activities — however, my drive to get back into fitness won and the realisation of training for three sports rather than just one moved from daunting to attainable.

It was tough, and I didn’t gain any medals after that race, but the sense of achievement afterwards was amazing.

So much so that I’ve taken the plunge again — pardon the pun — this year to complete the Huntly triathlon this month.

Even though I think I’m out of my league, I’m motivated, and quite excited, and more than a little nervous.

So, with this event fast approaching, here’s where I think the worlds of athletics and business collide.

  • Train well and set goals

Fundamentally. It’s all about preparation.

In triathlons, participants learn to treat other competitors with respect, identify strengths and weaknesses, develop winning strategies and manage time their effectively.

Participating in sports not only helps set goals, it also develops stamina and confidence and is a great opportunity for people to learn how to the make the quick decisions necessary to succeed in a host of leadership roles.

What’s more, hard graft often breeds creativity, which in the business setting can lead to a fresh, creative approach for clients.

Any goal you set for yourself must be attainable. For some, it’s simply getting over that finish line. For others, it’s placing well in their age group, or smashing a personal best.

In short, don’t sign up for a triathlon if you don’t think you can do it, or can’t commit to the training that goes with it. And with business, take the time to sit down, assess the situation and come up with a realistic plan and set of goals that underpins your organisation’s business plan, and develop a fresh approach that works best for clients.

  • The right kit and the right support

No-one who watched in 2016 when a dazed Jonny Brownlee was helped over the line by his brother Alistair — at the same time shunning the chance to win the race in the World Triathlon Series in Mexico — could doubt the value of camaraderie.

Likewise in business, the support of a team is crucial.

“You get out what you put in” is as valuable a lesson for business development as it is for triathlons.

And compared with helmets and tri-suits to goggles and proper running shoes, the kit for business development is more about skills: the ability to understand others’ perspectives, to lead well, as well as build relationships and trust.

  • Understand the lay of the land and adapt accordingly

You wouldn’t start a triathlon without knowing what the course looks like, and business development’s exactly the same.

It pays to understand your potential client’s business, their sector, the challenges they face, and how you’re best placed, as a business, to solve them.

Of course, life has a habit of throwing in the odd curveball or two, and during a race, as in business, conditions can change. You might pick up an injury, weather conditions might change suddenly, and you need to adapt.

Likewise, when a client needs you to solve problems for them on the fly, you’ve got to be up for it.

When it comes down to it, you’ve got to focus on the job at hand, and lead by example. With the right team around you, you’ll be able to deliver more.

And remember, the race is only ever won partly on the course: the preparation begins months — even years — before.