The cycling team most admired for its good work and its victories showed significant lack of coordination and conflict in the last week of La Vuelta. The way of pursuing its sporting objectives was questioned, provoking a popular outcry for defense and criticism from its members. How did it happen?
The echo in different media and social networks emphasized the divergent egos and motivations of the runners. Differences exist, but the coordinated activity offered by leadership structures allows the team to manage these divergences, clarifying and ordering the interactions and responsibilities of its members to achieve a common goal (winning a grand tour), which individually would be unlikely. Let’s examine what happened from this perspective.
Jumbo-Visma is an innovative team that applies agile methodologies, obtaining small gains to progressively improve. His season leaves few doubts. This innovative character has also been applied to the leadership structure used in La Vuelta.
The statements of Evenepoel or Thomas illustrate the predilection of cycling teams for centralized leadership structures (in which one member plays the leadership role, while the others operate as followers). They are effective structures in predictable situations, in which the leader would have the capacity and knowledge to facilitate the achievement of collective objectives. But neither the cycling world is totally predictable, nor are its leaders superheroes; and often, something goes wrong. When this happens, firm centralized leadership structures often leave teams with little ability to win a grand tour, such as Soudal, Bora or Movistar.
Jumbo-Visma knew that facing the uncertainty of La Vuelta with leadership structures that increase the team’s adaptive capacity was beneficial. Thus, he correctly opted for a shared leadership structure (in which several team members function concurrently as leaders and followers). Two leaders (Roglic and Vingegaard) collaborated and improved the team’s ability to win the event from the first week. To counter UAE, a third leader (Kuss) was added and Jumbo-Visma strengthened its shared leadership structure. With three leaders occupying the first places in the general classification, with a notable advantage of the fourth, fifth and sixth classified, and with Evenepoel out of the general classification, the race was more predictable and easier to manage. Until the second day of rest, resounding success.
On this day, applying an adaptive leadership logic, Jumbo-Visma should have adapted its leadership structure to the new circumstances. But, the runners’ statements suggest that the meetings gave more weight to the differential motivations and personal objectives of each runner. And here things went wrong.
Narratives that prioritize the best, deny generosity (poor gregarious) and put individual objectives before collective ones are dangerous when used within the team. As we saw, they usually lead to conflicts that are easily interpreted as lack of solidarity, selfishness, or lack of co-responsibility. Fractures that require additional efforts to resolve, which can reduce the effectiveness of the team (because in a great return, there are no resources left), damage the future ability of its members to work together, compromising the image of the team, and even that of its sponsors.
Therefore, Jumbo-Visma would have benefited from greater anticipation by adapting leadership structure. It would have been preferable to move in concert from a shared leadership structure to a distributed one (ruling out a centralized one in view of the complex remaining week). The distributed leadership structure maintains that different team members function as leaders and followers; but sequentially and not concurrently, unlike shared leadership. Therefore, an order is respected. The distributed leadership structure prioritized Kuss, who, being in a position to finish the last week well and without an explicit agreement to give up his role, had to be supported and not challenged by his teammates.
Fortunately, Jumbo-Visma made that change and, for sure, has learned. Despite the public displeasure with what happened at Angliru and the visible discomfort among the runners; The most interesting thing has been to check the team’s ability to adapt its leadership structure after that stage. This is illustrated by the arrival of its three leaders to the finish line with Kuss in the middle. This is adaptive leadership, which makes teams win (not just sports), cycling and all its fans.
Ramon Rico He is Professor of Business Organization at the Carlos III University of Madrid.
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