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What can F1 teach you about leadership?

Posted on by from London Business School

Formula 1 teams can change all four wheels on a car in less than two seconds – a result of precise planning, super-close teamwork and impeccable timing. But what lessons can you learn from this scenario?

Donning a pair of overalls and getting intimate with the workings of a Formula 1 track car has never really been top of my to-do list. But when London Business School invited me to travel to the iconic Silverstone race track and take part in their ‘pit-stop challenge’ as part of their emerging leaders’ development programme, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

In a real-life pit-stop situation, more than 15 individuals come together (including three per wheel, one each for front and rear jacks, and the lollipop man holding the driver in the pit) to execute a highly orchestrated sequence with an emphasis on performance, precision and speed – to get the car ready to leave the pit as quickly as possible. While it might look easy, just one wrong move can cost you the entire race. 

Performance, precision, speed

Around 50 participants organised into four teams, armed with flip charts and marker pens, we were given 15 minutes to discuss how we would simultaneously change all four tyres on the car in the shortest time possible.

After a safety briefing and demonstration (we were given the same equipment the professionals use, including high-performance air guns), we were invited to put our theories into practice; each of us carrying out the role we had meticulously planned on paper (I was in charge of lifting off the front wheel). Each team took turns to see which could complete the task in the fastest time. Our team’s result? A dismal 1 minute, 12 seconds.

Our second attempt saw great improvement. We’d experienced the feel of the equipment so knew what was manageable for each individual and adjusted ‘roles’ accordingly (I was now in charge of lifting off the front wheel and replacing it, including working the drill). We delivered a much more respectable 11.2 seconds. 

Before the final attempt, we were asked to set a realistic goal based on our previous two attempts. We challenged ourselves to a sub-11 second target. We received practical feedback and coaching from our team mentor, before smashing our target and changing all four wheels in 10.10 seconds.

Working within an interdependent team towards a collective goal in this way, with a real focus on continuous improvement, highlighted the importance of productive team communication, setting clear goals, realising individual strengths for collective gain, and above all, the importance of practice.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

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