The Weakest Link

Lance Discipline, Excellence, Leadership Comments

It has been said that football is “the ultimate team sport,” and compared to the other major commercial sports, it is — the ability for one single player, no matter how dominant, to simply take over the outcome of the game is nearly nonexistent. That definition of “team sport” notwithstanding, it only takes one player to cross the goal line with the ball in order for the whole team to get six points. In basketball, with only five players on the court, one of them could go 0-13 shooting the ball and not only would the team still be able to score points, they could even still win the game.

However, if you are interested in thinking about the concept of “teamwork” in its purest form, grab your coat and head to the ice — but not for hockey. Team pursuit speed skating involves three teamed skaters, on the ice at the same time, each taking turns doing hard work at the front of the group while the other two get the benefit of drafting in the slipstream. Winning is determined not by the first team’s skater to cross the finish line, but the first team to get its slowest skater’s skate to the finish line.


There are few analogies better than team pursuit speed skating to illustrate the maxim that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. In the race to accelerate your organization´s growth, how far and fast you can push the front end of your team is only half the story. It seems trite and obvious to say, but time and again companies expose themselves to the public relations backlash of ignoring this obvious truth. Newly acquired customers quickly transform into angry customers when their unfilled expectations collide with a company’s inability to fulfill them. Whether it’s the all-too-common experience of airline passengers discovering their paid-for seat was also sold to somebody else, or of the retail promotion bringing customers to a website that crashes or to stores that run out out of product, the problem is the same.

Getting that first skater — acquiring the customer — is hard, but the race isn’t over and success isn’t to be had unless and until that last skater — taking care of the customer — crosses the line. The logistics of execution may not be sexy and exciting for most leaders to invest themselves and their resources into, but ignoring the operational back-end for long will hold back a team’s ultimate performance. It’s only a question of time.