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The case analyses the dynamics of high performance teams using the example of Jeff Gordon’s racing team, a member of National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). Jeff Gordon was often described as a racing sensation, winning 40 individual races in a four year period. While Gordon was a star and a brand, few spectators knew that his outstanding performance should have been to a large extent attributed to his team consisting of more than a hundred of committed individuals, Rainbow Warriors pit crew, and supervised by visionary team leader, Ray Evernham.
According to expert opinion, there are three key ingredients that provide for success in car racing, namely people, equipment and money. While cars and equipment are made approximately even in performance in order to make racing more competitive and spectacular, it is up to pilot and his crew to gain an advantage over the opponents. Effectiveness of Rainbow Warriors pit crew gave Gordon on average a one-second advantage with each pit stop. Ray Evernham managed to gather and develop such an outstanding crew by applying several important principles of group work management.
He fostered group cohesion by a variety of methods and believed that sound preparation, ego less teamwork, and original strategizing are the inherent components of success in car racing. In his view, the emphasis should have been on team performance rather than individual performance. In case of a victory, prize money were distributed among all members of the crew; more importantly, the money earned by Evernham through speaking tours and autograph signings were also shared.
In 1999, Ray Evernham resigned to start his own organization. Brian Whitesell took over as the crew leader on an interim basis; despite his academic qualifications, he was unable to lead the crew in the way Ray Evernham was. Robbie Loomis became the permanent crew chief, and during six months of the turbulent transition period Gordon haven’t won a single race. However, Loomis was able to deliver a strategic turnaround and ensure Gordon’s continuous success. Answers to Review Questions
As concerns the philosophy behind high performance teams, Ray Evernham’s three principles (preparation, ego less teamwork, and innovations in strategizing) are universally applicable in any organization. Evernham was successful in implementing these principles in practice by encouraging teamwork, recognizing that ‘team IQ’ was greater than IQ of any individual member, and promoting cohesion through such practices as a ‘circle of strength’ when all team members sit in a circle facing each other as a symbol of their collective strength.
People, management, and psychology came together under his leadership to ensure superiority over the opponents’ performance. The emphasis on continuous learning made it possible to stay ahead for many seasons in a row. However, Evernham also warned against excessive perfectionism that might have been unproductive. Honest acknowledgement of strength and weaknesses and strive for improvement were sufficient to secure a place on top. This is interrelated to yet another principle used by Evernham, namely keeping the egos in check and not boasting any technical or strategic privileges in front of the opponents.
The time when a successful leader is replaced by somebody else is a test of group’s cohesiveness and commitment. The downside of the transition period is reduced efficiency and increased entropy. However, the advantage is associated with the fact that such a situation allows the team to reinvent itself to become even stronger and more cohesive, especially if a transformational leader arrives to manage the team. Summary for Managers There are several important implications for managers that stem from the analysis of this case.
First of all, the principles which are applied to boost team performance are more or less universal. Focus on teamwork and organizational learning is crucial. The case study clearly states that high performance teams do not emerge by themselves – they require an effective recruiting strategy and attention to learning every detail of the work process. Attributing success and failure to the entire group rather than individual members has proven to increase the group’s performance and motivation.
The second important implication has to do with group cohesiveness. When skills and knowledge of all group members combine in a way that exceeds the sum of knowledge of all individual members, the synergy effect can be observed, i. e. the system as a whole has certain qualities its elements do not have. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to pay attentive to group cohesion so that exceptional results can be achieved with limited human resources available in each organization. The third implication concerns team performance in the times of change.
The case clearly demonstrates that both leadership and teamwork are equally important for success. With no strong leadership, Gordon’s team was not able to deliver outstanding results. However, the speed at which it was able to regain its position suggests that there were certain qualities of a team that made it possible to succeed even after a change of leadership style. A cohesive team can function efficiently under any talented leader due to close ties between team members and unique group culture that promotes continuous learning and shared responsibility.