What can businesses today learn from the ancient art of sailing?

Talking to a colleague the other day about sailing it came to me (as a novice sailor) that there are many skills that I have recently learnt from sailing that would be useful in building high growth businesses.

Gybing is a manoeuvre that turns the boat through the wind taking you in a new direction when the wind is behind you.  It can be pretty catastrophic, and painful, if badly executed – the same could be said for any business who makes significant changes without the necessary preparation, especially when their business is motoring.

5 essentials that will get you where you want to be

1. Direction

You need to decide where you want to go and then prepare to get there safely together.  Take into account which way the wind is blowing – what is happening in the market place now, what are your competitors up to, are there new developments on the horizon that you could adopt to improve your product and your customer experience?  It may be a bit more challenging getting there, but if you know it will be worth it then go for it!

2. Preparation and Planning

Once you have a direction, think through the steps that need to be taken to make it happen.  Check the Team is ready and know what they need to do.  What are the essentials that will ensure a successful outcome?  Involve the Team, they will have some great ideas too, and once they feel ownership they will be much more willing to go the extra mile to make sure it happens.

 3. Communication

Be calm and clear.  When sailing the Skipper calls ‘ready to gybe’ – waits for a positive response from the crew and then tells everyone that the manoeuvre is happening by calling ‘gybe ho’.  Do you give your ‘crew’ enough warning, or do you assume they know what you are doing instinctively?

I once sailed with someone who was used to sailing single handed, so never needed to tell himself he was about to gybe or tack (another way of turning the boat), so he kept forgetting to mention it.  This was very alarming and sometime dangerous, the boom can give you a very nasty smack on the head!  I did get used to the tell-tale signs that something was going to happen by the way the boat felt, but the resulting tack/gybe was much more haphazard than it needed to be and did not help us make progress.  Think about how effective your communication is to your Team.  Your Team will give you and the business much more support if they know what you want them to do, which leads nicely onto my next point…

4. Training

There are many special terms in sailing, which I won’t bore you with now, but until you learn what they are you will struggle to make sense of the whole thing!  The Skipper can shout ‘sheet in’ till he/she is blue in the face and will get nowhere with a crew who doesn’t know what a ‘sheet’ is.

Your team will not be able to complete a task in the special way you want them to, unless they are trained to do so.  This relates to just about everything and is a continual process if you want your Team to contribute effectively to the running of the business and support you as the person at the helm.  You cannot concentrate on steering the business in the right direction if you are not sure your crew will perform.  It is not only the Team that will benefit from training but the Captain would probably do a better job, be more aware of best practice and feel more able to introduce new ideas.

5. Team Work

It is really difficult, if not impossible, to sail a boat single handed if it is designed to have a crew on board.  Everyone has their specific role, which doesn’t mean they can’t help out elsewhere if needed, but their first and foremost job is clearly defined.  Briefings are held before a race and communication is continuous throughout to ensure a successful outcome.

Have you got the right Team on board?  How often do you really involve them in what is happening with the business and explain why?  Do you listen to their contribution?  Having a happy, talented Team is key to ensuring competitive advantage for the business (or your boat!).

If you would like to have a chat about how I can help support your business growth ambitions, please contact Rosemary Brown.

[email protected]

Tel: 07789 405079