Marginal Gains: Learnings from the Great British Cycling Team

Sir Dave Brailsford led the Great British cycling team to unparalleled success during his era as Performance Director between 2003 and 2014. The team went from the periphery of world cycling to winning over 150 gold medals across the 10 years he was in the role.

How did they take the cycling world by storm? Through applying Sir Brailsford’s philosophy of marginal gains.

What are Marginal Gains?

The methodology is straight-forward: break down every aspect of what you do and improve each by 1%. From assessing massage gels to cooking ingredients, the British cycling team became a global force in Beijing 2008, London 2012, and the Tour de France.

This continuous development loop has synergies to that of the Toyota Production System (TPS) first championed by Ohno and Toyoda in the 1970s; the principle of Kaizen has informed Toyota’s slogan of ‘Always a Better Way’.

The Maths

Across a year, 365 days, a 1% daily improvement can lead to significant changes.

Consider one as the base level. 1% daily improvements would be calculated as 1.01365 = 37.78. Across a year, you would be 37x better off if you improved by just 1% each day.

Small and simple changes can lead to huge rewards.

How Can This Apply to Me?

The beautiful part of Brailsford’s methodology is that it is applicable across all aspects of life and particularly in business. Break down each component part of your daily routine and be thorough.

Tackle the big areas first, which may include:

  • Goal Setting
  • Prioritisation
  • Personal Development
  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Collaboration
  • Listening

Break down each area further and find one aspect to improve upon. For instance, if goal setting has not been a staple of your weekly routine, task yourself to sit down each Sunday evening and set yourself goals for the upcoming week. If successful, implement this moving forward and proceed to the next improvement.  

The GB cycling team would ensure that no stone was left unturned, even to the point that the team would use the same pillows on the road as they would at home. Once the bigger areas are covered, make sure you do the same. Can you improve your sleep routine? Is your home office set up correctly? Are you taking enough breaks to ensure your time working is truly productive? The opportunities are endless if you look thoroughly enough.

It is important to remember that not all attempts to improve will work. In fact, many will fail and that is a good thing. This is all part of the learning curve and once the failure is recognised, revert or try something else.

How Can This Apply to My Business?

Simply enough, the steps taken to apply this to your business are much the same as you would to apply this to your personal life but on a bigger scale.

Start with the larger components of your business, which could be:

  • Organisational Structure
  • Diversity
  • Environmental Issues
  • Pricing Strategy
  • Processes and Systems
  • Supply Chain

Once these areas are tackled, ask yourself questions on what else could improve. 

Is the layout of the office optimal? Are people spending too long in meetings? Are employees given enough ‘focus time’ to be productive? The list goes on.

Implementing successful learnings and committing to practising them daily is vital. In doing so, these learnings become routine for which you can build upon.

Final Word

The desire to continuously discover marginal gains should be adopted as a philosophy. Small, daily improvements lead to big results.

Continuous improvement saw Sir Dave Brailsford revolutionise British cycling and Toyota disrupt car manufacturing. Is it time you did the same?