I am always amazed when I observe a peak performance like Norway achieved in the recent Winter Olympics. This little country of just over 5 million people topped the medal table & broke the medal tally record for one country with 39 medals – 2 more than previously held by the US in 2010. Not only this, they did it with 109 athletes, less than half the current US team of 242.
It makes me wonder, “How can a nation the size of one city in the US win twice the amount of medals with half the number of athletes?” After spending some time looking into the background of such a performance, here are the key factors that have influenced their success over time.
Encourage fun and engagement in the youth. The key with sport at the youth level is to have fun and play like children should. To put this first before a competition, performing and winning makes the journey more enjoyable and fun, keeping them engaged for longer. The US does the opposite, rewarding winning from a young age.
Create a high performing culture. Norway did not just set up a National Sports Academy, invest in the best facilities, fund the academy with the national lottery and double their budget to $24.2 million since 2001. No, they understood the importance of creating a high performing culture. They recruit performers that have character, no jerks allowed. They have no financial incentives as it is a poor motivator, they get rewarded the same night with dessert at dinner. They compete against themselves in a healthy way to see who can win the most medals. They focus on health and sports at a national level. All of these develop a strongly engaged high performing talent base that loves what they do.
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth
Strength-Based Competing. Norway knew what their strengths were and developed them to be stronger. They professionalised the sports in their country which were most popular. The sports that people were in love with and had been doing their whole life like Cross Country skiing. This is where Norway dominated at the Olympics. Not only this Norway was good a cross-competing where an athlete competed in more than one event. 16 of Norway’s athletes won more than one medal and this is attributed to that they were competing in national sports, doing what they loved and doing it really well.
National Culture. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world with a high standard of living. Everyone has free education and healthcare which give everyone a good start in life. Not only this sport is encouraged and being in the far north, with long winters, surrounded by snowy mountains it is the ideal playground in the winter. People have the luxury of following what they love to do and therefore many young people are choosing sport. It’s a fun family to be a part of with huge resources behind them and a great national pride. All recipes for success.
Having studied high performers around the world I can clearly see that there are some commonalities between Norway and other high performing teams like the New Zealand All Blacks for example.
- Both focus on the team culture and the psychology of sport to dramatically develop performance.
- They take care of individual needs to make sure people are happy and engaged as athletes
- They have the resources to succeed and a national culture behind them.
There is so much that business leaders can learn from such achievements and cultural success stories. What can you learn from Norway and how can you apply it to your culture and team to improve performance?
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