Close up view of two cyclists competing in a race. Source: iStock.

+ Cycling teams competing in the Tour de France show how strategy and teamwork can enable outstanding individual performances that couldn't otherwise have been achieved.

Having never watched professional cycling before I was captivated by Bradley Wiggins’ performance in this year's Tour de France, and by the team effort behind it.  

The cycling team showed how strategy and teamwork can enable outstanding individual performances that couldn't otherwise have been achieved. Each team member brought a different and essential strength, yet they are all cycling specialists. 

I found myself making comparisons with how organisations share and manage knowledge. 

Organisations need people to share their knowledge in order to deliver their full capability. Fostering open, multi-disciplinary teams breaks down knowledge silos in an organisation. But what are the incentives to share the valuable expertise, resources, references and knowledge that an individual has spent personal time and effort developing? Sharing can seem like an additional burden, and for experts, may even feel like an unwelcome distraction.

In my view, the trick is to establish a goal that energises the whole organisation that everyone feels they can contribute toward. A shared vision inspires individuals and teams and encourages the necessary openness for effective knowledge sharing.

Sometimes that shared vision is obvious. The scientists at CERN working on the Large Hadron Collider had the prospect of discovering the Higgs Boson to unite them. However, where the shared vision isn't quite as focussed, it is even more important to give people a reason to look beyond the horizon of their own role. Creating a culture of openness and exchange can be a goal in itself.

At Arup, we have frameworks and supportive structures in place to make it as easy as possible for people to share knowledge and experience, and to collaborate. So easy in fact, that it almost becomes second nature.

To give a few examples: we've linked learning with research and technical development by opening Arup University – a virtual learning and professional development environment. Arup University enables us to transfer new knowledge into our daily work. Combined with our established 'skills networks', discipline-led communities of practice, we are able to communicate the best of our capabilities efficiently around the firm.

I also believe that fostering openness and a willingness to share is about accessibility and relevance: giving a rich context and making the right tools available to everyone, regardless of their level of seniority, expertise or experience, to enable them and their teams to perform better.

A sense of community is important. A community offers an intangible reserve of strength that an organisation can mobilise when needed. Of course, you can have collaboration without community, but community offers a chance to be part of something bigger that will help you in your work.

At Arup, we've built supportive online communities, which in turn play host to lively discussions and information exchanges. There's a sense of inclusion in these networks and a high level of  trust – contributors may not necessarily know who’s listening but they feel confident volunteering their ideas.

It's my firm belief that investing in the creation of supportive, open environments that connect people, ideas and discussions, is at the heart of inspiring and challenging our staff. It is about creating the opportunity for everyone to play to their strengths, and be part of a winning team.