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Lessons from sport can help individuals become great team players and part of a high-performance team in any organisation, Australia’s first female Olympic Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller tells QSuper.
A trailblazer in her sport, Kitty Chiller competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games as Australia’s first female Olympic modern pentathlete – a complex sport, which involves shooting, fencing, swimming, horse riding and running.
But the one thing the 12-time National Champion and world number one from 1996-1998 knew she never had, was the benefit of being in a team.
“When I competed, I’d spend four to five months overseas every year. I was on my own, I wasn’t getting any funding, so I didn’t have a team of coaches around me. And I remember being very envious of the European teams that had a team around them, supporting each other,” Ms Chiller said.
When she retired from sport and became responsible for teams through roles that have included deputy Chef de Mission at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Australia’s first female Olympic Chef de Mission at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and her current position as head of Gymnastics Australia, Ms Chiller knew the value of bringing a team together.
“I knew the importance of making sure that everybody in a team, be it sporting or organisational, feels a part of it and has people around them supporting them, encouraging them, giving them feedback, doing all the constructive, positive things to increase performance,” she said.
Ms Chiller said being an effective team member means understanding and respecting the different roles and responsibilities in a team, and understanding that no one person is more important than any other, even though they may be higher on an organisational chart.
“We are all just one cog in an overall bigger machine and everyone needs to work together seamlessly just like in a hockey team, or a basketball team,” she said.
“Everyone needs to play their role, those roles need to be respected, and then individual excellence can make that team better performing.”
Ms Chiller said a quote from US sprint star Michael Johnson inspired her. “He said, ‘take responsibility for your own potential.’ I really like that,” she said.
“It means it is your duty and responsibility to make the most of whatever skills, talents, offerings that you can bring to the table in your environment. There’s no point blaming anyone else or unduly relying on anyone else.”
Ms Chiller said not everyone wanted to be front and centre, but were still vital to the team’s culture and operations.
“Some people excel at being a ‘domestique’ as they are known in cycling, where your role is to stay in the background and support,” she said.
“You have to have the right person in the right role.”
Ms Chiller was appointed in August 2013 to be Chef de Mission for the Australian Olympic team at the 2016 Games in Rio.
She said her aim as Chef de Mission was to change the culture of the Australian Olympic team.
Her own experience at the 2000 Games allowed her to recognise that the athletes had previously not been brought together ahead of the Games as a team. So, she spent the lead up to Rio bringing potential Olympians together under a common umbrella.
“The commonality was the Olympic values and that was what bound everybody into one team,” she said.
She also determined that in order to understand how athletes operated at their peak, she needed to truly understand their needs. This meant diving in with the synchronised swimmers, rowing against Australia’s medal hopes, and shooting it out against towering basketballers.
“Prior to Rio, I went to do training with about 15 sports. I did training sessions with the Opals, I went played rugby with the rugby 7 boys, I went down the white water with Jess Fox, I got on a horse with one of the three-day eventers. It was so they could see I was approachable and so I actually understood their needs.”
She said that helped her make decisions in the best interests of the athletes, while gaining a real understanding of the role of every member of the team, communicating a common vision, and operating with honesty, transparency and vulnerability, helped establish a high-performance culture.
“It comes from being one of the team, and being open and honest. People develop a loyalty to what you are trying to do. People see it’s genuine and real,” she said.
She said every single member of the team should feel valuable and valued. “Everyone needs to know what their piece of the pie is that contributes to the vision – and have the open-mindedness and power to contribute to that vision,” she said.
Ms Chiller said lessons from sport could be instrumental in creating a high-performance team and valuable team players in the corporate world. Kitty’s top four lessons to getting ahead are:
Attention to the 1 percenters – the small competitive advantages that can have large dividends
Resilience – know the direction you want to go in and just get on with it.
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