Racy Business

It’s been billed as the experience of lifetime -plucking yourself from the daily routine of life with family and friends, into 30,000 mile ocean race around the world with complete strangers.
Of taking yourself from the surety of traffic lights and television, into home surrounded by crashing walls of water, mind-numbing wind chill factors, and sleep deprivation.
Yet, once again, the organisers of the BT Global Challenge 2000/1 had little trouble filling the berths for 12 identical 22-metre yachts for the ten-month experience.
Behind the scenes is study in management – the managing of crews as metaphor for management.
“The Global Challenge provides level playing field for observing the dynamics of individuals from different fields of life. It’s playing field that has number of variables common to all individuals; the same weather, technology, boats, period of time. Therefore the key element of the race is management and how skippers manage their crew,” says Andrea Bacon, director of the project.
It’s about how people use themselves in these situations, how they use their emotional intelligence.
Bacon and her colleague Rosie Mackie were involved in the last BT Global Challenge in 1996. Mackie sailed in the race and Bacon researched at the different stops. Their results were published in the book Global Challenge, co-authored with Humphrey Walters and Peter Mackie.
Their company, Inspiring Performance, uses the lessons learned from the 1996 race to develop leaders. “One of the unique elements was that we purchased boat from the race organisers which we use as vehicle for our courses,” says Bacon. These are held in Southampton, New York and Hong Kong.
High sea emotions
For the latest BT Challenge, they’ve partnered with academics Professor Dulewicz and Dr Higgs from the Henley Business School in the UK. These academics have developed new model for emotional intelligence which is being validated in the BT Challenge – the first time in real life situation.
“This is ground-breaking research, because there’s been no true validation outside business simulation,” explains Bacon.
The study is two pronged. The quantitative work is by series of questionnaires. The first, to crew and skippers before the race begins; the second is completed on board towards the end of each of the six legs, and the third questionnaire is at the end of the race, or for some crew members, if they’re only sailing for leg, at the end of the leg.
“We’re trying to compare where they were at the beginning and end of the race and track their emotional intelligence,” says Mackie.
Emotional intelligence is how people understand their emotions, how they understand others’ emotions, and how they handle them. “How aware you are of your own strengths and weaknesses and how you develop them, and how you inspire and motivate other people. So how you handle other people – especially in adverse conditions – makes big difference to performance outcomes,” says Mackie.
The other part of the research is the qualitative, where Bacon and Mackie interview skippers and crew in structured format at the end of each leg.
Comparing the 1996 race with the current one, the pair already see differences. “Whereas the last one was about survival, this one seems to be about winning,” says Mackie.
“There’s always the fear factor in leaving the Southern Ocean. Last time it was so rough and people were focused on survival. But this year it’s been relatively easy so they’re focused on racing – the teams are far more competitive. Seven boats have been first – so it’s intense.”
Mackie and Bacon also believe pre-sail team building and emphasis on performance had big role. “The number of occasions to get together is limited, given they come from around the world, but we saw higher number of teams getting together and more emphasis on performance this time than last.”

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