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3 business workplace ideas from NASCAR pit crew

Unsplash/Andrew Roberts
Unsplash/Andrew Roberts

Two years ago, I had the chance to get an inside look at a team dynamic I never thought I’d see up close: NASCAR pit crews.

The team at Joe Gibbs Racing, which I helped interview for WinShape Team’s new documentary “Chasing Faster: The Next Gen Pit Crew,” works under incredible pressure to gain an inch toward success. Every team is hand-crafted for optimal results through the recruitment of high-performing athletes. The stakes are high on race day, and successes — or failures — are milliseconds away.

At first glance, it’s not a work environment that shares much with the average American’s workplace. After all, just how many of us are high-performing athletes hand-picked for the extremes of technical, mental and physical performance? And not every office has equipment that rivals the sophistication and precision needed to build rocket ships and race cars.

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But what really impressed me about these teams wasn’t their speed, teamwork, gear or physical adaptability. As it turned out, these were results of something deeper —something connected to the culture of the organization. I was excited to find that the principles behind these teams’ successes were in fact completely intelligible and applicable to me as a business coach and leader. They translated seamlessly into every career I could think of.

Three ideas at play stuck with me: Firstly, innovation was king. Everyone, at every level of the operation, was always working to get faster and better. Whether it involved time-efficient movements of the tire carrier, jackman speed to the car, or assisting the development of a pit crew rookie, all members were 100% bought into continuous improvement as an individual, team, and organization.

Secondly, Joe Gibbs Racing sought out athletes with a team-first mentality. They recruited pit crew members that were invested in getting faster and better for the sake of the team. Over the past few decades, the pit crews had reinvented their hiring strategies. They’d gone from recruiting talented mechanics to recruiting top-tier athletes and making them mechanics.

Throughout pre-season recruiting and training, they assessed everyone's personalities, character, and skill sets to see where they worked together to improve and help others get better. Then they established the teams accordingly.

Thirdly, the culture was one of loyalty, humility and adaptability. When NASCAR started providing car parts to racing teams, rather than requiring them to manufacture their own, Gibbs Racing suddenly had an unnecessary factory on their hands — and a fully staffed one, at that. But instead of undertaking large-scale layoffs, they re-skilled their employees and redesigned their factory to produce and supply parts for actual spaceships.

The Gibbs Racing operation is impressive both for what it is, and what it shows. Each of these core principles drives excellence for their racing teams — and they can drive excellence for your team, as well.

What can this look like for you as a business or team leader? Model courage for the team. Show them what is possible through calculated risks that others are unable to envision. Expand responsibilities outside of their comfort zone and celebrate mistakes as they reach the finish line. And when you do so, exemplify unmatched support. Ask your team what success looks like. Define it, test it, then redefine it. Become — or build — the tool you need.

You don’t have to be a top-tier athlete with specialized training to be excellent. Each athlete who joined the Joe Gibbs team was once a beginner. Excellence starts with innovation, humility, resilience and prudence. It’s within your reach because these are human traits that you can develop and improve in yourself, your team, and your organization.

If you want to change your career, and maybe your workplace, start working like a NASCAR pit crew. Get a highly skilled leadership coach to help maximize your team’s potential, and chase better.

Jesse Parrish serves as the manager of programming of WinShape Teams, where he develops programs and resources that equip clients in their journey toward better leading, teaming, and following. Prior to joining WinShape, Jesse served six years as a licensed professional counselor.

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