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Lessons learned from 20 years in the Sydney to Hobart

This year marks the seventy-fifth running of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race, an icon of Australia's summer sport, ranking in public interest with such national events as the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Open tennis and the Boxing Day cricket test. No regular annual yachting event in the world attracts such huge media coverage than the start on Sydney harbour.

As the race is upon us again this year, I thought I’d share my thoughts after competing in this race over the last twenty years and align them to how Focused Business Solutions run projects.

A solid team organisational structure is essential to enable the race crews to make smart decisions and execute them effectively during the race. As the conditions change during the race, the crews need to adapt and change sails to suit the various conditions. Similarly, as a project evolves and your needs change, your project must be flexible enough to meet those needs.

As we are approaching the end of the year, you may want to consider some of the following points and if necessary, adapt them to your project in the new year to ensure you meet your projects’ goals as effectively as possible.

Appoint a team captain who is capable of leading and delegating

Your team may have a captain, but that doesn’t mean all of the decisions should be limited to that one person. In yachting, the owner or skipper may make the majority of decisions, but as the number of tasks increases, the line of authority needs to expand to meet the ever-changing conditions to enable quick decision-making. Recognising that there are some parts of a project that should remain in close connection with the project manager, such as political influences, financial decisions, accounting, and high-level human resources. This doesn’t mean the project manager doesn’t collaborate with his or her team to inform their decision and many of the day-to-day decisions can (and should) be handled by your project team.


Generally, ‘front of the boat’ and ‘back of the boat’ don’t communicate directly, however, the whole team does know how well the boat is going overall, through ‘nods and winks’ passed along the boat. Similarly, in a healthy project environment, different team members are given the ability to focus on their own goals and tasks because their roles require a focus on different things. However, the project manager is the point of contact who ensures all the team knows the direction of the project, however, this does not need to be conveyed in detail.

If conditions change, change conditions 

A well-timed sail change may score big at a pivotal moment in the race, so when the weather conditions change, so must your strategy, to be competitive. Unfortunately, we become emotionally invested in our projects and are often reluctant to change them, even though we know we need to. 

A great team delivers great results

In yachting, a great crew doesn’t just happen, it is built on experience and ability. This fosters trust amongst the crew which is essential, as their lives depend on it. Similarly, a great project is only as good as the people operating within the team and how well they’re matched to their jobs, so selecting the ‘right’ people is critical. Then the project manager’s challenge is to build a collaborative environment that nurtures respect and trust. 

By providing leadership that encourages growth collaboration, develops the necessary checks and balances between team members, maintains strategic adaptations to changing business dynamics and matching the ideal person for the ideal job. 

Now your project should be set for clear sailing!


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