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Going for Gold with Team Collaboration

As the Olympic Games unfold in Rio, we're reminded daily of how important teamwork is to success -- the pulling together and working as one toward victory. We've witnessed that teamwork result in the gold medals awarded to the athletes in U.S. women's and Japanese men's gymnastics, U.S. men and women's swimming, Australian women's rugby... and so on and so on. And with effective communications being a standard for team excellence, it's not surprising to see the team collaboration tools rising in business popularity beginning to find a niche in sports, too.

For a case in point, we can look to Michael Johnson Performance (MJP) in McKinney, Texas, outside of Dallas. Bearing the name of Michael Johnson, the golden-shoed sprinter from the 1996 Atlanta Games, MJP is home to the Nike performance lab, where motion capture and sensor-based technology helps pinpoint what's working well for athletes and what's not, and identify opportunities on which to capitalize or make improvements.

MJP is a training ground for many Olympic athletes. For example, some 50 athletes from eight countries participating in this year's Summer Olympic and Paralympic games have passed through MJP on their journeys to Rio, Lance Walker, the center's EVP and global director of performance told me in an interview earlier this week.

"MJP leverages the realms of coaching, sports performance training, physiotherapy, applied sports science, nutrition, mental conditioning, and technology to help athletes of any sport and any age reach their full potentials," Walker explained. MJP is all about next-generation training and, by the time the Tokyo Summer Games kick off in 2020, cloud-based real-time communications and team collaboration will be part of the regimen, he added.

MJP has selected Mitel's cloud-based MiTeam suite to bring real-time communications and collaboration into its training mix. Introduced in January, MiTeam supports chat, content collaboration, real-time voice and video, screen sharing, and recording within persistent virtual workstreams (see related No Jitter posts, "Mitel Means Business" and "Mitel's Lineup to Include MiTeam"). Beginning this fall, athletes and other stakeholders will be able to communicate and collaborate via MiTeam on their smartphones or via browsers.

MJP needs to communicate effectively with its athletes and their stakeholders, whether those athletes are the globally recognized elite who work at the facility daily or the local nine-year-old kids who drop by a couple times a week, Walker said. In some cases, MJP staff may only see an athlete once in an entire year, but still needs to stay in constant communication, Walker said.

"We become a training resource for them, or an assistant coach, or part of their sports medicine or sports performance staff for the next 52 weeks. And we may never see them physically. We may only deal with them in a virtual space ... constant back-and-forth updating, whether they're in Brazil, Eastern Europe, or Australia," he explained.

Until now, communications and collaboration at MJP has been "very old-school," Walker said. It has heavily relied on email, and has played around with "all sorts of video conferencing tools and techniques," cloud-based athletic management platforms that allow for data sharing, and everything else all the way down the line to tools like Facebook, WhatsApp, and other text messaging. "We've leveraged every possible avenue to try to stay connected with our athletes," he said.

Still, MJP has only done an OK job at communications and collaboration, Walker added. "We haven't been able to crack the code and be seamless."

But it expects great things of MiTeam and the real-time communications and collaboration it will enable, Walker said. "We are going to redefine the way we interact, and truly put the athlete at the center of the communications and collaboration. We'll all be on the same page ... with communications pulled in from multiple streams and inputs all at once for everybody to see."

The real-time aspect will be crucial, he added. For example, say a performance manager at MJP is reviewing video of a sprinting drill and notices that something is off in a runner's stride, but that athlete is already on location in Toyko. The coach, trainer, physiotherapist, and the athlete would be able to gather in MiTeam, no matter where each is physically located, and view the video and other performance data together so they can begin making corrections that will benefit the athlete immediately. That's the kind of "can't wait" seamlessness that Walker said he envisions MiTeam will enable. "Until now, we haven't been able to pull that all together on the same page."

Within MiTeam, the athlete will be the "center of the universe," Walker emphasized. All of an athlete's data and all messaging will live in that one place, and nobody will have any excuses about not knowing the latest training discipline and best practices for that athlete. "No more saying, 'I wasn't privy to that information.'"

Athletes who come to MJP already have their own trainers. So they're expecting more -- much more -- when they come. They're looking to achieve "podium-impacting results," Walker said. "They want the intelligence we provide, and that back-and-forth collaboration. And we can't let communications be the limiting factor."

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