Things I learned racing around the world

Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner
April 2, 2020

Denmark SailGP Team athlete Nicolai Sehested may be the youngest helmsman in SailGP Season 2 – but at just 30 years old, he already has a lifetime of stories to tell

Before taking the wheel of SailGP’s first ever Danish team, presented by ROCKWOOL, in December, Nicolai twice raced around the world in The Ocean Race – sailing through some of the most remote and extreme spots on Earth in one of sport’s most brutal endurance tests.

These extreme challenges – competing in high-pressure environments with world-class athletes, and living amongst eight other sailors in a 20-metre boat for nine months – have been Nicolai’s life for the past six years, and have given him a unique perspective on teamwork, inspiring leadership and the power of people.

With many people around the world currently working from home, Nicolai shares what he has learned from racing around the world – and even throws in a few Working From Home tips to help remote teams around the world keep the boat going fast.

1) Surround yourself with good people

The people are, without doubt, the most important aspect of any great team. You can have the best product, or in our case, the fastest boat, but without a well-functioning team you will not keep it fast, and you won’t keep it in one piece. It’s easy to be a good team when you’re winning, and things are going well – but you learn a lot about people when they are faced with difficulties or challenges. That’s when people show their true character.

WFH tip: Learn about your colleagues. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Their passions and fears? They may have expertise that you don’t, or vice versa. The more you understand the people in your team, the better.

2) Everyone can be a leader – not just the boss

A strong team is not necessarily about having one leader, pointing and talking. Yes, it’s important that a team has a leader, but in a strong team, you rarely see that in action. In my experience, it’s about creating a culture where everyone is valued and can speak freely to put forward opinions. Shared responsibility and trust in others is important. We don’t need to constantly check up on each other.

WFH tip: Working remotely, without visibility of your colleagues, can be challenging, but trust is important. They are likely working just as hard as you are, and may have a busy task list, so try to avoid checking up on them excessively.

3) Communication is key

Many people talk about the importance of communication, but the truth is it is a very difficult thing to become good at. To be an efficient team, you should say as little as possible, whilst making sure you never leave out anything important. When you’re racing through some of the most remote and extreme conditions on Earth, good communication is even more important. On a boat, we really focus on talking, even when we are tempted to shout or scream. We focus on staying calm when things get tough, and not getting carried away when things go well.

WFH tip: Be as clear and concise as possible in your communications to colleagues, including deadlines and expectations. Don’t send several emails if a quick phone call will do.

4) Give yourself – and each other – a break

Working and travelling together 24/7 can be a huge challenge – and when you always demand 100% from each other, it can be difficult to relax together. At Denmark SailGP Team, we never let our guards down when we are racing or dealing with the boat – but it’s important to have fun and take a time out sometimes. We are very clear when we are 100% on duty, and when it’s fine to relax. Sometimes we say, the next 30 mins is ‘off’ – and then people know they can let their guards down, and tell the joke that they’ve had on their mind the whole day. On the Denmark SailGP Team, we have an open culture where we can joke with each other, and that humour really bonds us. No one is too important to have fun, and ensures that we all feel equal.

WFH tip: Take time to check in on your colleagues and how they’re doing. Sometimes when you’re working from home, a quick chat or joke can lift your spirits and focus the mind for the rest of the day.