WSC 2013 Revisited: What makes a winning team?

Thinking back to Nuon’s win in the World Solar Challenge Challenger Class, I’ve been asking myself about the factors that led this 16-person team to victory. That’s not a surprising question, given my long-standing interest in teamwork.

First, if we consider the relevant regions of this map of science (part of which is shown below), the 16 people cover the entire territory needed to build a solar car. There are 4 mechanical engineers, 8 aerospace engineers, an electrical engineer, an applied physicist, and an applied mathematician. The team includes specialist expertise in Computational Fluid Dynamics and solar cells, as well as the analytical skills needed to produce a winning race strategy (some of the other teams in the World Solar Challenge miscalculated at times; Nuon did not).

Along with the various technical skills, the team includes three glider pilots, a semi-professional cyclist, and an experienced PR person. Diversity within a team reduces the chance of groupthink, and increases the chance that the full space of engineering design options will be thoroughly explored.

The Nuon team is also well-structured. In fact, it has two quite different structures – one based on design & production expertise (reflected in the colour-coding below), and the other optimised for the race itself (indicated by the tree structure below – which I must admit to drawing largely by guesswork). For example, Industrial Design Engineering student Leslie Nooteboom is the team’s Public Relations person, as well as being a driver of the “Nuna 7” vehicle. Annemiek Koers, the other driver, is a graduate in Aerospace Engineering who worked on both aerodynamic design and production of “Nuna 7.”

Careful examination of the team photograph above will show that each team member has a labelled shirt that helps reinforce their specific team role and expertise. The team videos reveal how well team members worked together. Team leader Marlies Hak no doubt deserves much of the credit for this, but much of it presumably also lies in the selection of team members whose skills lie beyond the purely technical, and in successful team bonding activities. These 16 people have certainly done a fantastic job together!

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