What did the Olympics tell us about Global Collaboration? Not what you think.

I love the Olympics.

I really do. I prefer the winter over the summer in general, but I love all of it. And in the Olympics that just wrapped up, I particularly enjoyed the hockey. Perhaps it was because it was a group of NHL-ers competing on NHL ice that made it interesting or perhaps it was just a few really great games.

But as I watched the closing ceremony, and watched all of the athletes walk in to the stadium as one. I found it terribly contrived. I know, I know. They have been doing it since the 50s to showcase that the games break down all country barriers and everyone leaves together to spread world peace or whatever.

Brilliant! Except in just a few weeks some of these athletes will all be back at it, beating each other’s heads in country vs country at the World Championships. So much for togetherness. I also enjoyed the story about how Lindsay Vonn and Maria Riesch from Germany are great friends in the off-season, how they share every Christmas together etc. I found this particularly revealing in that the segment ran hours after Vonn’s own teammate essentially called her out for possibly being a lousy teammate.

Further, many of the NHL players across the world were playing for their home country, against teammates from their NHL teams.  In the quarterfinal, The Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara spent the whole game trying to lock up Patrice Bergeron, also of the Bruins. Yet two days later they were right back at it, but this time with the Spoked B on their chests, not the uniform of their countries.

Since I write about global marketing often, and spend probably too much time thinking about global collaboration, I was hoping to find some sort of interesting parable in the Olympics to share.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find it.

Instead I was left wondering if the concept of country vs country is an anachronism in this day of global communication and global business.  Or perhaps the real takeaway is that DESPITE all of this global movement, nationalistic concerns and bias will ALWAYS trump international concerns.

Consider again that a top flight Russian NHL player earns millions of dollars in his career playing in North America, but of course he would go home to play for his country first.  Despite Vonn and Riesch’s deep friendship, when it comes time to ski against each other for the gold, they do so willingly, without giving it a second thought.

It’s worth considering this when you are attempting to launch a global team within your company, or trying to build a unified message. In the end, when the competition is fierce, will nationalistic concerns prevail? Or does the concept of a “metanational” carry the day in the end.


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