Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff discusses team environment and how he made use of photos of adversaries to motivate team members, Hamilton adds.
Mercedes have repeatedly proven themselves to be a remarkably successful F1 team, claiming the last seven constructors’ championships in as many years. Often credited with much of this success has been the German organisation’s team culture, famously including a ‘no blame’ policy and a hard-working atmosphere.
Hamilton, who has earned Mercedes on their last four F1 drivers’ championships, says in a sponsor video for Crowdstrike that these policies help to create stronger teamwork – a vital asset, he insists. “I don’t think a lot of people watching know just how much teamwork is going on in the background,” he said.
“You switch onto the weekend and you see two cars go around [a track], and you might think that’s all [the team] have done, but there’s so much work that goes on in the background. Back at the factory, and obviously during the weekend – and even during the weekend there’s so much data being sent back to the factory for analysis to be sent back to the track to help us continue to step forward.
“I joined [Mercedes] eight years ago, and to see our growth – even with all the success we’ve had, everyone continues to elevate and raise the bar. I think that’s really about the culture [where] nobody is above anybody [else]. Everyone is talking and communicating, and I think that’s a key element to how we’re able to do what we do,” said the recently-knighted Hamilton.
Wolff likened culture to the immune system of a F1 team, explaining that at Mercedes, other tools to maintain a positive working environment include the empowerment of employees, and accountability. He says that their no blame policy is in place to ensure team members feel free to take risks without being fearful of possible consequences.
The 49-year-old also says politicking is banned in the team. “We have an organisation where all together we have built a culture,” said Wolff. “For me a culture is almost like the immune system of an organisation, and it’s not just the no blame culture, it’s so much more. It’s about true empowerment, giving authority, responsibility, and foremost, accountability to people.
“Only when people see that they are contributing and it’s measurable have you made them part of the success. Regarding no blame, you can’t create an environment where people are scared to innovate, or people are scared to make decisions. There is no hire and fire policy at Mercedes like in some other teams, there are no internal politics – I wouldn’t allow that at all.
“Politics we do externally to provide us with the best framework of regulations, but internally that is not accepted. That is why over the years we have created a safe environment – an environment where people speak to each other. As Lewis mentioned, communication is so important, because we will disagree with each other but if we share the same objectives about being successful we will always come to a point or compromise, and the outcome will be the best situation.
“If there are disjointed objectives [in the team] one needs to talk about it and say ‘Okay, this is your objective and this is my objective. How can we reach a situation that is a win-win situation and therefore may continue our success’. My first day in Mercedes – funnily enough it was together Lewis and I starting together in the team at the beginning of 2013, and Ross Brawn who led the team back then got all the [employees] in a room and introduced me, Obviously Ross was an iconic person, and he said ‘Toto is the new shareholder and he’s going to be the CEO’.
“[There] I had the opportunity to speak to the people and I said ‘We’re going to get the Daimler commitment and we’re going to grow the available resources, and I think I can contribute in certain areas’ and then the town hall finished and the last person to leave the room was a guy from the machine shop floor.
“He passed me, looked at me and said ‘Nice words, we’ll see what happens’ and I recall this – it’s about doing things that you say. Many organizations can put the powerpoint on the wall, discuss great things, and the HR department is going to be involved but you haven’t got the empathy.
“If you haven’t got the [team] values like sticking to what you say, you’re going to fail and this is why the authentic leadership and transparent communication is so important,” Wolff explains. He adds that part of this work towards a positive working environment is to help retain talent within the team, so that nobody feels compelled to move to other teams.
Wolff also says that the team’s attitude towards young talent makes those lower in the ranks feel as though there is always opportunity, with senior staff willing to step aside and offer their positions to more youthful team members. “The most important [thing] is to create an environment where people enjoy working, where people are encouraged to grow and where you acknowledge that you don’t want to create bottlenecks,” he said.
“We have great leaders who head our departments that realise there is a next generation coming up, and that we have to create these opportunities for these guys and we have so far been successful and keeping the team together but without freezing [hiring] or considering it a static organization. [We shouldn’t] say ‘We are successful and today that’s why we got to keep the organization like it is and hold on,’ but more seeing it as like a dynamic structure to say ‘We’re good today because of this reason or we are not good enough because of that reason. Where we do see ourselves in the future?’
“We have a very complex but thought-through system of analysing the performance of individuals, and we have this core group where only two percent of team members fall in, and then another group of the five percent which is the outstanding guys and the excellent guys, and we will try to create these opportunities.
“At the same time, our very senior leaders know that there will come a time when they need to change their role. So far we haven’t lost any of those people to the competition, and at the same time we’ve brought up the next generation of bright guys. I think that’s tremendously important,” Wolff said.
Another step the team takes to improve, he says, is keeping photos of adversaries to remind F1 team members of what they are working towards. Wolff suspects this helps to motivate staff, and encourages them to continue working at the highest level despite their remarkable success.
Wolff explains that this method applied to every team member, insisting that he means ‘literally everybody’. “There are many ways of motivating the individuals that work for your team and at the end of the day, we are only as good as our people and a thing that I’ve found very helpful personally is to make it clear who you are actually fighting.
“By choosing that enemy and identifying that enemy, for me at least I’m going to think twice about going home too early or dropping the ball. Back in the day Red Bull was our biggest frenemy, and [I told people] to identify everybody in the Red Bull team who is doing the same job, and I mean literally everybody.
“In facility management, housekeeping, the guy at the gate, everybody did this and it was funny because a few months later I walked through the company and I could see these various faces being glued to the desks or being in the notebooks of certain people.
“To this day our head of HR, Paul Mills, carries the photo of the lady who leads HR in Red Bull and it reminds you every day that you’re fighting and Lewis and I talked about it because when you look at the Michael Jordan documentary, he very much operated the same way: he identified someone that annoyed him, somebody that gave him a wrong look, and it made him just perform on a different level,” said Wolff.
Wolff also says that Hamilton is a role model of sorts in the team, demonstrating the benefits of hard work and determination. “I think that’s a useful tool but of course it’s not the only one. I think truly you need [motivation] within you, and you need to continue to develop yourself and be a better you tomorrow than you have been today.
“That is something which we really try to embrace and Lewis has been a great role model for that because we see him drive the car, we see him operate in the debriefing room, and be with our partners and since 2013 there has been just such a transition into this unbelievable pillar of our team,” Wolff said.
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