Leadership

US Olympic medalists the 'Shib Sibs' share their 3 best secrets to great teamwork

When sister and brother Maia and Alex Shibutani respond to a question, they are perfectly in sync. One just barely gets to the end of a thought when the other picks up the tail. They hand off the conversation rhythmically.

The cadence makes sense. Maia and Alex are ice dancing Olympic medalists.

In the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, the siblings brought home two bronze medals: one team medal and one individual.

Their graceful partnership is evident even without seeing them skate.

Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States compete in the ice dance free dance at the 2018 Winter Olympics games.
Getty Images Sport
Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States compete in the ice dance free dance at the 2018 Winter Olympics games.

"I am 23 and you are," says Maia.

"I am 26," says Alex. "And we have been working together…"

"Our entire lives," says Maia. "But on the ice, 14 years."

When the duo train, they spend the vast majority of their waking hours together.

Maia and Alex Shibutani pose with their Olympic bronze medals.
Maia and Alex Shibutani pose with their Olympic bronze medals.

"We skate typically four to six hours a day — depends on the time of year and what we're preparing for — but throughout the day it's a lot more than that, because we spend a lot of time off ice," says Alex. "And we have our work outs and …"

"We carpool," Maia adds.

"It's a very intensive process, the way that we approach our craft. We end up spending a lot of time together, which is OK because we get along," says Alex.

Whether competing in the Olympics or coordinating with a co-worker, the "Shib Sibs," as they have become known as on social media, share their best tips for productive collaboration with CNBC Make It.

1. Listen to each other

"It's really important to take a moment to listen to the other person. It's easy to very quickly have your own clear idea and try and force that on the other person, but at the same time, our greatest strength is that we work together," says Maia.

Hearing the ideas of your teammate will improve the final product, says Alex.

"Collaboration is such a huge part of forward progress, I think the more ideas — there is no bad idea — you know, it's important that you sort of are able to develop and listen to as many different concepts as possible, and that's how you get the best product. That's how you get the most fully developed concept."

Billionaire serial entrepreneur Richard Branson espouses the importance of listening too, in a LinkedIn post published in 2015. "Listen more than you talk," advises Branson. It makes you smarter, he says.

"Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak. ... You never know what you might learn from simply listening to the people around you. Whether it is an attendant on a train, an engineer beneath a spaceship of a customer service rep at a computer, I am endlessly surprised by what new and useful information I can gather just by keeping my ears open."

2. Don't get hangry

The Ship Sibs get along well and "we're both committed to pursuing the same dream," says Maia. It's when they get burnt out that problems to arise.

"Most most of our arguments tend to come when we are fatigued and under pressure, tired, hungry, and so doing the little things that you can do to make sure that everyone's morale and positivity stays up" is important, says Alex.

"Make sure you're well fed," says Maia. "Don't be hangry."

Indeed, study published by the National Academy of Sciences in April 2014 found that "being hangry can affect our behavior in a bad way, even in our most intimate relationships," said lead author Brad Bushman to The Science Daily. "Even those who reported they had good relationships with their spouses were more likely to express anger if their blood glucose levels were lower."

3. Keep the energy light at crunch time

Even if you aren't competing in the Olympics, stress happens. One of the benefits of working as a team is that you have someone else to lean on.

"What's great about the two of us is that since we're a team, we can be stressed at different times," says Maia.

Beyond that, try to reframe what you are facing from a cause for stress to an opportunity. And, if possible, have fun. That is critical for the Shib Sibs.

"Obviously the Olympics is the most pressure-filled environment. ... It only happens once every four years, it is the pinnacle of our sport and in our sport in particular, so much weight is put on three minutes or four minutes of competition," says Alex.

"But because we're able to rely on each other, we trust each other, we've learned to really keep things light because we know that personally, for us, we perform the best and we execute the best when we're just having fun."

—Video by Mary Stevens

See also:

Meet the entrepreneurs behind obscure Olympic gear

Here's how much Olympic athletes earn in 12 different countries

After the Winter Olympics: What these athletes did when their competing days were over

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Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.