Teamwork lessons from olympic rowing teams

On Saturday 21st August 2004 at the Athens Olympic Games, Matthew Pinsent, CBE entered Olympic history. In one of the classic sporting moments of all time, he led Great Britain to victory over the Canadian World Champions by just eight one hundredths of a second. I recently heard Matthew speak about the teamwork in world-class rowing teams where he stressed the importance of two vital ingredients: distributed leadership and synchronised team member response.


Distributed leadership

First the rowers are all facing the wrong direction and the cox is the only one who can see whether the team is taking the correct line or not.

The cox may have the least glamourous position and may lack the physical power of the other team members but without the cox and the teams trust they cannot win. The cox would not be considered the overall leader but like all high-performing teams will be totally trusted to be a leader in certain domains. For more on this see Virtual team productivity - three action rules from nature.

Synchronised team member response

Secondly somebody rowing too fast is as bad as somebody rowing too slow in terms of disrupting the overall speed of the boat.

The team need to be synchronised - its not about everybody doing things as fast or as well as they can – its about everybody being co-ordinated! This is one of the best lessons we can learn from natures teams – synchronised member response is much better than individual response in certain critical situations. For more on this see Virtual team execution-three action rules from nature.

For more on what organisational teams can learn from rowing see Rowing teaches teamwork lessons in USA Today.

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