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What Happens When Your Company Leadership Doesn't Row Together

Written by Ken DeWitt on November 17, 2016

Team Leadership Teams

two crew teams rowing in a riverI took up crew rowing in an 8-oared shell at age 50 with a local community club here in my hometown. One thing I learned quickly is that we must each trust one another to do our jobs — and with perfect timing — or the boat simply won’t go fast, or worse, won’t go at all.

This has become the perfect team metaphor for me. Rowing relies more on the perfect cohesion of a team than any other sport. In a game like football or basketball, one star player can carry an otherwise mediocre team to victory, but that’s not so in rowing. No single rower can make the boat go faster by himself, but it only takes one rower being just the tiniest bit off to slow it down a lot. The same thing goes for your company’s leadership team.

Reaching that kind of precision as a team takes a lot of time, effort, pain, risk, vulnerability, commitment, accountability, and even conflict. In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni tells us that ultimately, this helps build the muscle of trust, which is the very foundation of a pyramid that leads to the ability to have constructive conflict. Constructive conflict is key in allowing us to buy in and have commitment to our shared goals. Commitment allows us to hold each other accountable to achieve those goals. And real and team-enforced accountability ultimately allows us to achieve great results more easily.

Simple Team-Building Exercises

One way to develop this with your people is to do some of the simple team-building exercises I do with my clients in annual planning session. We go around the room and each person answers the question, “What was your first job and what was it like?” Everyone gives their answer, and then we go around again asking everyone to share one fact about themselves that nobody else in the room knows. This usually leads to some big laughs! It can sometimes lead to tears, but that’s important, too. Team building requires that we make ourselves vulnerable at times and allow others to be vulnerable, as well.

It may seem like a simple exercise, but the fruits can be very rewarding. Knowing one another and how you grew up, what challenges you faced in your personal life, etc., helps add a human touch to team dynamics. It makes us see our coworkers in a new light. We are able to see things in them that we’ve never seen before, and as a result, we care about them more deeply. We feel a greater connection with them, which fosters camaraderie and understanding. It inspires a renewed sense of accountability to each other and commitment to the things you have come together to achieve.

Is Your Leadership Team Rowing Together? 

Looking at your leadership team, are they all “the right people, in the right seats”? If not, how does this affect the speed of your company? It may be time to start by building some understanding that will allow you to trust one another and row together in the same direction, at the same speed.

Next Steps

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This article originally appeared on the DeWitt, LLC blog on October 19, 2016.

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