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POPin Blog

Taking A Collaborative Lesson From Rowing Teams

Anyone who ever rowed crew in college knows that getting the team to row in unison is the absolute key to winning. By pushing against the water with oars, the team generates a collaborative force to propel the boat forward. Teams that row in unison create a greater amplified force with each stroke of the oars, pushing the vessel faster towards the finish line. The lesson here for business groups involves the value of working closely together to earn a shared victory. Creating alignment for strategic initiatives is one of the hardest problems facing business leaders. POP has developed the POPin mobile crowdsourcing app to help leaders solicit productive feedback from large workgroups by hosting online discussions among team members. In this way, teams can vote on shared priorities to resolve mutual problems across a range of management issues. This democratic, bottom-up approach has been shown repeatedly to improve staff motivation and alignment, resulting in healthier, more engaged teams. In rowing, this engagement extends beyond merely timing the strokes of the oars. The best trained rowers even coordinate their breathing so that all team members either exhale together during the stroke and inhale during the recovery, or they inhale during the stroke and exhale during the recovery. The oar blade moves sideways through the water, so the magnitude of the propulsive force involves the interaction of complex water flows with the handle force that each rower applies to the oar. These basic strategies for rowing success have been refined over the centuries, but they have not changed very much – even as the boats have evolved. The sport of competitive rowing traces back to the early 1700s when professional watermen held the first sanctioned races on the River Thames in London. By the end of the 18th century, amateur races became popular when the first “boat clubs” appeared at British public schools. Rowing also became one of the first Olympic sports, with the inaugural Olympic races held in 1900. Such a lengthy history should be a reminder that many teams have been defeated over the years by not working together in harmony. The propulsive forces that drive a boat forward can easily be negated by oars that create a drag force which cuts against the forward motion. Likewise, business groups that collaborate effectively have a much greater chance of winning than those that find themselves getting stuck in the water.