The Beauty of Teamwork

Katy Montgomery

Katy currently serves as the Global Director of the Career Development Centre at INSEAD where she manages career services professionals across three campuses: Abu Dhabi, Fontainebleau, and Singapore. Katy previously served as the Associate Dean for Student Development at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

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Rowing is a grueling sport. It involves massive core strength, technique, early morning training, blisters, coordination, no timeouts, and the ability to compete through severe pain. Some rowers have described the pain as “large needles being driven into your thigh muscles while your forearms are splitting.” That’s painful.

However, rowing is also a team sport. And there has not been a better rowing team than the 1936 University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team profiled in Daniel James Brown’s book:  The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

While reading this book I learned about the concept of “swing,” a rowing term that refers to an elusive sensation of near-perfection; a state in which all rowers in the boat are seemingly in a symphony of harmonic motion, with no wasted energy. Competent and strong rowing teams cannot achieve “swing” without a true sense of teamwork. For the 1936 UW, “the things that held them together—trust in each other, mutual respect, humility, fair play, watching out for one another” were what made them an exceptional team. The condition is also described as “giving [oneself] up to the crew’s effort entirely—rowing as if [each person] were an extension of the man in front of him.” Without teamwork, then, there is no swing; there is no gold medal.

Teamwork is a term often thrown around business school and company settings, but it is important to identify what really makes a team great. If you see yourself as a team player, consider the following questions: When you have participated in teams, have you allowed yourself to trust others completely? Do you give everything you have to the ultimate goal? Are you willing to put your pride aside for the betterment of the group?

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