Rowing Teams as a Model for Business Culture

An eight-man crew: power, synergy, unity.
An eight-man crew: power, synergy, unity.

Business is built on relationships. The word "corporate" comes from the idea of a body, diverse and interconnected parts working in unison. The word "company" is rooted in the notion of eating together. For businesses to grow and flourish, they must have strong internal relationships among those who work together, and they must foster strong external relationships, to build trust with clients and suppliers. The whole deal is relational.

However, if you talk to people about their biggest problems at work, most will complain about the bad workplace relationships. There are many statistics that report high rates of workplace bullying and tension between bosses and employees. Few like to admit it, but this friction is caused by the dark stuff of human nature--envy, selfishness, pride.

What does this have to do with rowing? If you don't know much about this beautiful sport, it is one of the most physically demanding and grueling sports on the planet. It requires tremendous synergy between all members of the crew. The most amazing crew to watch involves eight men or women in a 60-foot-long boat (costing upwards of $50,000 each). There is also a coxswain whose role is to steer an coordinate tempo.

It is remarkable to watch eight men or women rowing in perfect sync. Here's a description of what it takes from the New York Times best seller, The Boys in The Boat, by Daniel James Brown.

No other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength . . . but they have no stars. The team effort--the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes--is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self. . . . Each must be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat. (p. 178-179)

Apply that to your business. And while you're at it, take a look at 1 Corinthians 12. It all connects.