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4 Things That Rowing Crew And High-Performing Teams Have In Common

Written by: Ginger Painter, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Remember the Successories TEAMWORK poster with the 8-person boat rowing? There is a motivational statement regarding the team working together. Why would this quote about high-performing teams be associated with rowing crew? The answer is simple, they all have clear goals with a shared vision, they are focused on the present, they communicate with each other, and they trust each other. What would happen if your team was all moving in the same direction, at the same time, towards the same goal? Magic!

A female eight rowing team, training on the River

Clear goals with a shared vision

As a rower, everyone in the boat must have clear goals with a shared vision. Having personal experience rowing in an 8-person, 4-person, and 2-person boat, clear goals are vital. In each of those boats, half of the people row on the starboard (right side) and half row on the port (left side). If the rowers on the starboard side are pulling harder than the port side, then the boat will go in circles.

Have you ever felt like your team is going in circles? How can you prevent that from happening?

Make sure everyone on your high-performing team has clear expectations of the goals the team needs to achieve, when they need to be achieved, and the most efficient way to achieve the goals. Always keep the end (the finish line) in sight. In rowing, the race is 2000 meters, and the bow (front of the boat) that crosses the finish line first, wins. To get there, you need to have small achievable goals and keep the boat straight. Examples of small goals would be getting to 500 meters in a certain amount of time, then 1000 meters, then 1500 meters, then, of course, the finish line. Similarly, as a team, by setting up small achievable goals and keeping the team on track, you will become efficient in getting to the finish line and will be more productive in the process.

Focus on the present

People, in general, can get caught up in past mistakes or failures. What happens when you focus on past mistakes and failures? It tends to make it harder to move forward. You become stuck in the negativity of that experience from both a physical and mental perspective. Your present energy lacks motivation towards new goals because you may think to yourself, what if the same mistake or failure occurs again? This is where even more mistakes and failures can occur because with this negative thinking you are almost willing the past to become the present and the future.

In rowing, if you aren’t focused on the present, you can get hurt by “catching a crab”. Catching a crab means that the rower lost control of their oar. For a rower to be truly in the present, they need to ensure their body is always in the right position, the blade of their oar is level with the water from catch to finish, and be in sync with their teammates.

While it is important to look back and know the mistakes, failures, and disappointments, it is equally important to remember the celebrations, achievements, and successes that have made you who you are today! Without those experiences, you don’t learn and grow or wouldn’t be able to accomplish the goals you want to accomplish. By focusing on the present, you are choosing to be in the now. You are choosing to be available to yourself, your team, and others.

Trust each other

In a rowing boat, you are only inches off the water and if everyone isn’t rowing in sync, boats can flip and rowers can get catapulted into the water. As a rower, you are also facing backward, so you must trust your coxswain, who is the only one facing forward. Think about it, you are blindly rowing as fast as you possibly can, while getting yelled at to correct your speed and power, only to get you and your team to the finish line to win.

But, what if someone on your team isn’t pulling as powerfully as they could? What if they are just going through the motions?

In a rowing boat, you may never know if they took a stroke off or aren’t doing their best, because, in the end, it was a team effort.

For a high-performing team to produce, everyone must be working in sync and giving it their all until the end. Trusting each other enough to share when you need help will only strengthen the trust in each other and help you all perform better.


As a rower, without communication, you are dead in the water. As I mentioned, rowers have their backs facing the direction they are rowing, so if there isn’t any communication given, they would have no idea where they are going. Like in a high-performing team, without clear expectations and timely communication, you have no idea where you are going and if you think you do based on assumptions made, you may be going in the wrong direction or going in circles. Clear communication is key to respect and connection. When high-performing teams communicate frequently with each other, they build bonds, share vulnerabilities, best practices, and solve problems. A team that communicates will ultimately perform better.

A new perspective

Standing on shore or a dock watching the race you get a clear view of how straight the boat is, how fast the boat you are watching is going, and if they will win or not. How would this perspective affect your high-performing team? Overall, a single rower is average compared to a boat of 2 or more, which can ultimately become exceptional by working together. If you are looking at how you can become an exceptional team leader, connect with me for a discovery call.

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Ginger Painter, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Ginger Painter has a Ph.D. in Organizational Development and Leadership, as a lifelong learner, Ginger is curious about what makes you, you! She is a transition life coach who focuses on helping you make sense of the chaos in your life. She has dedicated her coaching practice to helping you find your next right steps in creating the best life you want to live. This is done through proven positive habit formation that will also help you in future life transitions. She is the Founder and Certified Coach at Square 1 Coaching, where consistency is the key to breakthrough, but you need to start at Square 1.



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