How six strangers became a team

Teamwork works!

By David Tovey

Cowes_weekI was fortunate to be able to spend five days last year sailing on the Solent during Cowes week.

During the week, as we sailed during the day and at night, it reminded me yet again about how much can be learned about teamwork and leadership on board a small sailing boat – and how similar sailing is to running a business team.

The Solent during Cowes week is an extremely busy stretch of water.  Hundreds of racing yachts and leisure craft come together for seven days of racing and nautical fun. It’s a fun environment that needs serious attention to the safety of your own boat and that of others. The sea can be a very dangerous place to be if a boat isn’t skippered and crewed well.

The crew I was part of on my most recent nautical challenge had never met before. It consisted of a South African, an Italian, a German and three Brits. A crew of six that had come together to achieve one main objective – to get a 42ft sailing boat to operate safely in one of the busiest stretches of water.

You have to work together well, communicate clearly and have well defined roles of you want to get a yacht moving!

More than one objective

Actually for our week together there was more than one objective. Five of the crew were there to learn new skills and gain sailing qualifications – and those qualifications varied significantly for different members of the crew. Four members had years of sailing experience including round the world and trans-Atlantic trips under their belt with two hoping to gain a Yacht Master qualification, during our week. For another two the qualification they hoped for was a competent crew certificate – the first rung on the sailing qualification ladder.

You might think that what the two most experienced crew would want would be four other fully experienced crew members who knew how to helm, gybe, tack, work the sheets, trim the sails and navigate to help them ensure they passed their practical examination. Far from it. That would mean a crew full of skippers! In fact our most experienced crew relished the task of teaching and helping the least experienced as well as supporting each other. That way they could develop ‘their’ crew – a crew motivated and able to support them when it was their turn to be skipper during their examination. It was one of the best experiences I have seen of a truly interdependent team. No one could achieve their personal objectives without the willing support and help of the other crew members.

Putting the ‘tea’ into teamwork

For most of the time at sea the skipper delegates tasks to the crew dependent upon the conditions and what needs to be done to run a safe and efficient boat. That might mean the skipper is at the helm, at the navigation table or just as importantly in the galley making tea for the crew. The morale of a crew is extremely important at sea and their welfare is a key consideration for the team leader.

At sea everyone gets their time at the helm and in the galley. Doing what’s necessary to make the yacht sail is more important than ego, pride or politics.

 So similar to business

Maybe you are already picking up clues about why crewing a sailing boat is so similar to running a business team.

People come together to achieve an overall objective. That might be a sales team or business unit with specific financial targets or a technical team seeking to develop a new product. Each team has it’s ultimate objective and every team member has their personal objectives. The job of the team leader is, as far as is possible, align individual objectives with the team’s objectives. The job of each team member is to play their part in helping the team and their colleagues to succeed.

Being part of a multi-national crew with such varying levels of experience reminded me that working as a team is a natural human state. People are genetically pre-disposed to cooperating and any leader that can harness that predisposition can build a high performing team.

Many business teams work as well as the crew I was fortunate to spend a few days sailing with. Sadly I hear too many stories of business teams that don’t.

When a business team runs into trouble, in my experience it usually means that members have lost sight of their objectives and the leader has failed to match the objectives of individuals with the overall objectives of the team.

Sailing for team building

As you might expect I can recommend sailing as an excellent team building tool. If you have a team that you would like to experience an environment that encourages the best of teamwork and leadership, do contact me! 

Thanks to Charlie and Ricky at First Class Sailing for a great week!


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David Tovey

By David Tovey

David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.

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