Teamwork Lessons from Dragon Boat Racing

So this weekend I participated in something I’ve never done before. Dragon boat racing.

dragon slayersYeah, I had never heard of it before, either.

The gist of it is this:

  • Each team has 16-20 paddlers in the boat at once, plus a drummer
  • You’re racing a straight course against other teams
  • First boat to cross the finish line wins

And that’s actually pretty much the whole thing. We had a great time, and we actually missed out on placing in our division by less than one second. I think our best/final time was around 1 minute, 16 seconds. Neat stuff!

A reminder for the workplace

As we ran through our practice run last week, we were all pretty clueless at the beginning. We were all splashing and paddling as hard as we could to try to get the boat moving. However, it wasn’t until we slowed down and got in sync that we really started moving.

When you have a team trying to accomplish a goal, it’s pretty common to have multiple people working in multiple directions. Sometimes it’s possible that those directions might even be in opposition to each other!

The lesson learned in piloting a dragon boat is quite applicable to the workplace. A team of people who work in sync is more powerful than a group of individuals pursuing their own agendas.

A great team player is often worth more than a “superstar.” Here’s an example:

Let’s say your superstar can build nine widgets, and the other three people on the team can build five widgets each.One day the superstar leaves and is replaced.

The new person can only build seven widgets, but he encourages the rest of the team and helps them all to improve their output to seven widgets each.

In the “superstar” example, the total output was 24 widgets. In the team player example, the team output was 28 widgets. Yes, it’s just an illustration, but these kinds of scenarios play out more often than you might think.

It’s about sync, not power.

Anyone else ever seen or participated in a dragon boat event?

3 thoughts on “Teamwork Lessons from Dragon Boat Racing

  1. Nicolette

    Hi! Glad to hear that you got to try something new. Here in Philadelphia we have a very strong tradition of Dragon Boat racing and Sculling. It’s quite a sight and surprisingly physically demanding. It occurs to me that it is like that in the workplace too. On the outside you see someone who does a job without breaking a sweat and then when you try to do it it’s tough! You don’t see the hard work put into it before hand.

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey, Nicolette! Very cool. I was surprised to learn how big it was around the world–I had never even heard of the sport until two weeks ago. Great example.

  2. Sean Conrad

    Hi Ben, great post!

    We are lucky enough to have one of the largest dragon boat festivals in North America here in Ottawa and Halogen is up to I think 3 boats now.

    Great quote – it is all about the synchronization. I would add the second part of that is the ability to maintain it. Many times I have seen a team look good out of the gate but when fatigue sets in you’ll see some teams lose that synch, stray out of their lane, crash into another boat, flip over….

    Sustained synchronization is the key.

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