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How 3 traits found in team sport can help build a high-performing work team

Paddlers… are you ready?! Attention! GO!!!

And we're off. Twenty sprint strokes transitioning up into long powerful strokes to make it across the finish line 500 metres down the waterway before the other teams.

The teams from NSW, Queensland, the ACT, Western Australia and South Australia are all vying to cross that line first. The calls are relayed along the boat. Leg drive! And you pick up the power.

Then 100 metres out from the finish line, Take it home!

Although you've been giving it your all, somehow deep down you find more to give and you do.

Being part of the NSW dragon boat team competing at the Australian National Championships was an amazing experience. I have fond memories of my involvement in the sport, which gave me valuable insights into high-performing teams.

Work teams can learn a great deal from sport.

There can be many parallels drawn between being part of a high-performing team in a sporting environment and in a workplace.

Three that stand out for me are:

#1. Have the end goal in focus

#2. Clear communication is essential to reach the finish line

#3. Your mindset can mean the difference between success and failure

Let's expand on each of these points.

#1. Have the end goal in focus

When you're in a boat race it's important to keep your focus to the front of the boat. If you start looking at the scenery or even inside the boat, you'll become distracted. Energy is an essential commodity and it needs to be focused toward the end goal, otherwise the power in the boat is lessened. Staying focused helps the team as a whole to power forward to the finish line.

In the workplace, whether it's a project, monthly targets or the overall goals of the organisation, it's important to stay focused and be clear as to what needs to be done to reach that 'finish line'.

#2. Clear communication is essential to reach the finish line

Can you imagine the chaos in a boat if communication is not clear? There are 22 paddlers, each with a specific role to help move that boat forward toward the finish line.

To achieve the goals of an organisation, each team member must understand their role and how they can contribute to the achievement of team and organisational goals. To do this, communication at every level must be clear.

#3. Your mindset can mean the difference between success and failure

In a boat race, the adrenalin is pumping through your body to help you work with your team members to make it to the finish line. The physical side of the race is exhausting. Then there's the mental barriers. Breaking through them can be the difference between succeeding and giving up.

Being successful depends upon a 'can do' attitude.

This 'can do' attitude needs to be directed toward each and every task you do in your workplace, whether simple or complex.

It builds trust with those around you. If there is high trust in a team then that team becomes a highly productive one.

But not everyone that you work with will be like you.

They won't have your strengths nor will you have theirs. Some may have their own agenda. Let's be realistic, there will always be outliers in the workplace.

We are all different.

It's about learning to work with each other to reach the team's 'finish line'. Each person approaches their role in their own unique way. There will always be someone who you find frustrating to work with on a project or every day in the office (or remote office).

It's about learning the skills to understand the working styles of your team members.

In doing so, you're able to work more effectively with them on an individual basis and in turn, the team can become a productive and high performing one at that.

What happens when you cross your arms? (Try it now). Do you place your right arm or your left arm on top? Is there a right way of folding arms? No, there's just a preferred way.

Being aware of your team members' preferred working styles helps you to work better together.

To help your team become high-performing, it's important to appreciate the role of each person.

Support each other through clear communication and a positive 'can do' mindset. This helps you focus on your goals as a team and an organisation.

To summarise what has been covered, these three traits can be found in high-performing teams, whether in dragon boat racing or in a workplace.

#1. Have the end goal in focus

#2. Clear communication is essential to reach the finish line

#3. Your mindset can mean the difference between success and failure

For it to happen in a work team, there needs to be commitment to the team. If paddlers don't paddle in unison, then the boat doesn't move. If team members don't work together then goals are not achieved.

And when there's the possibility of achieving goals, amazing things happen…

When people commit to working toward that finish line, they learn the necessary skills, put in the time and make the effort. The team moves from capable to productive and high-performing as everyone works together to cross that finish line.

Are you ready?

Related resources

Here are 2 more articles and a short video to help you be more productive with your team members:


Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone works with individuals and teams to make communication their strength so that their message is heard. Her programs help her clients to excel in their role and be recognised as leaders in their field.
30 Business Communication Tips

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  1. James Birtwistle

    Hi Maria, great analogy with Dragon Boat racing, and nice 'personal touch' too with my name mentioned in the text of the introductory email.

    Kind regards

    • Maria Pantalone

      Hi Jim,

      Thank you for your feedback. I'm pleased that you liked the 'personal touch' too.

      All the best


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