My lessons in teamwork started in the pool

I have been spending a lot of time with teams, thinking about teams and craving teams these past few months. One of the only downsides of working for myself is the absence of an obvious “work team”. This is why I look for partners to collaborate with and communities to feel part of.

I am hardwired for teamwork and I realize that was informed and embedded in my formative years as a teenager when I was actively involved in synchronized swimming and spent 20 hours a week training with my team in the pool. Those lessons on teamwork were more powerful than I realized at that time.

Here are my 6 Lessons on Teamwork:

1. Clarity of Goals
Every season started in September, and we had 10 months to prepare for a peak team performance at nationals in early June. Our coach would set the team goal in terms of marks we were aspiring to achieve, and our ranking in the country. Where we were aiming was clear, measurable, attainable and had a timeline. June would arrive and that goal would be upon us.

2. Training Plan
From the beginning of the season the training plan was prepared by our coach and at some level was shared with us on a big picture level, and was certainly explained in terms of a weekly and daily practice plan. The annual plan had specific emphasis on different areas of preparation; first conditioning (which meant a lot of speed swimming laps in the pool which I did not enjoy!), then technical skill development, choreography and routine design, followed by the final phase of the season which was repeat, repeat, repeat as we strove for execution. I can’t help but think of the similarities between an organizational operating plan and project or campaign execution from this example.

3. Team Forming and Norming
Every year the composition of our team would change slightly as older swimmers retired and younger swimmers moved up and onto the team. Finding your place within the team took time and was sometimes daunting. Figuring out your unique strengths and how you could contribute to the team dynamic was also part of the process. For example, I was really aware that I was not the best swimmer technically, but I had a creative streak which allowed me to contribute to the choreography, and I like to think I was a positive contributor to the team energy. (My former teammates can weigh in on that!).

4. Peer Feedback
One of my vivid memories of our training time was when we paired up and took turns practicing our technical skills over and over. After each move we could come and look to our partner for observations and feedback about what was working well and where we could improve. I remember how open I was to that feedback and how much it helped me become a better swimmer. What if we could integrate this methodology into the workplace? We could support one another to develop and grow and achieve great results together! I would love to create a process around this and bring it into organizations; Peer Coaching!

5. Role Clarity
In a synchronized swimming team, you are part of a highly structured and tightly choreographed routine that must be performed in precise unison. Everyone is clear on their role and place within the design of that routine. I think of this as a parallel to a project or a campaign. It is a highly structured project and everyone must deliver on their role to support the total project execution, completion and ultimate success. But what we crave most, is an understanding of our specific role and how we will contribute to the larger project. I see so many professionals struggle when their role isn’t clear to them. We crave clarity to perform at our best and it is up to us to work with manager to seek out that clarity when it is missing. Waiting for leadership to initiate role clarity can sometimes lead to disappointment so I always encourage clients to take initiative on that conversation and ask for what you need.

6. Celebrating Success, and Learning from Disappointment
If there is one thing that sport taught me, it’s that you will experience both the highs and lows of competition. There are powerful lessons in both experiences, and it is important to celebrate when your hard work pays off and you achieve results and goals that you had set your sights on and worked hard to achieve. And on the other end of the continuum, when results don’t get achieved and goals are left unmet, the ability to feel disappointment without defeat is the lesson. So many times I remember not getting the mark or placement that we had hoped to achieve, but at the end of the day it truly was the process of working towards that moment that was the gift! How can we bring that mindset into our organizations and celebrate progress along the road to completion, instead of waiting for the very end of the year of the project before we acknowledge the hard work and progress. I really don’t think you can overdo this as a practice, and I encourage you to think about how you can integrate a celebration of milestones with your team.
So my time in the pool as a teenager were fun, challenging and rewarding indeed. I am grateful for the learning that is clearly still with me today, and it is no wonder I crave the opportunity to be part of teams and support them in their journey to achieve results. If you are part of a team that is doing important work and is looking for a coach to support your ability to do great things together – give me a call!