How shared responsibility can lead to shared success
— By Andrew Russell
During my racing career as a canoe athlete, I primarily competed in team events. Most often these efforts were in doubles otherwise known as C-2. As I’ve transitioned from elite sport to a closer semblance of regular working life, I am struck by one consistent parallel, the need for effective teamwork.
Teamwork is such an interesting thing, as the energy and attention required to foster a great team are nuanced and particular to each scenario. However, with that said I think there are some elements of successful teamwork that can consistently be applied to a variety of disciplines and experiences. Much of what I learned during my phase in elite sport has transferred, and I continue to adapt and apply these lessons.
I would like to share one particular important learning experience about the nature of positive reinforcement.
The story takes place during a training camp nearly 10 years ago. Despite a decade passing, this experience still strikes me as such a pivotal moment. I often reference the memory when challenging moments arise in teams I work with.
Let me set the stage for you: It was a particularly tough week of training, and I was working through a long canoe practice in high heat in C-2 with my partner Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny.
The practice was roughly 90 percent complete, and we were resting before the final set of work.
So far, you could characterize this session as an off-day for us.
We were inconsistent and really struggling to find our groove. As the paddler in the front, I am responsible for setting the tempo, but on that day I was finding the steering erratic and challenging making the rhythm tougher to establish.
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I resisted a strong urge to criticize Gabriel for not keeping the boat straight, and instead turned around and complimented his fine steering and excellent work in keeping things going despite my own shortcomings technically.
To my surprise, when we started the practice again, our boat was going straight and we were paddling in sync and with a renewed energy and focus.
When we debriefed after the workout, (as we often did as a team), we were both excited about how things had finished up.
We mostly spoke of continuing the momentum from the final portion of that practice into the next days to come. Shared responsibility instead of passing blame helped encourage us to salvage our workout, but more importantly, it led to a string of exceptional practices.
When I face challenging periods today, I often think back to resisting the urge to be negative and finding something positive to use as a springboard to regain momentum. Simply put, when things are fun and people feel like they’re contributing to shared success in a meaningful way, everyone wins.
This was my experience one hot day training in a C-2 workout, and it continues to be the case beyond the boat.
So next time you’re faced with a similar situation, and perhaps the “steering” is a little off, see if a positive push can lead to momentum in your team’s endeavours and a renewed sense of direction.
Yours in sport and an optimistic outlook,
Andrew Russell is the founder of FANFIT Challenge and a former national team canoeist who competed in the 2008 Olympics.