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What A Company Canoeing Trip Taught Me About Teamwork

Company outings are a great way to learn more about your team members. Sometimes bits of personalities can be lost in an office setting, so getting out of the comfort zone can be a fun way to really get to know each other.

The Seismic team experienced this firsthand at our annual company gathering in San Diego, where we participated in Hawaiian outrigger canoe races. We learned that everyone has a little (or a lot of) competitiveness in them, and that the traits that make a good member of a canoe team and sales team have a lot of overlap.

Outrigger canoeing is an ancient sport that was introduced to Hawaii in 200 AD by Polynesian explorers. These canoes were originally used for transport and navigation around Hawaii’s rocky waters, but it just as soon became a popular sporting activity. The outrigger canoe community is built on the foundation of ohana, or family. Races are known to be fiercely competitive, but once the canoes cross the finish line, all paddlers make up one big ohana.

The professional rowers taught us the mechanics of rowing and gave us tips on how to maximize our speed. There is a good amount of strategy involved, including the order of rowers, how often rowers switch paddle sides, and the overall strength of the paddle. We also learned that it is imperative for rowers to be in perfect rhythm with one another, otherwise the canoe’s speed and buoyancy would suffer. The head of the boat controls the rhythm, so it’s important to have someone experienced with this rhythm in the lead.

The ideal sales team shares three main characteristics with an outrigger canoe:

Competitive: it’s safe to say competitiveness is in the DNA of salespeople. They’re motivated by pitting themselves against each other, but it’s all in the name of making the team better as a whole.
Close-knit: if someone on the team is struggling, it’s a burden the team carries. Just like if one rower gets fatigued, the others pick up that weight so the canoe keeps moving.
Strong leadership: no success would be possible without an experienced leader who relays the team’s strategy and keeps everyone in sync. It’s important to have a leader who can set a cohesive pace without overworking the team; it’s not how hard you row, but how well you row together.

Along with realizing everyone’s competitive sides, we also learned that we’re capable of much greater success as a synchronized team rather than a group of individuals simply paddling as hard as possible (although I still felt like we were paddling as hard as possible, just doing so in synch).  And since we all thought the 200 yard sprint races we did left us sufficiently sore and winded, we weren’t particularly interested in joining the competitive circuit, where 10-16 mile races are the norm.

I guess we’ll just stick to building sales enablement software.