How to Create The Team Culture That Won Olympic Gold

When people talk about sports analogies in business, no one ever talks about crew teams. And the term that never gets talked about in great teams is “swing”.

79 years ago this week, an underdog US Crew Team astonished Hitler and the world by winning the 1936 Olympic Gold in Germany. This story of true teamwork is told in recent best-seller Boys in the Boat. In the book, “swing” is described this way:

“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it…..It’s called “swing.” It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others….. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between the pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.”

Yet at workplaces around the world, leaders settle for much less than swing. People talk about engagement and happiness, but this is a distant second to swing which calls for leaders and teams to work together to collaborate with near perfect synchronicity. And through this heightened level of interaction, to achieve exponential results.

Swing is not something that just happens at work. It does not come without focus and work. Here are several tenets of how to create swing in your team, so you can overcome the challenges ahead and be the best.

1. Swing is cultivated – The story of 1936 crew team gold medalists was a 3 year journey. It began with the luck of getting a great group of talented boys trying out for the team. The process of cultivating swing took lots of trial and error. Figuring out who were the best for the boat; mixing and matching talent on the boat; changing positions /seats on the boat. This went on for several seasons. Even when the team became very good, and won the West Coast championships, they lost in the national finals.

The same is true of your team. You may have some super talented people working on your team. The challenge is to figure out how to mix and match the talents you have – who to give responsibilities and who to make accountable for leadership roles. This takes time, trial and error, and experience.

2. Swing requires your all – The boys in the boat were relentless. In the cold weather and rain of the winter in Washington State, they went on for endless hours and miles of rowing. They literally had no money for proper clothing or meals, and most were busy trying to get good grades in Engineering. These boys gave it their all! Day in and day out.

Are you, and your team mates willing to willing to take the challenge of being the best? The study, learning, preparation and hours of mastering your work ?

3. Swing comes when strategy is in line with your people – Their winning strategy was cultivated over time. They realized that they had a strong, physically fit team, beyond other teams – from years of working hard in the fields. They could row the 3 mile race with less fatigue than any other team. Their strategy became slow, hard rowing, while the other teams usually focused on quick rowing. Then the Washington team would sprint hard at the end. This strategy won them the championships and eventually the gold. Your strategy too must be matched with your talent.

4. Swing is ultimately a commitment to each other to win – All of the above was not and will not be enough to success. It is the foundation, but swing will only happen when everyone on the team makes a commitment to each other. When they are willing to surrender to the team. Willing to their whole head and heart into the team. To go for it, together. To risk failing, together.

The Power Of Swing is brought to you by Lawrence Polsky, co-founder of Teams Of Distinction: a world renowned firm focused on creating and enhancing organizational cultures based on “Swing” — that is, teams collaborating with near perfect synchronicity. The term, and the excellence it stands for, originated with Olympic medal crew teams performing at extraordinary levels.

This picture aboveĀ is of a SWING event my business partner, Antoine Gerschel, had the pleasure of doing with a client on the same hallowed grounds in Berlin where the Olympic Gold medal was won in 1936 by the US Crew Team.

Does your team have swing? If you want 8 questions to find out, download The Swing Measurement Guide at www.thepowerofswing.com

Increase Your Team's Swing: Learn How >