On Teamwork

What rowing can teach us about life and business.

Six years ago, my husband Tom made a Saturday afternoon run to the grocery store and came home with not only food, drink, and Lord knows what else, but a phone number and email address captured with a quick click of his cell phone camera. It was a click that changed our family’s life, especially that of our daughter Kate, who now knows a thing or two about the value of teamwork.

The information the photo provided led Tom to the middle school program of the Orlando Rowing Association, which also sponsors the 9–12 grade team at Edgewater High School. Now let me tell you that Kate had never been interested in sports. A shot at soccer in the second grade was fun for Tom and me (picture the gay dads serving Bloody Marys out of the back of the Volvo station wagon! So central casting.), but Kate… not so much. “I don’t like competition!” “I do not want to be on a team!” Firm stuff from a twelve year old.  

Well, the following Saturday, Tom and Kate made their way to Lake Fairview to see if Kate might like to give rowing and being on the crew team, as it is commonly known, a try.  

I was outside pulling weeds when my little family got back home. “I’m joining the crew team,” Kate said. Well, there aren’t enough o’s in so, I was so shocked, so bewildered, and just plain dumbfounded that my precious makeup-loving, manicured and pedicured little blonde bombshell was going to participate in a sport and be on a team.  

It has been six years since Kate joined that middle school team, the Jeagles (a cool blend of Junior + Eagles, the high school team’s mascot). Crew is a year-round deal, with an unforgiving, unyielding practice schedule that has kept all three of us very busy. Kate has been captain and co-captain for two of her four years on the high school crew team, and been captivated by one thing: teamwork. The thing about crew and rowing is that no one person is a star - or soloist - it’s the chorus of rowers working in unison and toward a common goal that makes for the win, the success of it all. Rowing is a true team sport. If the individuals in the boat don’t row together - with the same amount of commitment and precision - all is lost.  

I have never valued teamwork as much as I do today. I’m very social - extrovertedly so - but the whole concept of reliance on others for success has, in the past, been just plain foreign to me. I think it might scare the hell out of me. I fear I might be the weak link in the group, the imposter. If I’m just on a team of one, me alone, expectations are low, I don’t have many people to disappoint. In other words, NOT being on a team keeps me safe, adrift in my single little boat and, truthfully, pretty much drifting in circles on the waters of the world with nary an oar. Perhaps you find this to be true in your own life as well.  

It is through Kate being on the crew team that both she and I have found out an important truth, and that is this: through commitment and working with others, through teamwork, not only can one express something beyond their best self, but one also learns that there is not much in life that cannot be handled or turned into a success.

In my work at Kinship Marketing Design, I have found a place where, above all else, my clients and the people with whom I work do so as a team. It is intriguing to me that when we form a new relationship with a client, all of us on the Kinship team and a good many from the new client’s team take what is called a ‘deep dive’ to assess and analyze, making connections and corrections. The work is exhausting at times, yet it is exhilarating.

It occurs to me that, like crew, we too are in the boat together, headed toward a common goal, working in unison. As Kate plies her oar to her life, I ply mine to my own, deeply grateful. I’m so happy Tom did the grocery shopping that day.

Lionel Smith-McGehee

In addition to his work with Kinship, Lionel Smith-McGehee is a husband and father, a gardener, and lives in a restored mid-century home in Maitland, Florida.

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