4 lessons rowing can teach us about productivity management

Productivity management is about more than longer working hours. Here are four lessons that rowing can teach us about team productivity and effective project leadership.

a rowing team demonstrating team productivity

‘Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat’ – Jean-Paul Satre

Leadership and collaboration are critical to the success of any team. In professional rowing, athletes learn to maximise their collective potential to complete their job to the highest possible standard. Transferring this work ethic to your company culture can help you make waves in your industry.

There is very little positive correlation between the number of hours an employee works and their productivity. In fact, the longer their working day, the lower their labour output will be. This is known as burnout and it’s a problem both athletes and office workers share.

So how do rowers bypass this issue and make time work for them? And, more importantly, how can you apply this to your business? Here are four lessons rowing can teach us about productivity management:

1.      Communicate consistently

Men's rowing team practicing

There’s a fine line between motivation and micro-management. Learning to walk that line is key to a productive team dynamic. In a rowing boat, the cox organises the rest of the crew, keeping their strokes in time. In the office, your management skills dictate the cohesion in your team.

78 percent of workers feel they don’t receive sufficient information from management. While you don’t need to bark orders from a megaphone, you do need to maintain a consistent line of communication with your employees. If you never reveal your company’s goals, you can’t expect your employees to strive towards reaching them.

2.      Set agile goals

Everyone needs a finish line to work towards, but it needn’t be all the way out at sea. Agile goalsetting improves productivity and quickly highlights areas for improvement.

It’s okay to set lofty targets for your team, but follow rowing’s example and ensure they are measurable and attainable. The cox recognises when his team need to push on and when they can conserve energy, so they have the best chance of staying the course.

Set, review, refactor: don’t think of it as moving the goalposts, think of it as realigning them. CLEAR goals offer a flexible alternative to the familiar SMART goals format, and sites such as Basecamp and Trello can help you keep track of your efforts.

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3.      Start with the right tools

flexbility and dedication - team rowing

What do you give your rowers to help them move through the water? Oars, right. The answer is simple and that’s exactly how it should be in the workplace.

Don’t make your employees’ jobs harder than they need to be. Provide them with a toolkit that keeps them productive and engaged. Test and choose productivity management tools that automate menial tasks and allow staff to focus on high-priority projects:

Rowers use the best tools available to them to take the stress out of each stroke and that’s exactly the approach you should take at work.

4.      Devote time to training

Now you’ve got the right tools in place, train your staff to use them effectively. 74 percent of employees feel they would benefit from further development, which says more about the way they’re managed than their own limitations. Training and motivation go hand in hand; just think about that mini-rush you get every time you master a new skill.

Development is an ongoing process so training should be, too. When a new rower joins a crew, it takes time for them to synchronise with their teammates. You can hand them an oar, but if they aren’t shown how to use it, they’ll eventually give up.

Don’t leave your employees up the proverbial creek. Listen to their suggestions and help them progress both personally and within your company.

Avoid running aground

Both rowing and business require dedication and flexibility. In either discipline, productivity is a joint effort. Avoid placing roadblocks in your team’s path and focus instead on reaching more prestigious goals together.

(Hat tip to Reldun Erland, Chris Walts and Michael Pereckas for the images)

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