Bottom of the Class

After a Saturday morning  spinning class, I noticed a new gym next door – Athletx. I poked my head in and and saw a clean, ordered space, full of natural light, timbers, and old brick walls.

And instead of the weight machines I expected to see, I saw neat rows of punching bags, a wall of TRX straps and another wall of these beautiful indoor water rowers that I’ve been obsessing about since my friend Jane bought one last year. So I signed up for rowing classes!

I thought I’d just take it a little easy for the first few classes on my rower until I built up more upper body strength. After all, rowing machines are individual.

Not so.

Rowing classes are a group phenomena. We row together, at the same number of strokes per minute. We pull together for power strokes (5, 10, … 25!); we row 1000 meters together, keeping our split times within a narrow window of each other.  To do this well, I need to be able to row about as well as the rest of the class. 

I failed on day 1, failed again on day 2, was better on days 3-4 and today -today I hit the window. I got a high five from coach Mike and I beamed.

How did this happen? Mike’s coaching on my form, of course, but importantly, it was the other rowers who helped me most. They gave me tips; and they encouraged me, stroke by stroke, to finish my 1000 meters (after they finished theirs) until I got better.

What does this have to do with you? Your teams.

Many of you have heard me talk about the concept of No Dumbing Down, about how teams can only perform at the level of the lowest common denominator. How it’s important to put the conditions in place for all the team members to be able to excel and work at a higher level.

But because I’m not usually in situations where I am at the bottom of the class, I didn’t realize what this can feel like for the lower performing team members. That was before rowing. Now I’m working on improving my individual performance. I know what I need to do to get better and I’m doing it. And it is incredibly motivating.

Look at your teams – what developmental support do the individual team members need? Are they getting it, not just from you but also from each other? How can you put the conditions in place to make this happen?


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