3 Apr 2007

Lessons from a Boat Race - Or how to make teams work better together

Can business leaders really learn from a study in which the Cambridge University boat club has been observed at work during seven-months period? That would be the impression one could get from reading the conclusion by Mark de Rond, a senior Lecturer at the Judge business school in Cambridge, who conducted an 'ethnographic' study of the boat team as it prepared for the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race on April 7. Dr de Rond concludes that a team in a boat is a social entity and it can be a massive brake on the boat if the team members are not all working together.We think that this is a truism - especially in the lower ranks of management. Earlier in the same column ('Business Life' by Stefan Stern, Financial Times) the author stated that 'at the highest level (of management) you must perform in areas that are beyond your expertise, where the facts are not known'.This, in our view, is the key problem of leadership. The key to top management performance is not just higher efficiency. Clear targets can easily be defined for staff and lower levels of management - as well as the members of a race team. But Business Leaders have to move into the (dark) future and decisions have to be made where the outcomes are never clearly visible.In our opinion good management at the highest level requires a balance between good judgement and experience. The same applies to the selection of top management - be it from internal or external candidates. It will always remain a mix of science and art.