I get to work with some really amazing teams, but this spring, serendipity handed me a seat on a flight beside the members of the Canadian Olympic synchronized swimming team.  They take teamwork to a whole different level.

I asked them what the members of the Change Your Team community should know about being a high performance team.  They told me that when you’re upside down, underwater, and without oxygen for four minutes you need communication, alignment, and trust. Funny, the exact same things teams in organizations need to be great.

They started with communication.

They made it clear to me that issues must be addressed as a team and nothing left to fester as gossip. They are in the pool for 45 hours per week, so there’s no time to waste beating around the bush.  If there’s an issue, they get it on the table so that they can move on.

This is certainly not the case with most teams in business, where passive aggressive behavior is commonplace.

Then Alignment.

Alignment is tested in the pool, where it’s a game of millimeters in precision. Not only do they have to know exactly how high each leg is out of the water, but how to create complete synchronization in competition as adrenaline is changing the entire feel.

“We practice for that.  We practice what it will feel like with the adrenaline pumping.” 

Knowing how you fit into the whole and staying in formation under stress means the team performs well. Our Knightsbridge Vital Teams™ method helps teams practice for these stressful situations, so they will be able to handle stress when it comes.

And Trust Underlies it All.

Next they turned the conversation to the topic of trust. Underlying it all is profound trust in one another.  The team has been training together for 4 years.  They describe themselves as sisters.

That trust is critical because of their interdependence in the routines.  Each girl needs to be executing her piece without worrying that her teammate will be exactly where she is supposed to be.

One of the roles on the team is called the “flyer.” Canada’s flyer is Stéphanie Durocher.  Stéphanie is launched into the air by teammate Valérie Welsh.  They described the trust between them…that Valérie will get the “throw” right and that Stéphanie will execute the flips and land back in the water in the exact right spot.  They literally put their safety in each others’ hands. Minuscule margins separate perfection from a collision and injury. That takes a high degree of trust.

In some cases, teams in organizations are responsible for the physical safety of their teammates.  But even if you aren’t ensuring their physical safety, you are certainly responsible for your teammates’ psychological safety.  Are you making your teammates feel completely confident that you “have their backs?”

These athletes, these teammates, were amazing to talk to. Watching them in London was such a thrill.  They performed spectacularly and earned fourth place against intensive competition.

What would your team be able to execute if you had this degree of alignment and trust? What if you just knew that your teammate would do exactly what you’re counting on them to do?  How much better would you be able to do your job?

Further Reading

The 1 Thing you can do to Improve Communication Today

You Get the Team you Deserve

5 Practices that Bolster Trust on your Team