What work teams can learn from Natalia Cohen



Do your colleagues sometimes rub you up the wrong way? Do you despair of team members who don’t pull their weight and get in the way of progress? Then spare a thought for the four woman team of rowers who have become the first female crew to cross the Pacific Ocean.

The crew spent 257 days together rowing for 24 hours straight in two-hour shifts. Their 29-foot boat contained a cabin the size of a two-person tent where the women washed and slept. Mind-boggling isn’t it? Such conditions are surely a recipe for tension, conflict, bickering and fall outs. But when interviewed, crew member Natalia Cohen said that the team (who did not know each other before the trip) got on extremely well and managed to work effectively as a team throughout – without any major arguments. How come?

Well, there’s something about being united to achieve a common goal that helps a team pull together against all odds. But that in itself is not enough. The crew did a lot of preparatory work with a sports psychologist which involved the use of psychometric tests and other activities to increase the team’s understanding of their individual styles, preferences and differences. This, said Natalia, was key to the team’s success. Their deep understanding of each other and the dynamics at work in a diverse group helped to manage potential conflicts and avoid what Natalia called the ‘hot buttons’ that tend to trigger arguments.

In business coaching and training we often use psychometric tests as a way of helping people to understand themselves first and then the people they work with. The results of these tests always lead to valuable learning. I have heard many ‘Ah-ha!’ moments when a team member might say “now I realise why Jim and I can’t get along” or “I now see that my approach really would upset Jill”. These test are not abstract exercises leading to little more than some interesting insights. They are scientifically sound and can provide the basis for practical strategies to improve team performance.

Conflict at work is all too common. And team conflict is draining, time-consuming and de-motivating. What’s more poor team performance can have a negative and damaging impact on the business.

If your team is not working consider what practical steps you can take to improve the situation – and be thankful that you are not spending 24 hours together for the next 257 days!

For more details about Executive Coaching and Team Coaching contact Jeanette Purcell Associates at Jeanette@jeanettepurcell.com

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