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  • Writer's pictureAlec Drake

Can Your Team Row To Win?

The 1936 Olympic rowing team illustrates; how we work together is how we win together.

My favorite example of this premise for winning happened during the 1936 Olympics. Unexpectedly, nine young men from different backgrounds were designated to row for the U.S.A. They were seen as underdogs attending the University of Washington, which had no rowing team like top-ranked Princeton, Harvard, or Yale.

Against all odds, the U.S. team won the gold medal, beating out the heavily favored teams from Germany and Italy. Their victory was a triumph of skill, athleticism, teamwork, and collaboration. The world was also in a pre-war mindset, and this rowing contest in Berlin was about more than medals; it was a statement of determination and willpower. In many ways, the story of the 1936 Olympic rowing team offers valuable insights into what it takes to succeed as a sales team.

Why Did They Win? First and foremost, the rowing team’s success was built on a foundation of trust and respect. Each team member knew they could rely on their teammates to do their part and perform to the best of their abilities. They had spent countless hours training together, pushing themselves and each other to improve. This kind of mutual support and encouragement is crucial in any team environment, particularly in sales, where each team member depends on others to achieve their goals. Successful sales teams are based on trust and respect. Each team member must believe their colleagues are committed to the team’s success and willing to do whatever it takes. Team members should be ready to share information, resources, and expertise to support each other when things get tough.

Do You Have Too Much Internal Competition? Another key to the success of the 1936 Olympic rowing team was their willingness to work together towards a common goal. The team was not individual athletes competing against each other but rather a group of individuals working together towards a shared objective. They had a clear sense of what they were trying to achieve, and each member of the team understood their role in helping to make that happen.

Similarly, sales teams must work together towards a common goal. This means having a clear sense of what the team is trying to achieve and a shared understanding of each member’s role in making that happen. It also means setting clear goals and objectives that everyone on the team can work towards together and being willing to adjust those goals as circumstances change.

Differentiation Builds Value Perhaps most importantly, the 1936 Olympic rowing team succeeded because they overcame their individual differences and worked together as a cohesive unit. Each team member brought their strengths and weaknesses to the table, but they could put aside their personal agendas and focus on what was best for the team. They could communicate effectively, make decisions, and work towards their shared goal with a single-minded focus.

In sales teams, success often depends on working together cohesively and effectively. This means putting aside personal differences and focusing on what’s best for the group. It means communicating effectively, making decisions, and working towards a common goal with a shared purpose and commitment.

Rowing Vs. Sales Of course, there are also some essential differences between rowing and sales. For one thing, sales is a much more dynamic and fast-paced environment than rowing.

Sales teams must be able to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and customer needs and must be able to make decisions and take action quickly and decisively.

At the same time, however, the lessons learned from the 1936 Olympic rowing team can be applied to any team environment, whether in sports or business.

By building trust and respect, working together towards a common goal, and overcoming individual differences to work as a cohesive unit, sales teams can achieve great success and surpass even the loftiest goals.

Alec Drake writes on revenue management and sales improvement strategies. He recently founded “The Radio Invigoration Project” (T.R.I.P.), a new LinkedIn group supporting local radio sales; email him at


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