Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds for improving education and literacy in Africa.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

2012 Dragon Boat Race - An opportunity for team building

We were in the final 3 in the 2012 Dragon Boat Race (Columbus Ohio). Unfortunately it was the final 3 from the bottom. But at least we beat the Mayor's team by 4/10 of a second. Overall it was great fun. Here are some pictures from the Boat Race.

Originally, when we registered, we were 25. The team needed 21 core members and 4 as alternates (substitutes). We were at full capacity with 25. As the day approached, people started realizing that it was a long weekend and they had better things to do on the 2 practice days and the race day. Nothing against them. They did have other priorities and emergencies that they had not realized earlier. There were a few who had some medical reasons too. Just like on any project, when the team is formed, all of us are ready to jump in. And in a few days, all of us have other priorities, days off, medical days and other commitments that we had not thought of earlier.
I was the team captain so I tried to keep the roster updated. Then there was one gentleman who had thought he registered and should have been in the core team but I was not aware of this. Just like on real projects where someone gets some commitment from someone on the team but that commitment is not communicated to the right person on the team. So, I then decide to hold a meeting with the full team for 30 mins so I could get everyone on the same page. Not surprising, a few of them were asking me the same questions on the logistics of the practice sessions even though I had sent at least two emails to the full team. Just like on projects where we communicate all details over email and still we end up with someone who has not read the email or has no clue about the communications.
Any way, come practice day and we are short of 4 people. In all we had 17 for the first practice day. And the best part, not everyone knew everyone else on the team. There was no one on the team who knew more than 3 others on the team. So, naturally everyone was 'scoping out' everyone else. Just like on a new project, trying to work with the new members on our project team.
The stearsman was from GWN and he was our instructor trying to explain us the best practices of rowing, positioning, counting, embarking and disembarking the boat, etc. Half of the team members were just more interested in checking out the new environment and getting comfortable. Just like on a new project, everyone wants to first be comfortable with their own role, and then listen to the project objectives etc. Even though the stearsman explained the correct style, people wanted to row with their own style and what made them more comfortable. Just like on projects each person wants to do their work in their own way without consideration of how that work is linked to someone elses work.
Then finally the stearsman explained the importance of the drummer counting the numbers loudly and everyone rowing in sync to the counting. Seemed like everyone got it. Just like in a project kick-off meeting, everyone gets it. But very soon many of the people rowing also started counting with the drummer instead of concentrating on doing their own job which was to row in sync with the person in front. Exactly like on projects where we think others don't know what they are doing and instead of focussing on our own work, we try to do someone elses work thereby impacting our own work and efficiency. Very soon, everyone was out of sync since there were many people counting and as such the oars started hitting each other. Just like on projects, we are busy doing our work without considering the dependency of what we are doing and how it impacts others down the stream. We did not have the drums to help in getting sync. The drums were to be made available to us only during the race day. So we had to improvise with either shouting the numbers or waving the hands (drummer). Just like on projects, the real production environment is not available until the day the system goes live. So we have to improvise and test as much as possible in the test environments.
Second day. Many of the team members understand that being in sync is important. So, on the second day we do much better than the first day. There was a time when we did a trial run. We went to the start point and the stearsman commanded "Hold the boat". Meaning just put your oars in water and stop rowing so the boat is steady at the start line. But we still had a couple people not paying attention and busy trying to row. The stearsman then shouted really loud and still it did not make a difference until some other team members nudged these people to stop. Exactly like on a project. Sometimes people do not pay any attention and keep doing what they want to do and others have to nudge them.
Come race day, race one. We are short of two people. Having never been in a Dragon Boat, the team did pretty good. But so did the other teams since no one had done this thing before. Then we had a break of about 2 hours. I asked everyone to be on time for the start of the second race. Time for second race and we have a few people missing. We start calling people on their cell phones. We track everyone except one. Finally we had to start the second race with yet one more person short. Just like on projects. You just cannot get everyone at the time you want them to be there. This meant that there were 7 people on one side and 8 on the other. That made the boat a bit unstable. We managed with what we had and finished the second race.
What we learned: Though it was rather late in the process, we all did realize that every member of the team wheather it was the drummer, stearsman or the people rowing, each had a very specific task that they needed to execute. This task was to be done not stand-alone but along with other tasks that other team members were doing and were dependent on. If you screwed up, it would impact others on your team causing chaos and confusion resulting in a failure to reach our goal. There is one captain and that everyone has to listen to the captain. There cannot be "too many chiefs and not enough Indians". Exactly like on a project. Every person has a specific role to play. Others are depending on you to play your role to the best of your ability. And you are depending on others to play their role. If you try doing someone elses role you cause more chaos and confusion. Your success on the project depends on everyone elses success. YOU WIN ONLY IF THE TEAM WINS. So, if you want to win, help your team to win by fulfilling your own role on the team.

We were there to participate and have fun. Our participation in the race was to show our commitment and support for the 2012 Asian Festival and Dragon Boat Race. For me personally, I had to come to terms and accept to live with imperfections where it did not matter ;-) Looking at the bigger picture, I did learn many lessons from this event. I met many people from my own company that I had not met before and I am looking forward to next year to work with them once again and do better the next time.