We’ve all heard John Maxwell’s now infamous phrase, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’. In just five words, it tells you everything you need to know: work together, and you will achieve together. What if we put this to the test? On its head, Maxwell’s ethos tells us that failure is inevitable when you fail to work as a team. On 7 July 2022, we tested this hypothesis, all in the name of charity, in the Hospice UK Dragon Boat Race.

Hospice UK are our 2022 Charity of the Year. Throughout the year, we will be raising money to support their operations and, with one in four people who are at the end of life currently going without the care they need and deserve, it’s more important than ever. To find out more about the meaningful work they do, head over to the Hospice UK website.

The dream we wanted to make work

In a bid to raise £2,000 in donations, we donned our buoyancy vests, grabbed our oars and headed for the quay. We had recruited a team of eleven Ruder Finn employees with two important things in common:

  1. the bravery to try something new, a key Ruder Finn value; and
  2. the desire to win

So, there’s your dream – the sweet (if not slightly tainted by the salty splash of quay water) taste of victory. Now was our chance to put Maxwell’s hypothesis to the test.

Round 1: The test begins

As we were called to the water for our first race of three heats, we were feeling quietly confident. We’d been briefed on technique, we’d spent a maximum of five minutes practicing individually on land, and we were each in our own ‘zones’.

I will spare you the pain of reliving our failure with me. It both lasted an eternity and was over in a flash. Any on-shore spectator will confirm that we took to the water with the multi-limbed coordination of an ice-skating octopus. They saw oars lurching in different directions and were met with a mistimed canon of ‘1-2’, with even the occasional ‘3’ slipping out.

It was clumsy. It was detached. It was certainly not teamwork.

Teamwork: The independent variable

While we were, of course, feeling defeated, we still had another two races to go. This time, in addition to our shared desire to win, we were motivated by our failure. We would do anything to rid ourselves of the sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs, and to avoid literally sinking the boat!

We came together and decided what needed to change: teamwork. In our new strategy, we agreed to listen to our leader, or in the case of a Dragon Boat Race, our drummer, and we would make sure we were always in time with the person in front of us.

This time, we took to the water like a well-oiled machine. Everyone had a part to play, and everyone played their part with gusto. Forget ice-skating octopi; we were comparable to a centipede, with many limbs moving as one.

We soared into first place, shaving seconds off our time.

The findings

While we were delighted to have improved as a collective, it wasn’t quite enough to pip the top spot. We walked away with a respectable fourth place, exhausted arms, and a valuable lesson in teamwork. So, next time you question it, take it from me: teamwork really does make the dream work.

As our 2022 Charity of the Year, we will continue to support Hospice UK. If you’d like to donate, head to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ruderfinnuk.

We’re a collaborative and creative blend of problem-solvers, storytellers, and designers always on the lookout for talented individuals to join Ruder Finn. Get in touch at [email protected] and tell us what you’d bring to the team.