AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA (Executive) students were asked this question during a leadership exercise in their first Executive Agenda Year (EAY) residential program at the North Shore Rowing Club. The teamwork exercise required them to complete a round-robin of tasks. One involved eight people rowing a boat and maintaining its balance.

Participants quickly established that they needed to collaborate to get the best result. This may seem straightforward; however, groups were made up of individuals who are used to making decisions and leading teams every day. They had to accept that their voice was not the only one and that someone else may have the right answer, one they hadn't thought of. 

"They need to manage their own focus and technique while collaborating with others," says Rose Trevelyan, AGSM facilitator and designer of MBA and Executive Education programs.   "When all eight people in the boat row in synchronisation it is a great feeling."

AGSM MBA (Executive) students attend four residential workshops, where they put their theoretical learning into practice, applying frameworks to real-world situations. Each workshop is designed to focus on a core element of the MBA teaching, including strategic leadership, innovation, growth and transformation. Each workshop builds on the skills of the previous one.

The North Shore Rowing Club excursion focuses on strategic leadership. It addresses the personal and professional challenges participants face in modern organisations to help them develop skills that enhance their prospects for long-term success.

"Rowing is a fantastic illustration of strategic leadership. Students have to work out how to row themselves, while also contributing to the collective effort of the crew by balancing the boat. Supporting each other as they learn at different speeds, and giving each other feedback," Rose says.

"Our strategic leadership workshop focuses on developing an enterprise mindset, balancing individual work with the needs of the broader organisation. It helps participants use the frameworks taught throughout the MBA to develop intrinsic learning and reflective practices. They are taught to think about their leadership mentality, to incorporate diverse thinking and problem-solving until it becomes a habit," she explained.

AGSM and the North Shore Rowing Club have collaborated for the past six years in running more than 45 leadership experiences. They engage AGSM participants in what is for them an unnatural environment. They must tap into their leadership skills, which teaches them to be resourceful when managing uncertainty. The activity is also enjoyable — they learn to row while immersing themselves in a task that requires them to work as a team or risk capsizing in freezing water.

Students agree. "Love this! A true reminder that teams exist on all fronts of the organisation. The effort and execution by the rowing club staff was outstanding," says one student.

So, where would you rather be: in a championship boat or in a boat full of champions?

In the former, you would be part of a harmonious team in which everyone is clear about what needs to be achieved and works together to reach the goal. In the latter, you would be with a group of leaders all going in different directions. The choice should be easy.

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