Setting the Boat for World-class Coaching and Teamwork

Our Full-time MBA Fritzky Leadership Fellows came together on a cloudy September day in Seattle to row on Lake Union, most having never stepped foot in a shell. Nerves were rattled and stakes were high as a simple mishap of timing and calibration could result in a dislodged boat and team members in the water.

In just a few hours, these MBAs would go from a mostly novice group to a highly calibrated team. This transformative experience is a longstanding tradition that serves as the foundation for teamwork and leadership development in the Fritzky Fellows class.

The opportunity to learn how to row in a boat of 8 provided a great analogy and foundation for understanding the important baselines of being a supportive coach. By setting the boat, we as a cohort could establish our norms, provide a baseline to the teams we will be supporting, and practice before we preach. As a newbie to rowing, the opportunity to move in a boat of 8 was unique and a great way to get the chance to truly feel what it is like to do all the parts of setting up a team. – Liz Daly, MBA Student, Class of 2022

Fritzky Leadership Fellows are second-year, Full-time MBA students who actively coach first-year MBA students in their teams. A group of fifteen students are selected at the end of the first year and receive specialized training and tools before supporting the first-year MBA teams. The rowing exercise is the main feature of their preparation along with a week’s worth of training on effective coaching and leadership development to kick-off the start of the year.

“I can’t think of a better activity than learning to row. Teams go from novice to a “day” expert in a matter of hours, and success hinges on complete participation of each member,” adds Bruce Avolio, Executive Director, Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking. “Together we strive to positively influence each student’s full potential, while ultimately working toward building an even stronger culture for leadership development throughout the Foster School.”

Having never rowed on an actual crew boat before, I was very excited to spend some time on the water and experience something new with the other Fritzky Fellows. There’s just something about working toward a common goal (like not falling in the water) that brings such a sense of community and bonding among one another. I think I can safely speak for most of the Fellows when I say that our rowing activity was the highlight of our LEAD Week, and we successfully did NOT fall in the water! – Marcella Desloge, MBA Student, Class of 2022

As in the real world, this accelerated teambuilding experience starts with level-setting expectations and creating trust in teammates. From practicing foundational form, coordination, and skills on the erg machine to learning to “set the boat,” teams calibrate with the guidance of the leader (the coxswain) and teammates in real-time.

“Our students have the benefit of the world-class guidance of Bruce Avolio, the #1 most cited living Leadership scholar, and his team in the CLST, including Kaeleen Drummey, his co-instructor, who have together created an immersive teambuilding experiential experience for the Fellows. This best-in-class learning-by-doing program connects the Fellows to concepts, application, and each other to elevate their effectiveness as coaches,” says Wendy Guild, Assistant Dean of MBA Programs.

Rowing with the Fritzky crew was incredible. Who knew that spending the morning out on the water would really help us come together as a team and level up our leadership skills? Well, clearly the Fritzky program knew it. In all seriousness, it is rare to have an experience that successfully accelerates team bonding, creates genuine and tangible metaphors for leadership, and is, quite simply, fun. I couldn’t imagine a better activity to help us “set the boat” for this upcoming year, especially as the Fellows are trying to help create balance in this year of ongoing change and bring our community together after spending our first year remote, behind computer screens. – Emily Mathison, MBA Student, Class of 2022

Current class | Leadership Fellows | Fritzky Leadership Fellows
Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking