Why You Want to Keep a Twinkie in Your Team Building Toolbox

A team that rows as one is a symphony of motion. A harmonizing of spirits. It’s magical. And it’s FAST!

Assembling such a team is challenging work. The coach repeatedly assigns each rower to different positions in the boat, rooting out their strengths. Rowers are moved, swapped, and replaced until a magic combination is found.

There’s an old story about a coach who just wasn’t finding that right combination. No matter how he swapped people and positions, the team failed to gel. Nothing worked. Frustrated and exhausted, he pulled his boat up to the team, intending to change them up yet again, but instead, he just stared at them. He was out of ideas. What hadn’t he tried? After an agonizing minute or two, an idea formed. He reached into his lunch bag and pulled out a Twinkie. The rowers stared at the Twinkie, confused. He then called a rower out of the boat and replaced him with the Twinkie. The rowers laughed, but the coach was dead serious. He sent them out to row with the Twinkie. One by one each rower took a turn sitting out, replaced by the Twinkie. A pattern emerged. Certain rowers were consistently outperformed by the Twinkie.

I think about this story most when I’m hiring, managing, and coaching. I find out how much each person, including myself, is helping vs. hurting the team as a whole. Would the team perform better if the person were replaced with a Twinkie?

A team can become something far beyond the sum of its parts when everyone outperforms the Twinkie.


Image by Nicki Dugan Pogue

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