The entire office went river rafting last week. Eight to a raft, eleven rafts in all. I barely knew the people on my raft, had worked with none of them. With a five minute orientation, and the minimum of practice, we were off. None of us had rowed before, only I knew how to swim. But we had our life jackets and helmets, and we had an instructor who had been taking teams as inexperienced as ours down rivers for almost a decade. We were in safe hands.
The river was beautiful, the banks oozed tranquility, and the occasional waves that threw the raft about gave us thrills. We were loving the experience. But paddling? That was a different issue altogether. Though all of us put our heart and soul into paddling, we were all paddling at different speeds, and kept hitting each other with the paddles. Often, our strokes were perfect, but we were doing it outside the water. We tried matching our strokes, but to no avail. I was pretty sure the raft was moving forward despite our effort, not because of it.
And then, just before we approached the first stretch of grade 3 rapids, a large wave shook the raft and knocked one of us over. He was carried away faster than the boat was moving. The instructor yelled out commands, and we obeyed. Our strokes were synchronised, we were rowing in rhythm. Even before we needed to let our collective breath out, we had reached him, and managed to pull him aboard.
After the incident, we continued to row as a team. It was as if we needed a team member to go overboard before we could become a team. Maybe that is what teamwork is all about.