In 1989, Tracy Edwards put together the first ever all-women’s crew to enter the Round the World sailing race. After years of putting together their team, raising funding, and fixing up their boat, The Maiden, the Maiden team’s journey became one that would go down in history for its trailblazing, inspirational story. The team’s race was full of powerful lessons highlighting the power of team EQ.
The Trials. As a warm-up, just a month before the race in 1989, the Maiden team entered a short practice race. From the outset, Tracy (the captain) and Marie-Claude (the first mate) butted heads. Despite reporting to Tracy, Marie-Claude wielded her extra experience to make key decisions without Tracy’s approval. Their clashing boiled over when a crew member broke her wrist only to find that there was no medical kit on board. As they packed the boat before the race, Marie-Claude had gone behind Tracy’s back to instruct the medic not to bring the kit. Angry, Tracy lashed out at the medic who responded, “Quite frankly Tracy, we don’t know who’s in charge of this boat.” Without proper equipment to manage Jo’s injury, the Maiden crew dropped out of the race, and Tracy fired Marie-Claude. The team lost Marie-Claude, and they also lost all of her experience. It was too late to replace her before the big race, and the team was disheartened and anxious for what was to come next.
Team EQ Lesson #1: Speaking up is essential. When two members of a team clash, the whole team feels it. Emotions ran high when Jo broke her wrist, and because the crew was relatively new, they weren’t sure how to deal with the tension. The medic’s response to Tracy (that she isn’t sure who is in charge) was invaluable on behalf of a confused team. By speaking up, the medic shared a problem weighing on the whole team, and this was ultimately the moment that convinced Tracy to fire Marie-Claude. If the medic had been too afraid to speak up, the tense atmosphere may have never cleared. When a team’s emotions fluctuate, it’s a core tenant of team EQ that all members hold accountability for the team and speak up on behalf of the group. Otherwise, extreme dynamics and emotions may pass by or get brushed under the rug, until they come back later on and interfere with the team’s performance.
The First Leg. The team set off nervously on the first 6,000-mile leg from Southampton to Uruguay. They were already down two crew members from their trial run gone wrong, and the journalists, media, and other teams all forecasted, and even bet on, the Maiden crew’s failure. The crew blocked this outside noise and got to work. They assigned roles and split into two teams of five, taking turns on four-hour shifts to sail through the night. Various members, each playing to their strengths, filled in Marie-Claude’s previous responsibilities (like helming the boat). They got off to a slow start, but once the wind picked up, they didn’t just make it to Uruguay; they won the first leg. Then, they won the second leg too.
Team EQ Lesson #2: Team dynamic trumps experience. The team started the first leg nervous. Marie-Claude’s depth of experience made her a source of comfort despite her intensity and constant clashing with Tracy. What happened in the absence of the most seasoned sailor? Things went more smoothly than ever. The team’s internal relationship management became a strength instead of a weakness. Teams skilled at managing their emotions are able to develop a strong sense of trust so that people feel comfortable stepping up and playing to their strengths. Interviewed about the change from the trial to the first leg, the team commented:
- “All of a sudden, people who weren’t necessarily allowed to step up, stepped up, and were incredibly good.”
- “Team spirit was very good and became stronger and stronger.”
- “Our fear that we couldn’t get somebody that could helm the boat in terrible conditions was completely misfounded.”
The Finish: On May 28, 1990, at the end of the last leg, the crew realized that despite their early successes, they wouldn’t be able to win. The team was devastated initially, but as they approached the finish at Southampton, they spotted a dingy full of 12-year-old kids cheering. Then another boat. Then another. A parade of boats escorted the Maiden to their second-place finish. Though they didn’t win the race, thousands of inspired people boated out to celebrate them.
Lesson #3: Team EQ skills elevate teams beyond immediate results. In an interview, Tracy reflected back on the finish of the race saying, “By that time we didn’t need to talk to do any of the maneuvers we did. We thought each other’s thoughts before we were even doing them. I didn’t feel the need to speak. It was just closeness.” This degree of closeness shows a team high in emotion awareness (knowing each other’s emotions even in silence) and internal management (their roles and movements are smoothed out to the point that barely need to communicate). Another team member, Tanja, described the end of the journey saying, “That was a special thing. We respected each other. We trusted each other. There was never an argument.” This describes a team that worked hard to manage their emotions in order to respect each other’s feelings and build successful relationships over time. Respect and trust of this degree has to be built slowly over time and it has to include everyone.This team elevated itself beyond just a high performing team; they became an inspiration to people outside their team. When a team operates from a set of core values, and does so with a high degree of team emotional intelligence, they will continue to grow and succeed even when they fall short of their goals.
To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/.