WOLF — The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be starting in just a few months. I imagine you are already experiencing that Olympics fever.
SCHWARZROCK — The Olympic Games set the rhythm for everything we do. In fact, they are the be-all and end-all. Our preparations span a period of four years, and we tend to train even more intensively in the run-up to the Games. Having said that, it’s important to remember that rowing is an amateur sport. In the first two years of the Olympiad, our athletes should be concentrating more on their education or career preparation. We think that’s very important.
WOLF — What I find fascinating about rowing is the tremendous coordination of the athletes. I think it’s amazing to see every single movement in an eight happening at precisely the same time. Presumably more than anything else, that’s all about training together.
SCHWARZROCK — Rowing is a team sport. Having said that, to make the team, you have to show your individual strengths, too. Everyone has to demonstrate their skills first of all in a single or a pair. The fastest and the strongest are selected for a boat, and from then on they train together.
WOLF — As a manager, I find time and time again that the biggest challenge is to take a number of high-performing individuals and form them into a team that can work together unconditionally. I imagine that it’s the same in your case...
SCHWARZROCK — Absolutely, and the bigger the team, the harder it is to do that. Take an eight, for example. Including the cox, that makes nine people, so team- building is really important. You have to work out which members of the team have which strengths and weaknesses, and that helps you to determine their position in the boat. If someone rows really well in a single, but isn’t really suited as a team player, there is of course still the single scull event (laughs). Sometimes it makes more sense to select a slightly weaker rower for the eight if that person fits perfectly into the team as a whole.
WOLF — It’s a similar situation in our company, especially in development teams that are working in ground-breaking areas such as lightweight construction or low-emission drive systems. These are very complex technologies for which you need the expertise of several people. While it’s true that we have individual top performers who are capable of tremendous things on their own, we can’t afford to have too many “single scullers.”
SCHWARZROCK — When you are talking about absolute top performance, the team has to work as one. There can’t be any question of emotions or power structures. Everyone has to be completely focused. Everything has to be subordinated to the goal.
WOLF — What happens if a mistake occurs even then?
SCHWARZROCK — That’s when you find out how good a team really is. Remember the World Championship final in 2011? Our quad was in the lead, and I already had my hands up in the air when one of our rowers “caught a crab” just before the finishing line. That’s what we call it when the blade of the oar digs in too deep into the water. So we ended up in second place. In spite of that disappointment, everyone took the view that “we win together and we lose together.” That approach helped to strengthen the team, and the following year we came away with a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
WOLF — For me, learning from disappointment and trying again is a prerequisite for success, in sports just as much as in business.