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Army Crew Case Study

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Executive Summary – After Applying OB Analysis, Coach should switch Varsity & JVThe coaching staff reviewing this case determined a recommended course of action to, in only four days, prepare our Army Crew team to compete at the National competition. The problem as presented to us is that our Army Junior Varsity (JV) team, historically the second best performer of the two teams, frequently outperforms our prized Varsity team in heats.

The alternative solutions to address the problem ranged from:1-Switching the team rankings, promoting the Junior Varsity to Varsity and demoting the Varsity to second-ranked Junior Varsity status. This we believe is the safest and surest way to have a better performing team ready for the competition.

2-Changing individual crew team members in the boats. In this, the coach hoped to find a more ideal personality combination, resulting in better performance. We believe this is not a viable choice in the timeframe, given the JV team’s unwillingness to adjourn from their team and risk involved in trying to rebuild the team. We are skeptical the removed JV members would be able to unify the rest of the varsity team.

3-Trying an intervention with the Varsity team, hoping to enhance their performance by helping them become aware of the psychological differences. While we believe this is less risky than switching members, we do not believe it is reasonable to accomplish in the short time frame, and instead should focus our energy on preparing the JV team for the competition. Since ‘Coach P’, as an experienced ‘master’ level coach, has already tried to reach the varsity team on a mental level, and failed, we do not believe we can apply a similar method and achieve adequate results before the competition. We fear the damage has already been done-we should have analyzed our rower’s personal qualities, whether leaders or disrupters, early on in the team forming process.

Our staff’s recommendation is based on Tuckman’s model. The model requires developing the team throughout all five stages, including high congruence and cohesiveness to achieve maximum performance. We believe that given our situation, switching the JV and varsity teams gives us an immediate, practical solution without risking the cohesiveness of the shining JV squad.

Why do you think the problems are occurring with the varsity team?Despite our rigorous team selection process, once the season started, we began to see the JV consistently beat the varsity in practice. It is apparent that there is more to a successful crew team than stringing together the best individual performers. We can look to the field of organizational behavior (OB) to better understand why our varsity team is struggling and then to consider three options for how Army can be successful at National championships in four days.

The first concept to understand is team viability, that is, the team member’s satisfaction and willingness to contribute (Kreitner and Kinicki 344). Crew relies heavily on teamwork and requires the eight members of the boat to move synchronously in order to achieve maximum performance. Our coaching staff did not facilitate the kind of team building necessary for success: discussing team goals, establishing a sense of trust or leadership, and recognizing the potential for disruptive behavior and conflict. In short, we did not create an environment for effective group development as described by Bruce W. Tuckman. In the Tuckman model, teams go through five stages called “forming” (role clarification), “storming” (testing policies, assumptions, leadership), “norming” (agreement on roles and expectations), “performing” (cooperation and problem solving), and “adjourning” (completion) (Kreitner and Kinicki 310-311). We will refer to these group stages as we consider options.

As coaches, we can look back at the varsity and junior varsity and see their differing progression through the stages. While the varsity team is still storming and has yet to create norms or perform, the junior varsity team demonstrates clear communication and mature problem solving we associate with a team in the performing stage.

In hindsight, we should have taken time to help the varsity get to know one another, build friendships, and gain a vision of the overall goals and objectives of the team. After the first race we noticed that varsity appeared to be unhappy and critical of one another because they felt the margin of victory over junior varsity was not large enough. It then became our role as coaches to step back and provide the team with feedback and encouragement.

In addition to understanding the stages of team development, we need to understand the components of successful groups and teams. OB describes four significant factors: composition (how similar or different members are), size (the number of members), norms (the behaviors expected of each member) and cohesiveness (the level of commitment or ‘adhesiveness’ of each member to one another) (Kreitner and Kinicki 316-354).

The final idea to evaluate is congruence, or how well aligned team members are with the purpose. In crew, we think of this as swing-that perfect harmony of team members. High performance teams are characterized by high cohesion and high congruence (Moorehead, M1).

With this understanding of critical factors in successful groups and teams, we can consider three options to create a successful outcome at National championships.

Should we declare the JV boat to be the new varsity boat?This may seem like a radical idea because, as we discussed earlier, we know these are our eight lowest-rated individual performers. We should consider the components of successful groups and teams in order to evaluate this option. We can examine how the varsity and junior varsity boats compare on these determinants and assess which are, or are not, producing performance outcomes critical to success.

Composition. At a distance, the two teams would seem to be highly homogenous (similar) in physical terms. Though given the level of specialization of their skill, they are actually heterogeneous (dissimilar) because they were selected on individual physical measures. If composition were the critical factor, the varsity would be the higher performing boat.

Size. Both teams have an equal number of members; subsequently size is not a determinant.

Norms. This is where we are seeing marked differences between the two teams. The junior varsity has developed positive behaviors and a shared sense of responsibility. We see this in the lack of individual criticism and their shared accountability for success. The varsity team, of course, has developed negative, individual behaviors and an absence of shared accountability. The positive behaviors take time to develop as we know from the Tuckman model and we simply do not have the time to expect the varsity team to build these positive behaviors in four days. This is a significant factor in our alternative to switch the two teams.

Cohesiveness. This is where we see the greatest differences between the two teams. We see the strong cohesiveness of the JV boat in how they have recently handled team members who are moved up and sent down between the boats. Contrary to what we would expect, JV members would rather remain with their JV teammates than be promoted to the varsity boat.

These group characteristics also relate to another important dimension, congruence. A congruent crew team will “feel” for each teammate’s stroke, and trust that mistakes will be corrected as a team.

Today, the JV team is operating at high cohesiveness and high congruence. As a result, this team is producing a high level of group performance. The varsity team is operating at low cohesiveness and low congruence. They are not in “sync” with one another on the fundamentals of winning crew. As coaches, we would have to help the varsity go through two stages of cohesiveness/congruence in order to reach highest performance (Moorehead, M1). We would have to build a level of cohesiveness and congruence that is missing today. This will take more time than we have until championships.

Should we switch personnel back and forth between the boats?We must also consider attempting to switch team members to create a better combination. With only four days this may seem like an impractical solution to the problem. Our teams have been in place for an extensive amount of time and rowing is a complex sport based on timing and teamwork. This group may be too ineffective and fragmented at this stage for repair. However, it may be that splitting up the dysfunctional varsity team may be just what is needed.

If we were to replace some of the varsity team with JV members, one of the biggest challenges would be the small amount of time in which they would have to become a high performing team. In this situation, the newly mixed squad would have to jump from forming right to performing. While they could perform at a high level in the short term (i.e. for the next few practices), it is unknown if that performance would last.

Another hurdle is the fact that the squads do not want to be associated with one another. Trying to build a sense of cohesiveness in such a short time could prove extremely difficult. Trust is another characteristic of effective teams. [Kreitner and Kinicki 350] We can safely assume from the kind of relationship that the squads have with one another, that their propensity to trust members from the other squad is low.

Roles are considered one of the important elements of group behavior. Threats to group effectiveness include role overload, which happens when “others expectations exceed one’s ability” (Schein 198). When the varsity members finally expressed their frustrations, the recurring theme was “I’m the one who is carrying the boat.” We believe this was not the case or else we would have noticed and made appropriate changes. There appears to be a perception among some of the rowers that one individual is doing all the work. In fact the problem may be they are unsure of their abilities to perform at the expected high level. The solution may be to bring some of the JV members up, who have gained confidence and may be able to instill it in the other varsity members, eliminating role overload.

Should we figure out some novel approach to shake up the varsity group?The final option is to intervene in order to try to improve the performance of the varsity boat. To achieve this, we must identify the issues and create potential solutions to those issues while considering the time frame before Nationals. Let us focus our attention on the psychological dimensions of the varsity rowers-the element that the most experienced and successful coaches deem the most important variable to success.

OB tells us the primary distinction between a group and a team is mutual accountability, a psychological factor. A team is a small number of people who are committed to a common purpose for which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Moorehead, M1). If we review the emails from the varsity rowers as well as all the comments made at last night’s meeting, we can conclude that the varsity rowers lack mutual accountability. They also lack cohesiveness and are actually getting slower. They also largely demonstrate poor attitudes-especially during the mental training exercises. If we can help the Varsity group establish and develop behavior norms and cohesiveness among themselves, then we may still have a fighting chance.

In order to help varsity move from storming to norming to performing, we must first clearly explain to the members why they are failing as a team, so that each clearly understands the issues. Next, we must engage them in team and trust building exercises in an effort to begin building group cohesiveness and establishing behavior norms among the group. Once the group has transitioned into the norming stage, it can almost immediately transition into the performing stage. The greatest obstacle to our ability to move the varsity to performing is time.

Recommendation — Declare the JV Boat to be the New Varsity Boat.

After careful consideration, we recommend that the JV team be switched with varsity. The high-performing JV team gives us the best chance to succeed at Nationals. Based on the visual evidence of the performances by both teams, we know that simply stringing together the strongest individuals does not create a high performing and winning team. After assessing the components of successful groups and teams, it is clear that the JV team is well ahead of the varsity team in terms of trust, morale, mutual respect, absence of disrupters, positive conflict, synergy, and also having an overall positive team psychology. The JV team has progressed through the Tuckman model stages very smoothly over time and is performing at a level where they are experiencing “swing” in a consistent manner. This is also the only solution that does not require additional team building.

Time is a crucial factor. While it is possible that switching and trying out different combinations could yield results, getting the right combination and finding congruence within four days is unlikely and would be a huge risk to the existing teams. Another alternative would be to try to instill the JV team values, norms, cohesiveness, synergy and trust into the varsity team within the allotted time. Again, time becomes a detrimental factor for this option and the likelihood of success is quite low based on the evidence we have seen throughout the season.

We recommend that we promote the JV team to the varsity team, tap into the established high performing team psychology and spend the next four days fine-tuning their performance. This will set us up in the most optimal position to succeed at the championships. This approach worked for the Cornell Coach in the 1990’s. We already have the evidence that shows it will work for us.


Robert Kreitner and Angelo Kinicki. Organizational Behavior. Mcgraw-Hill Irwin, 2007. 310-311, 312, 315, 316-354, 344, 352Greg Moorhead. Organizational Behavior Blackboard, 2007. Module 1:4,14.

Shein, Organizational Psychology. 198.

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