7 Leadership and Teambuiding Lessons while Tandem Kayaking

Shelley SmithBlog

My friend and I recently when kayaking while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. So much fun and soooo many leadership lessons and team building fun while doing so. I highly recommend as a team activity if you are looking for something to do.

We set out to break the speed record (going for Olympic gold) between our allowed bowie to bowie space. We won by the way – took home the gold with ease. While we were walking back to the pool, we talked about how much fun that was AND all the leadership and team building lessons we took away. Both of us and I do mean both of us are VERY strong wheeled and highly independent people in life and certainly as leaders. But that didn’t even cross our minds as we were so focused on winning the gold. We both fell into place, in our roles, in our kayak to achieve our goal.

In case you didn’t know – tandem kayaking, where two people paddle together in a single kayak. Here are seven valuable leadership and team building lessons and our key takeaways:

1. Communication:

 Effective communication is crucial in tandem kayaking. Both paddlers must communicate clearly and continuously to synchronize their movements and maintain balance. This teaches the importance of open and transparent communication in leadership and teamwork, where sharing information, goals, and challenges is vital for success.

2. Trust:

 Tandem kayaking relies heavily on trust between the paddlers. Each person must trust that their partner is paddling in sync, making the right decisions, and maintaining stability. Similarly, in leadership and team building, trust is essential. Leaders must trust their team members to perform their tasks competently, while team members must trust their leader’s guidance and decisions.

3. Collaboration:

 Tandem kayaking requires collaboration and coordination. Paddlers need to work together, adjusting their strokes and timing to propel the kayak forward smoothly. This highlights the importance of collaboration in leadership and team building, where individuals with different skills and perspectives must work together towards a common goal, leveraging each other’s strengths.

4. Adaptability:

 Tandem kayaking often involves navigating varying water conditions and obstacles. Paddlers must adapt their paddling techniques, adjust to changes, and remain flexible. This teaches leaders and team members the value of adaptability, being open to change, and adjusting strategies when faced with unexpected challenges.

5. Shared Goals:

 In tandem kayaking, both paddlers share the goal of reaching their destination safely and efficiently. This reinforces the significance of establishing and aligning shared goals in leadership and team building. When everyone understands the overarching objectives and works towards them collectively, it enhances motivation, cooperation, and overall performance.

6. Patience and Empathy:

 Tandem kayaking may require patience and empathy. Each paddler may have different skills, experiences, or physical abilities, and accommodating these differences can contribute to a successful journey. Similarly, in leadership and team building, leaders should be patient and understanding, recognizing, and valuing the unique qualities and contributions of each team member.

7. Leadership and Followership:

 Tandem kayaking provides opportunities for both leaders and followers to emerge. At times, one paddler may take charge and provide direction, while the other follows. Switching roles can promote leadership development and followership skills, emphasizing the importance of shared leadership and the ability to lead and support as needed.


By reflecting on these lessons from tandem kayaking, individuals can apply them to leadership and team building scenarios, fostering better communication, collaboration, trust, adaptability, and goal-oriented approaches within their teams or organizations.

My friend and I hope you take these lessons to heart as well in your day-to-day activities on the job. Each one of these lessons can make or break a team and certainly your workplace culture.

For more about leadership development, workplace culture, culture curating – hit me up. My team and I create lots of Olympic Gold moments for companies on the daily too. Come get your GOLD.