I love team building companies because they are making offices everywhere better. Team building activities improve team communication, collaboration and loyalty. It’s awesome! But there is another type of organization that I admire even more; those that are mission based. That’s why today I’m super excited to introduce Community Rowing Inc., an organization that “changes lives and communities by providing access to the sport of rowing and its profound social benefits.”
I had the chance to interview Patrick Larcom, who is the Corporate Rowing Ambassador at Community Rowing. Patrick told me about the various team building activities Community Rowing offers, as well as more about their mission to build communities via rowing.
I’ve also included some research I did about Community Rowing, photos of their activities and some reviews from around the web. If you want more information about Community Rowing, check out their Team Building Page or Wikipedia.
Community Rowing Highlights
Before interviewing Patrick, I didn’t know very much about rowing as a sport. I kind of thought rowing was just something that super fit Olympians at Ivy League schools did. I was so wrong! It turns out that rowing is actually a very accessible sport and a perfect fit for your next company team building activity.
Here are some of the highlights for choosing Community Rowing for your next event:
- CRI is mission based, and provides an empowering, community based experience for groups including students, veterans and people with disabilities;
- that means when you book a company team building activity, you are contributing funds that help build strong people and strong communities in Boston;
- rowing is actually a very accessible sport, in Patrick’s words, “if you can stand and sit, then you can row”;
- rowing is a very team oriented sport, you move the boat by working together, and you literally MUST work together well if you expect to reach your goal;
- Community Rowing also has a beautiful boat house where you can have a reception, post-row workshop or other event;
- if you prefer to stay at the office for your next team building activity, Community Rowing can bring a set of rowing machines to your office for an all day “row-a-thon” where your team works to achieve a goal like “250,000 metres”;
- many corporate teams choose to do more than just a one-off activity, and become ongoing members of Community Rowing;
- rowing is a great, outdoor event that you can do with your team. You will get fresh air and exercise, which makes everyone feel good;
- it may be a new activity for your team! Many people have done scavenger hunts, trivia nights and workshops, but relatively few have done this kind of collaborative sport.
How to Find Community Rowing
Community Rowing is located on the Charles River at 20 Nonantum Rd, Brighton, MA 02135, USA. The drive to Community Rowing from downtown Boston is about 20 minutes, and there are a number of different routes so you can avoid traffic.
I also learned that Community Rowing is portable and can come to you! Community Rowing can bring 20+ rowing machines to your office anywhere in the Greater Boston Area for an indoor rowing marathon. An indoor team building event is perfect for cold, Boston winters and gives your team a chance to bond at work.
Team Building Activities at Community Rowing
Rowing is a natural fit for company team building because you literally must work together to achieve the goal. One person can’t carry the team, and if your employees aren’t in sync then their progress will be painfully slow.
At Community Rowing Inc., you have several options for your team building event, including:
- Outdoor Rowing: After a quick reception, a trainer will teach your team the basics of rowing together using indoor machines. Then, when your team is ready you will go out rowing on the river. Includes a competitive race to drive up the camaraderie!
- Indoor Rowing: If you prefer, Community Rowing can bring the rowing to your office. CRI will bring 20+ rowing machines to your offie for a Row-a-Thon, where your team works together to hit a miles target. If you like, you can incorporate charitable elements to your team building activity, e.g., “we will donate $1 for every 1,000 metres rowed today.”
- Indoor Workshops: Community Rowing has a beautiful, iconic building you can rent for your next reception, meeting or workshop. You can combine elements of the different team building activities by doing training, rowing and workshops.
Interview With Patrick Larcom, Corporate Rowing Ambassador at Community Rowing
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Michael: The first question I have for you is, tell me about Community Rowing. What is it as a business and who do you serve?Pat: So Community Rowing is a nonprofit and our mission is rowing for all. So our goal is essentially to get as many people out on the water and enjoying the sport of rowing as possible because we believe it can literally change the world through cooperation, positivity, working together, building relationships and yeah, also having that piece of health and fitness in mind.
And so our commission “rowing for all” serves 3 outreach programs that allow members of those programs to row for free. And so those 3 outreach programs are military rowing, so any active duty servicemen or women and veterans they can come row for free. I actually coach that program. So 2 or 3 times a week veterans come down to the boathouse on our rowing team, they get to row and compete and race and you know, big races around the area like Charles River.
And then our second outreach program is Para Rowing and that includes any rowers with disabilities. So it can be mental or physical and we essentially give them the opportunity to get on the water, learn to row, enjoy the sport and even compete.
And then our last outreach program, definitely not least, is our school-age rowing program is for Boston city school kids and it’s called Row Boston. So with Row Boston any school kid in the city of Boston can essentially come row for free, be part of a team and get assistance with study halls and tutoring, help them get into college and we have a 99% success rate with getting Row Boston athletes into college with that program.
So that’s Row Boston and all 3 of those outreach programs are completely free so any revenue that we bring into team building programs or our free-for-service programs goes towards supporting those outreach programs.
Michael: Got it. I love it. I’d love to unbundle that and to dig deeper into it. Can you tell me a little bit more about how the organization got started? It sounds like it was driven by the mission, not the business portion of it.
Pat: Definitely. So a big proponent of our organization was a longtime head coach Harry Parker at Harvard University and he was one of the first coaches on Charles River. And he had a belief as well as the best of our founders that it should be a sport that’s accessible to everyone, not just this elite sport that only elite universities and prep schools get to access but everyone should have a chance to get out on the water and enjoy the sport and participate.
So they are founders – and Harry Parker himself made a big push to create this organization and so that’s what they did. And for a long time it was just a community-based organization operating sort of fundraising and out of a nice hockey rink down the river and just building up some used equipment and you know, coaches. And you know, over the years we’ve been able to build it into essentially the world’s largest public access boathouse. This is our 31st year of operation and we serve about 5,000 to 6,000 members throughout the year. Any given week we sort of touch and reach 1,120 members in a week. And everything that we do essentially is mission-driven and goes toward that idea of rowing for all.
Michael: Awesome. Why rowing specifically?
Pat: We believe that rowing is sort of the ultimate team sport and essentially the ultimate sport; it was one of the first Olympic sports. And in order to row and row well you have to be in complete rhythm and harmony with 8 or 9 other people and it just sort of when you get it it’s this amazing flow of sort of passion and drive and effort all towards this one common goal to be in the boat and to move better, smoother, faster essentially when a race – overcome certain records or personal records or challenges that you sort of set to yourself.
Michael: Right. Now, you mentioned the 3 specific groups that you serve and it seems to me that none of those groups would necessarily have experienced rowing.
Michael: Is this sport accessible for beginners?
Pat: Yes. So rowing is super accessible for beginners if you know what you’re doing and that’s essentially what we’ve built our organization around and we have the tools and the skills and the resources to share rowing with anyone and everyone. You know, if you look at our outreach programs, our veterans’ program military rowing essentially serves active duty but mostly veterans who maybe disabled or have unseen wounds from their service. And their age range can go from anywhere from mid-20’s all the way up to like 60-70-80.
So it’s quite a range of participants. And we essentially get them all on a team working together, having sort of a team that they can count on and hold each other accountable just like they’re in a service. But it’s a great team because it’s full of well-rounded experienced rowers who maybe rowed for 3 or 4 years but we also bring in novice military rowers who have never touched or seen a boat in their life and they’re taking their very first strokes ever and so that’s why it’s kind of a fun unique team and opportunity. So that’s military rowing.
And the same sort of applies for our Row Boston program for the school kids. They could live in the city of Boston and go to school every day and they don’t even know that the river exists or that the sport exists and so this is to sort of broaden their horizons and open up their world to more opportunities which is really cool.
And then for Para Rowing, you know, being a disabled person it can be tough at times in our society and we believe that rowing can be very inclusive. We actually have a specific subset of our Para Rowing program that’s called Inclusion Rowing where we combine disabled athletes with able-bodied athletes to practice row and race. And so Top Health Plan is actually one of our partners and they partnered with us to promote Inclusion Rowing which allows university students or high school students with disabilities to essentially row on a normal team as if they were – as if any of their athlete or rower, as if their disability doesn’t even exist which is pretty cool.
Michael: Cool. Very, very cool. I can imagine another question a lot of people would have is about the physical endurance of the sport. When we watch the Olympics it’s about full of very fit men and women. Is there a prerequisite level of fitness required, how enduring is it?
Pat: So more specifically when we bring people in for team-building events, you know, different businesses, groups, corporations we like to say everyone can participate and if you can sit down and stand up out of a chair, have just a general level of activity, you can do this sport. The beauty about rowing is it’s low-impact so it’s great cross training and a good option for people with orthopedic or joint injuries. It’s full body so it’s a great way to sort of get fitter and build strength and endurance and get in better shape because it essentially works every muscle from your head to your toe. And then when coached and run well, like our team-building programs, we essentially hire and use world-class coaches that offer coaching and other programs in our boathouse and along the river.
We can essentially take a complete novice of you know, someone in our team-building programs and bring them up to speed within 2.5 hours. And most of our popular gold package team-building programs last 2.5 hours and within that 2.5 hour window we get them learning to row properly on the ergometer or the indoor rowing machine, we spend time talking about safety and getting in and out of the boat on the dock and then we spend a good 40 minutes, 45 minutes to an hour just learning to take strokes and learning to row on the water and building them up as a team so that by the end of that session they’re actually able to race their co-workers or counterparts in other boats in a little sort of friendly competition, a little mini regatta to end of the day. And that’s sort of what we do and what we’re all about and why we believe rowing is accessible to everyone and everyone should have a chance to row and at least try rowing.
Michael: Awesome. I’d love to talk more about the team-building activities specifically. So it sounds like when a group comes in the first and foremost is the training and getting everybody together, showing them the movements etc. and then you do actually get them in the boats to race. Could you go into a little bit more detail about kind of the prep, the training portion of that?
Pat: Definitely. So for our standard gold package that involves rowing in 8 person rowing shells. And we provide one coach per boat and an experienced coxswain that steers the boat and sort of is in the boat with the rowers and then we also occasionally provide volunteer rowers to help with the learning curve as well as keeping the boat more stable. If there are empty seats we will fill empty seats with volunteer rowers from our community. And so that’s what the gold package is all about. In order to prep people up to actually get in the boat go out and row we start with about a 15 to 20 minute introduction indoors on rowing machines. We have a large community room filled with about 70 rowing machines and that’s where the learning and sort of teamwork begins. We sort of set the stage with the goals to learning a completely new sport.
So there’s going to be a certain number of terms and movements that they need to be able to learn and then you also have to learn how to do that together with your team and move well as a unit. And so we set the stage in our community room with that and so take the rowing through the stroke. We teach them different parts of the stroke, rowing straight that is and then quiz them, challenge them and get them to row together as a group and as a team indoors first and then we take them down to the dock and essentially out on the water to repeat that process and sort of build on that initial learning that we do indoors.
Michael: Right. What point in your organization’s timeline did team-building become an offering?
Pat: So our current boathouse which is called the Harry Parker Boathouse is actually it’s won a prize in Boston for its architecture. It’s quite a unique boathouse that was opened in 2009 and it’s a two-story building. Bottom floor holds all of our boats as well as our sort of lobby and boat repair bay and then the second floor holds all of our event space including administrative offices, coaching offices, a classroom, different meeting rooms, a weight room and our large community room. And so when we opened the boathouse, our current Harry Parker Boathouse in 2009 the space you can see the boathouse from the Mass Pike highway and it’s become quite an icon in the city. And so that sort of brought companies to us initially and people were like “Oh, I saw your mission is rowing for all [inaudible 14:13] company out there.”
So we started doing essentially larger corporate team-building events right from the square 1. I actually started working here in 2011 and a couple of the groups that I worked with when I started were Louis Vuitton and WBUR, one of the public radio stations. And we essentially did large team-building events for them on the order of 10 to 13 boats, 100 to 120 people all learning to row within a couple of hours and we’ve built our offerings for team-building and business engagement from there to currently we have 4 different offerings.
Our basic team-building program which I’ve been describing and then we also have tailored specialty programs that include full day events where we review a 100 business case study on the army crew team as well as the Boys in the Boat book which is a bestseller. We essentially link the themes of the story from the Boys in the Boat to a team-building row. And then we can kind of tailor that from there we run essentially off-site meetings for companies and allow them to sort of meet with their groups and their teams and kind of get the business done but then also enjoy sort of rowing in a team-building event.
And then we also essentially kind of host company outings, private events, weddings, celebrations, just conferences in themselves with our space because we have – in the city of Boston it’s kind of unique to have good parking and the facilities are world-class so it kind of goes hand in hand. So we’re able to sort of bring in business from the Greater Boston area as well as from everyone that sort of in the city downtown, kind of [inaudible 16:27] downtown, the Financial District and Seaport and yeah.
Michael: What are some of the challenges that these companies are facing? That they’re saying okay, I need to do team-building and I’m going to look it up, they find you. What are the most common challenges?
Pat: With deciding to do team-building and finding a good team-building option or…?
Michael: So I’m very familiar with a lot of the reasons for team-building of course. There’s, you know, they want to improve team communication or dynamics or loyalty or get people aligned around their mission etc. I’m thinking which of those do you find to be most common with the companies, the clients that work with you?
Pat: Got you. Our most common is sort of a company outing whether it’s bringing regional or national or global managers or directors to sort of get on the same page and sort of build this camaraderie and this rapport with each other towards their company’s mission and by getting everyone in a boat and learning to row as a team and sort of working towards this completely new sport and developing this drive to work together towards a common goal other than what they’re typically focused on on a daily basis. It can be really powerful in kind of building those bonds that they need to work effectively and efficiently and at a high level. And that’s sort of our typical reason why we see companies choosing rowing.
Then it can be just they want to get out of the office and enjoy a beautiful river and a beautiful weather in the city of Boston. And essentially a company or a group of people that lies in Boston, you know, Boston is rowing, rowing is Boston, especially a sport that is unique and symbolic of Boston. So it’s kind of a fun thing and experience, a unique experience to do.
Michael: Awesome. Yeah. So a variety of reasons. You have the indoor offering, you have the space available for people to do workshops, meetings etc. But for the outdoor sport, is it seasonal? Is it limited by weather?
Pat: Yeah, so our team-building offerings that involve rowing in the water which is what we tend to focus on or sort of work towards, that is seasonal. Being in Boston we do have pretty severe winters. So our season is essentially end of April to basically end of October. So like April to October is our sort of on the water season. Our highest season, our prime time is the summer, June, July and August just because the weather is awesome and it’s a really great time to be out on the water and on the river.
However we do also as we work towards promoting and booking those team-building events during the summer months we also offer indoor, essentially our bronze package offering which is we can bring rowing to the company. We have a trailer that can hold up to 20 rowing machines and we’ve done events in downtown Boston, Cambridge Kendall Square where we bring 20 rowing machines to a company set up in a large conference room and do an all-day rowathon which incorporates team-building, fitness, health and well-being and gets essentially everyone from the company to row for 20 or 30 minutes throughout the day to see how many meters the company can row as one.
And so for instance we did one earlier this year with Top Health Plan. Another group was the Cambridge Innovation Center down the Kendall Square and throughout the day in 20-30 minute sessions we were able to serve about 70 employees and as a group they rowed a total of a quarter of a million meters, 250,000 or more meters. And that can be a great way to sort of beat the weather in the winter months here in Boston as well as linking that to a cause. A number of our events this summer and this year are also linked in corporate citizenship and so if you have a company that’s looking to give back to the community or get their employees to engage with their surrounding community we can set up volunteer opportunities here at the boathouse whether it’s a cleanup project or something that supports our outreach program like para rowing and fixing, pinning lines in the parking lot to help with access to the boathouse for para rowers in wheelchairs and blind rowers and things like that.
And we can link that to both our indoor programs that we do in the winter as well as our on the water summer programs, essentially involve – a typical way we would link our team-building programs with our average programs is we’ll include everyone. We’ll have our veterans come do the full-day rowathon indoors with the company or we’ll have our – including rowers, our para rowers come do it with the company and speak and kind share their story of why they’re in, why they love the sport they think it’s awesome. Yeah, and that sort of ties the full – ties a full circle of our mission and our organization.
Michael: Cool. I love that idea of bringing the rowing equipment to the offices or to the space. I think that’s really creative. That’s a solution that I hadn’t heard of before and if it fits so well with your mission of making rowing a community sport so accessible etc., that’s really interesting to me. And I also love the idea of how collaborative it is that they reach a target together by the end of the day and everybody participates in that. That’s so cool.
Michael: Is there a minimum or a maximum group size for rowing?
Pat: Being that our mission is rowing for all we like to say that we can handle any group size. It typically, the best small groups would be groups of say 8 to 16 to 24 people. That would be sort of on the smaller end. Then we also can handle full companies or full sections or groups of companies about 100 or 200 people.
Michael: Got it. Wow. Okay, so a couple more kind of technical questions before we wrap up. One would be, are there any common resistance points that companies have to book in a team-building event with you?
Pat: Resistance points might be the time of the year and weather. You know, if they’re flying in for a weekend and it happens to be towards the beginning or the end of the season and they’re not able to sort of have a rain day or rain date, that can be a challenge. But we like to solve that by offering them our most popular package for a reduced costs and we can always tailor it and switch to an indoor event if need be. We actually have a large tent that is at the west end of our boathouse year round that can hold 220 people. And so we’ll do catering and sort of meals and after event get togethers with groups out under the tent. And we can have that as an option as well as just sort of moving to more of an indoor team-building event if weather does become an issue.
Michael: Got it. Does rowing lend itself to some repeat visits? A company that visits this year and may visit next year as well…
Pat: Definitely. With all of our team-building offerings they kind of one lends to the next. A company may start with say the marketing group or the sales group will come out for a team-building row and they really enjoy themselves and love it and so they recommend it to their directors or their executives that “Hey, we should do our whole company outing and it’d be really cool to have everybody from the company out.” And so that could lead to a larger event where we get everyone from the company out and there’s a full day extravaganza, lunch and celebration in addition to rowing.
And then there’s also – we run a corporate rowing league so it’s called the Charles River Rowing League. And a company can put together a team of 8 people and they’ll essentially row one night a week for 6 weeks and at the end there’s a race and a barbecue when all the teams in the league compete for bragging rights and a trophy and some hardware. And so we typically have around 12 companies, 12 teams that participate in that each 6 week session. And so if a company comes and visits a team-building event and they’re local we can essentially recommend “hey, if you really love this and you enjoy rowing you might want to get a group together and come back and enjoy our corporate rowing league.”
And it goes both directions. They actually had a couple of our corporate rowing teams this year love the experience so much that they told their directors in the company and essentially they did an additional one day team-building annual off-site meeting or company outing with us.
Michael: Right. Awesome.
Pat: And so that can happen within the year but it also happens year to year.
Michael: Got it. So you do see those repeats, you see people joining different programs etc.
Pat: Yeah. Definitely.
Michael: As far as kind of similar team-building activities goes, I know that some teams will like at least for a short term put together a team for dragon boat racing or long boat racing and I assume that those people, those groups would be a very natural fit for this.
Michael: But are there any other kind of activities that would be a good match like if a team has done a scavenger hunt of Boston would they be a good fit to come rowing maybe more so than a group that’s done like cooking lessons together or something like this?
Pat: Got you. Yeah, I mean it definitely is sort of an active team-building event but being that our mission is rowing for all and anyone can do it, I would say we would not limit it. So I think anyone if they’re a group that typically does a cooking class or a paint night or wine tasting, they would still enjoy doing a team-building rowing event and we can always tailor it to the group and we’ve done rowing and beer tasting as an example.
So it’s more like an indoor rowing portion with beer tasting afterwards. But you know I would definitely say if it’s an active company who enjoys getting out and sort of challenging and moving and working together with one another and doing scavenger hunts or doing dragon boat racing they would be a natural fit for rowing, that would take it to the next level.
Michael: Got it. I think last question and then to wrap it up is how does pricing work? You mentioned like gold package, bronze package. I assume there’s a silver one in between.
Pat: Yeah. So we have 3 sort of basic packages, the bronze, silver and gold. And then we also have our specialty packages where we bring in other components like The Boys in the Boat book or an army crew team case study. And so for the bronze, silver and gold it essentially ranges from $95 to $185 per person. And so we base it per person. And we can tailor it depending on the company’s budget and what their interests are to kind of work with them to find a right fit.
Michael: Got it. Cool. So the range I believe you said $95 to about $180 per person.
Michael: Got it. And then it can be…
Pat: $95 to $185 per person, yeah.
Michael: Got it. Got it. Got it. And then it can be customized to the individual groups. I totally get that. Cool. Alright. So let’s wrap it up, thank you so much for the shot with me. I feel like I learned a ton not just about your organization and the cool mission but also rowing as a sport.
Michael: It does seem to be a lot more accessible than I knew. So thank you.
Pat: Yeah, you’re welcome. It was great to have this conversation.
Community Rowing Reviews
I’ve collected some reviews or Community Rowing so you can get more perspective on what their team building events are like. If you want to see more reviews, check out Community Rowing’s Facebook page, and Yelp.
Here is a Yelp Review about Community Rowing Inc.’s facilities and team:
This place is as good as it gets. Has to be the best in the country. Fantastic new facility with striking architecture and exceptionally well equipeed – Must be 50 erg machines, separate workout room, showers, meeting rooms, and the rowing with 4 docks to launch from on probably the best spot on the probably the most gorgeous river in the country – plus superb coaches and staff – all for a bargain price that you could not match in any sport facility with half the resources. You can row singles, pairs, quads, or sweeps (8 to a boat). Get your workout while the ducks, geese, corcorants, herons and turtles give you the once over. How can you beat that?
– Brooks, H. Yelp User
Here is a review I found on Facebook about how accessible Community Rowing is and with shout outs to individual coaches:
Community Rowing offers a very inclusive, broad-based rowing program with an amazing cast of coaches. You’ll be warmly greeted when you arrive, even if you haven’t been there before. I do Open Sculling with several outstanding coaches: Anna Harris, John Sisk, Michael Baker, Margot Shumway, and Rachel.
– Charlotte P., Facebook User
And this final review speaks for itself:
Great coaches, great team time. Do it! Test… You will LOVE it
– Richard, E., Facebook User