Atlantalytics: Teamwork Through The Tides

A typical view from the moorings after a day of competing

Most students spend their spring break relaxing at the beach and staying as far away from work as possible. While that sounds nice, it is nowhere near as rewarding as going a little deeper into the ocean and competing against fellow classmates in a week-long sailing competition.


At Emory, GALA is part class and part extra-curricular opportunity that provides students with a once-in- a-lifetime leadership experience. The course begins at the start of the semester with a mix of seminars, guest speakers, and tailored coaching designed to develop MBA students into thoughtful leaders. The program builds on Goizueta’s leadership curriculum, which focuses on creating principled leaders through academics, experiences, and reflection. GALA comprises all three pillars and strives to have each student assess and enhance their leadership abilities over the course of 10 weeks.

What takes the program to the next level is the capstone experience where students get a chance sail in the British Virgin Islands during spring break, competing against other boats in daily challenges. While classes are great, experiences are much better and make the learnings “real”. GALA pushes students to step in to a new, uncomfortable challenge as nearly everyone lacks sailing experience. The course ensures that students are strong communicators and put their newly-developed problem-solving skills into practice in an intense and high stress, yet relatively low stakes environment.

Team Knot Really Shore – Jeyson, Teri (Faculty Coach), Allegra, Jasmine, Kegan, and Chris (L to R)


This semester, we had 21 students distributed across 4 boats. Each boat had 5-6 randomly assigned students, an Emory faculty/staff facilitator to observe and conduct after-action reviews (AARs), and a sailing instructor to make sure we didn’t run in to anything (or anyone). Spending 7 straight days (minus one onshore dinner) on an 800 square foot vessel gives you a pretty good opportunity to get to know one another. Each day, we were assigned a role – Captain, Pilot, Performance Analyst, Navigator, or Safety Officer – with unique responsibilities. Each student had the opportunity to serve in each role as positions rotated each day at 6 PM. Our sleeping quarters were the two aft (back of the boat) cabins that were maybe 35 square feet, along with the dining area which converts to a “pull-out” bed. Funny enough, water is a scarce resource when you’re out on the water. As a result, we had to conserve water, which could mean washing dishes in the ocean and minute-long showers.

Rough Daily Schedule

While I’m not able to divulge the details of the challenges, I can describe a typical day at sea:

  • 7:00AM – Wake up, make breakfast, pre-prepare lunch, chalk talk, last minute plan tweaks
  • 8:00AM – Pull up anchor, safety checks, depart for challenge
  • 9:00AM – Start challenge
  • 3:00PM – Complete challenge, head to anchorage
  • 3:30PM – Anchor, complete after-action review with team
  • 4:30PM – Hang out around the ship (potentially in the water)
  • 5:00PM – Receive challenge instructions for the next day, start planning
  • 6:00PM – Rotate roles, start cooking dinner
  • 7:30PM – More planning for the challenge
  • 9:00PM – Free time
  • 11:00PM – Bedtime

Like I mentioned, I cannot go into the details of a challenge to keep the content new and exciting for future GALA fellows, but I can talk about an obvious event – A straight up boat race.

A live-action shot of a mid-race Jibe

Towards the end of the competition, all four boats were given 3 things: A start time, a start line (coordinates, of course), and a finish line. To start, the captain (Jaz) and Navigator (Allegra) met to discuss the objective and plot out a strategy. After an initial discussion, the performance analyst (Kegan) joined the team to talk about how the wind direction, wind speed, current direction, and current speed will affect the trajectory. This is based on the data the team collected over the course of the week and, specifically, the last few hours. Since you can’t sail straight into the wind, sailing courses tend to be full of zigs and zags.

With a course in mind, Jeyson and Chris joined the team to debrief the objective and strategy, culminating in a team consensus on the plan of attack. Still before the race has begun, we tried to plot out our “pre-starting point.” In a sailing race, you cannot cross the start line ahead of the start time. That said, you also want to be crossing the start line with plenty of speed to give yourself an advantage. It is nearly impossible to keep a boat perfectly still, so managing your position at start time is a delicate balance.

After we turned this race into a typical business exercise by having meetings about meetings and developing decision gates, we were ready to execute on our plan. About fifteen minutes before the start time, we looked across the channel and see that the three other boats were on the exact opposite side of the channel. Their location was closer to the finish line. Our plan was developed on what we thought was the best angle for our boat, given the direction of the finish line and what we knew about the conditions. We started to re-calculate some items of our plan to ensure we weren’t missing something; we knew that we only had seconds before our window to get to their location before the start time closed. After a quick debrief, we decided to stick with our plan and head to our “pre-starting point”, where we were aiming to be five minutes before start time.

We unfurled the sheets (aka sails), got in our positions, and headed toward the start line. As always, we were nervous about passing the start line early, so one person would constantly yell out our current coordinates, another would yell out our current speed, and a third would quickly calculate if we needed to slow down or if we had the opportunity to speed up. Luckily, our constant adjustments paid off and resulted in a perfect start, passing the start line just a few seconds after the start time. After about ten minutes of “catching up” to the other boats, they were all forced to adjust course. At that point, we knew we had the race secured. We continued on our predetermined path and beat the other boats easily, which goes to show the importance of preparation and following your own path. This race win cemented our spot as the winning boat, even though there were still more challenges to go.

And all of that was just a few hours out of an entire week of sailing and competing. A major shout out to team Knot Reely Shore aka GALA 2022 Champs – Allegra, Chris, Jasmine, Jeyson, Teri (facilitator), and Andy (instructor). Thank you for an incredible experience!

Reflecting on my incredible experience, I had a few realizations that I believe would be helpful to share:

Team Knot Reely Shore after winning the Emory Flag (1st place prize for a competition)


You can have well-thought-out structures and strong business (or in this case, sailing) acumen, but team chemistry and trust are what really creates a high performing team. Our team, Knot Reely Shore (an indecisive group who enjoys puns), came into the sailing portion of GALA feeling as if we were the underdogs due to some poor performance in the pre-sailing competitions. While we’ve continually been taught about team dynamics being a major factor for well-functioning teams, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the team with the most skills, experience, or athleticism will end up having the best results. Luckily, our mindset changed once we were on the water. We won the first two challenges and quickly realized that we were no longer the underdogs. In fact, we actually had an advantage – our team culture and working style.

I cannot pinpoint one exact moment where we came together as a team, but I believe there were two crucial things we did to establish trust. First, we got to know each other – ­and this included being very vulnerable with each other. Before creating our team charter, we decided that we would each spend about 10 minutes discussing who we are, where we come from, our personal mission statements, and what we’ve experienced and overcome that has shaped who we are today. I considered myself to be reserved, so I really enjoyed this. I felt like I had a newfound appreciation for my team members and that they now better understood me. We also acknowledged each other’s boundaries, whether it be language, competencies, or social preferences. After this session, we went to dinner together to get to know each other on more of a social level. This strengthened our bond and gave us a feel for how we’d operate on the boat. The second thing we did was set expectations and a tone from the very start. We were hoping to win every event, but knew that priority number one was maximizing learning opportunities and having a good time. From the start, we played lots of music, had both fun and deep conversations, and always brought our authentic selves to every interaction, something I feel I don’t always do.

The entire GALA student crew


I’m stealing this from General Ken Keen, Associate Dean for Leadership at GBS. Still, this rang truer than ever on this trip. Yes, the team did extremely well and our learnings were primarily focused on chemistry given our minimal conflicts. In the end, the most valuable part of the trip for me was our individual takeaways and the feedback we gave each other. After the last competition, we each spent 10-15 minutes providing candid feedback on the other members of our team and discussed where everyone could improve going forward as both captains and as crewmates. Because we had built so much trust with each other, we were candid about our weakness and areas of improvement, ranging from communication style to decision-making to charting skills. We also highlighted positive areas where each of us excelled as a leader and as a team member.

Personally, my feedback focused on the areas of self-confidence, emotional intelligence, and dealing with ambiguity. These themes have been part of my daily life and other leadership experiences, so I was not too surprised. However, the way in which they appeared on the seas slightly varied from “typical life”. For example, I consider myself to be a caring person, but there were times on the boat where I didn’t even realize other team members were struggling or uncomfortable, so I did not think to check on them. You can make a stronger, more collaborative environment by recognizing that everyone processes things differently and making an effort to better understand teammates and putting yourself in their shoes.

The view from the back of the boat during a team After Action Review


Overall, our team’s great experience was driven by great people who held each other accountable and stepped into other positions and roles as needed. While we had given roles each day, everyone always did a bit of everything, and nobody overstepped their bounds. We were able to utilize our individual strengths, but still make time work on our weaknesses. For example, delegating is something I have struggled with in the past. When I was captain, I tried to make sure I did as little work as possible, instead empowering my crewmates to take on new tasks. But what really helped us gel and learn from this experience was that we each led with authority, but not authoritatively. We all agreed on our team approach: we gave everyone a voice in decisions and understood where we wanted to work over the course of the week, which helped establish buy-in. We all had different working styles, preferences, and skills, but we came together to do everything well – from sailing to cooking to playing the best music. While we had plenty of success on the trip, I learned that growing as a leader and a teammate is a continuous journey; it requires working on yourself and devoting the time to understand how to work with others.

Kegan is an MBA student at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, where he is concentrating in Marketing, Analytics, and Social Enterprise. Kegan graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016, majoring in Marketing and Statistics. Prior to business school, Kegan was a consultant in the Strategy & Analytics practice at Deloitte, focusing on data analysis and marketing strategies. Outside of work, he is (sadly) a huge Atlanta sports fan and is often running, playing tennis, or enjoying time with wife, friends, and family.






Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.