Imagine this: Your team at office has been assigned a very unlikely task – to scale a respectably difficult hillock, to pitch in tents there and then of course, the little matter of cooking up your dinner there. Needless to say, there are no “learn-pitching-your-tent-in-7-easy-steps” manual or modern irritants like gas stoves to bother you there. How would you and your team fare?
Team engagements are no more limited to fancy dinners, rope courses or playing musical chairs. The rules of engagement, for many organizations are fast changing. The expectations of a team engagement is now two fold – not just to be fun but also to be something relevant, meaningful and challenging.
What drives this very often, is a strong belief that when members in a team together have to overcome a difficult task, it tends to bring the team closer in a certain way and improve the morale of the team. Yes, as I had discussed in an earlier article, crisis (whether real or simulated) can be a recipe for good team work!
A recent experience for us, in putting together a bespoke workshop for one of our regular customers, validates the above point. The brief we closed on, after a few rounds of discussions with the leaders in the group was, “We Sink or Swim Together”. The team was from a function, which quite often had to confront disappointments and failures due to projects being shelved at the last minute. The broad idea was for them to leave all their baggage behind and undergo an experience that was unique, challenging and one that would foster a sense of “we are all in this together” amongst the team members.
The challenge we threw to the team of 30 people, was a “Survival Challenge” created in the form of an arduous trek to the top of a mountain, 4700 feet above sea level. The challenge involved about 5 hours of trekking, after which the team had to pitch up their own tents and spend a night with limited resources and absolutely no comforts. With a clear mandate to keep the difficulty level high, the experience was not just a “walk-in-the-park” kind of trekking up the hills but a truly challenging one. The idea was to peg it at a level that stretched people well beyond their comfort zones and called them to dig deep into their reserves, to be able to conquer it. Should the team succeed, it would be a euphoric & eureka moment for them.
The terrain was challenging – it was around 6kms to the camping site and when you factor in the fact that most of this, was either uphill or downhill – this wasn’t an easy task by any means. In a mountainous course, there were of course no boundaries or walls to hold on to, which meant – one trip, slip or skid could have been very dangerous for not just one person but also others walking behind in line. There were additional challenges that made this tough trek, an even tougher one:
- Teams were to carry their own equipment (Tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes, toiletries, water bottles etc.);
- Each team was given scarce resources – even essentials like drinking water, food etc. was in measured quantities
Like in all Focus programs though, safety was a priority. Hence teams were split keeping in mind the physical fitness of the team members. Each team had at least 1-2 members who had trekked in the past and knew the challenges it offered. To cut a long story short, the team – despite its apprehensions when starting, successfully conquered the challenge together, leaving all the members awash with euphoric delight, a shared sense of achievement and a lasting team memory.
Did the workshop meet its objectives? Did the experience help in increasing the cohesiveness within the team? Lets look at the evidence:
We witnessed some extra ordinary examples of care and concern for the team members as they faced adversities.
- The people who walked fast were seen walking back to the team members who walked slowly. They even encouraged them and at times gave them support to climb at steep terrains.
- Some team members were seen carrying two or even three bags to ease the burden of their teammates who had difficulties walking with any luggage.
- Water that was scarce, was readily shared with people who needed it more.
- They constantly warned the people walking behind about the plausible dangers such as thorns, slippery rubble etc.
The best part was that, once the challenge was accepted – nobody complained. The positive spirit and free humor amongst the team members helped them make light of their situation. The less fit amongst the team had a tremendous self-realization about their low fitness levels, but never gave up – so as not to stall the team. All in all, it was a very inspiring team experience.
The trek gave an opportunity for the participants to learn about themselves in a way that is only possible when they are tested to their limits in a challenging and unfamiliar environment. As Sir Edmund Hillary rightly said, “You don’t really conquer a mountain. You only conquer yourself”. The challenge also helped the team members to learn more about each other, than they would do even after a lifetime of association within their normal corporate environments. To quote Plato “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”
The team bonds established during this experience will hopefully last well beyond the memory of the hardships shared during the program.
Have you had any similar experience with your team? Do share with us!!