When working with senior leadership teams over a long period, a key element we encourage in our programmes is our adventurous outdoor experience. This article explains why we see such value in it.
What it’s not
Although the experience contains seemingly ‘fun’ elements, it is not designed as a mere ‘teambuilding’ or ‘feel good’ activity. Though such trips (e.g. go-karting, paintballing, etc.) may have positive social-bonding results, drawing the line from these stand alone activities to long-term business performance improvement is challenging.
What it is
Our adventurous outdoor experience is one 24-36 hour element of a wider comprehensive programme run over 18+ months. All elements, across a range of formats, are delivered by specialists and all parts of the programme combine unique benefits to take a team from ‘performing’ to ‘high performing’. Throughout our consistent focus is driving sustainable positive impact in the business.
How we structure it
The experience places the team in a scenario which plays out over 24-36 hours. It’s challenging, fast-paced and constantly changing - all factors which mimic the complexity of the modern business environment. It requires initiative and effective collaboration throughout to be successful.
Key concepts from our model are introduced through the scenario, so the team have experience ‘learning by doing’ before exploring the ideas in later workshops, which include ‘leading with intent’ and the PEAK model.
The experience is typically undertaken in an outdoor setting, completely dislocated from the normal work environment. It has the potential to be physically challenging, though all experiences are individually designed to mirror the abilities of those taking part. In generating a ‘one team’ ethos, it is crucial for the whole team to both enjoy the experience and complete it. Detailed planning (following interviews with all participants), and dynamic assessments throughout, ensure this fine balance is accurately and effectively struck - our team are experts at managing this. There is a huge amount gained by operating toward the edge of one’s comfort zone: both personally and as part of a team.
Typical activities could include hiking, practical leadership tasks, climbing, abseiling, river crossing and survival skills. These overlay a larger ongoing challenge the team are working to solve. Many activities are led by Royal Marines Mountain Leaders with significant experience operating in these environments and our workshop delivery team are embedded throughout, drawing lessons and discussion back to business application.
Why do we do it?
The experience brings a range of benefits to the team.
Collaboration & behaviours
Behaviour drives performance. Hence a key part of our work is developing the behaviours and ways of working in the team to be more effective. The experience offers the medium to explore the team’s behaviours in solving a novel problem set. Touching on models such as Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions and Curphy’s Rocket Model, we explore effective behaviours such as gaining clarity on the situation (and what we aim to do); concise communication (ensuring shared understanding); constructive conflict; commitment and buy-in to a course of action; feedback and review. Throughout the experience, and on reflection, we bridge lessons back to real world application in the business.
The experience dislocates the team from their usual work environment and breaks down any hierarchies present. It offers an unbroken 24-36 hour period with no distractions where the team are fully reliant upon one another. With most, if not all, participants in an unfamiliar setting, professional experience is levelled and all are - to a certain extent - vulnerable. With no expectation on the senior members or leader to have the ‘right answers’, fear of failure reduces and open dialogue can flow. The various challenges also provide a series of unique experiences, the bonding effect of which is compounded through enduring (a limited amount!) of shared hardship. Team members see new sides of one another which help to build a ‘one team’ ethos and foster camaraderie. We leverage this ‘tribal feeling’ when later introducing the powerful ‘whakapapa’ concept (spoken of in Eastwood’s Belonging and Kerr’s Legacy). Better relationships between team members provide space for the honest discourse and constructive conflict necessary to get to good decisions.
In line with research by Davis, Mayer & Schoorman (1995), we see trust as being composed of three elements: competence, integrity and benevolence. People typically trust those who:
Are competent in what they’re trusting them to do
Live by a set of values that reflect their own and behave accordingly
Care about them
The experience helps develop this trust: both integrity (defining the behaviours the team commit to) and benevolence (the team only succeeds if they work as one, and look out for one another). The game-changing effect of a high-trust environment is that team members feel comfortable being vulnerable with one another. Politics and personal agendas are placed secondary to getting to the best result for the team. Help is requested when needed and people feel comfortable taking ownership of small issues early before they escalate into large problems, avoiding the blame game and finger-pointing rife in organisations.
Problem solving & decision making
We introduce a simple framework to help understand the situation and factors at play before agreeing on a course of action: the PEAK model. This tool assists the team in critical thinking and can be used as a handrail in breaking down business challenges.
The experience is as much an individual as team challenge. With the situation changing as it does, the individual must get comfortable with uncertainty and the need to adapt quickly. Through ‘dislocation of expectation’ we mimic the unforeseen and unpredictable events that drive the modern business environment. By enduring these and succeeding, there is a huge sense of personal achievement by having faced and overcome what at first felt outside one’s comfort zone or perceived ability.
Beyond the tactical experience of each team member leading through elements of the day, the concept of ‘leading with intent’ is weaved through the scenario. This is a key idea through layered organisations where leaders explain the effect to achieve and why, but leave the details of what to actually do and how to the level below. This drives ownership and accountability down the organisation. Teams below have to understand the problem and create the solution themselves providing huge autonomy.
Why is it the first thing we do?
We have found the experience is so powerful for teams that placing it immediately before the first (normally 3-day) workshop, we have significantly greater impact and traction. Teams come off the experience on a high and are fully focused on the programme and our methodology. Having completed such a unique shared experience, the increased bond is palpable and conversations run more open and honest. Having introduced many of our concepts through the experience, the team have also ‘learned by doing’ (whether they were fully aware of the concept at the time or not!). Discussions are therefore immediately more detailed, fruitful and relevant to the business.
Our work at Albany Peak
The adventurous outdoor experience brings a range of benefits to the team. Is the team completely transformed after it? No, of course not. That’s why we do not run these as stand alone events. But the 24-36 hours does have a disproportionate impact on the team and serves as the perfect opener to our comprehensive programmes.
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