One step at a time

An ex-racecar driver.

A lady who once owned two rattlesnakes.

A former pole climber (utility poles, that is) who know keeps bees.

And a woman who was terrified of fish.

This was the group we recently took on a team building/hiking expedition to North Table Mountain in Golden.

A communications team for a national Internet service provider, they were about to enter their busiest time of year at work. This outing was a reprieve, a chance to regroup and work on their office dynamics.

Things started off as they always do, quietly.

It’s always interesting to see co-workers interact outside the office. No matter how long they have known each other professionally, there’s so much they don’t know about one another.

Like the man who had once suffered a brain injury so traumatic, doctors predicted his death within 24 hours.

Or the team leader whose father had a hand in designing the Blackbird SR-71, a long-range recon aircraft  that since 1976 has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.

These tidbits and more fascinating facts came out during some icebreaking games. First one person shares, then another, and pretty soon the whole atmosphere is changed. You can see the tension leave their bodies; grins sneak onto their faces, laughter gets louder and more frequent, and the level of chatter rises considerably.

It’s a beautiful thing.

This team of expert communicators excelled far beyond our typical group. Their creative solutions to our little games were rivaled only by their teamwork — everyone had a voice; everyone offered and solicited advice, and in the end, their performance benefited.

These challenges are great for improving communication, problem solving and more, but in this case the hike was as much of a team-building exercise as the activities we created for them.

Several studies have shown that body movements increase problem-solving skills, but the benefits of combining team-building with physical activity go far beyond a boost to the brain.

When you put most people outside on a mountain, you take them out of their element. The steep grades and high elevations can wind the average American in minutes. It’s no time for embarrassment among peers you barely know. Sometimes, you need encouragement, or even a helping hand.

There is as much information to be learned about each individual during a hike as during an ice breaking game. Do they rush up to the top? Stop to help others? Pause to take in the view? Seek out landmarks that are known to them, or ask questions about ones they don’t recognize?

Putting a team of office workers onto Colorado’s slopes can be daunting. But they key is to give them a goal; reach the top. Suddenly, it’s not a mountain; it’s a problem that has a solution. Just like they encounter every day at work.

Once they’re standing on the top, looking at how far they’ve come, any issue seems surmountable, if they take it one step at a time.
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