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Rock Climbing in the Conference Room

Although I've taken a number of teams on team-building excursions, your team doesn't need to travel further than your conference room to benefit from this group activity. Read on and happy rock climbing. ~Kathy~

I almost missed them as we drove on the winding road on the side of the massive white rock that draws mountain climbers to western North Carolina. There they were - little specs on a breathtakingly large slab of white rock. They were stretched far and away from one another but, as I looked more closely, I could see that they were also attached to one another by a safety rope.

They were rock climbers. I think they're awesome and they have a lot to teach us about teams and reaching goals.

The first time I really noticed rock climbers, I was also implementing Verne Harnish's "One-Page Strategic Plan" concepts, which utilize rocks as the grounding concept to label priorities. If you are not familiar with the planning system, visit the Gazelles website for helpful and free planning tools. It's an amazing resource for creative thinking and strategic planning.

On one visit to the mountains, the concepts of strategic planning and climbing really came together for me. Ever since, I have used the analogy to get teams thinking and talking creatively about planning - the discussion activates the right and left brains of participants and prepares the group for fresh thinking about the past, present and future.

I recently asked a team what we might learn from the world of rock climbing.

I prompted them with the question and then showed them a clip of climbers in action. My favorite clip is listed on Refreshment Zone's Music & Meditation - see Find Big Dreams. The clip combines Dan Wilson's song "Free Life" with action shots of rock climbers. It's an inspirational combination and is a great opener for a discussion of teamwork.) Take a quick look.

When I ask teams what we can learn from rock climbing (i.e., what we can take with us into goal-setting, strategic planning and t/or team building), they nail it every time. They quickly note some of the qualities that are needed: Determination, focus, vision, connection, independent strength, training, etc.

Here are some key points I've observed about rock climbing that align with building strong teams.

Training and Tools - Rock climbers receive training before they climb a mountain. It's important to have the right tools and it's even more important to know how to use them. (What tools, frameworks and/or philosophies are you utilizing? Make sure everyone on the team has shared knowledge.)

Vision - Rock climbers have an incredibly clear idea of the ultimate vision/goal. (Has your team taken time to articulate the vision [your ultimate destination] 3-5 years from now? Discuss it - agree on it - write it down.)

Next Step - For every climber, the most important step is the next step - climbers have a clear sense of where they're going but implementation of the next step is the most important and immediate success marker. (Do your team members know their next step when they leave a meeting? They ought to - every time. Next step thinking determines daily, weekly and quarterly priorities.)

Connectedness - Rock climbers understand the roles and goals of the other climbers. They look as though they are far away from one another on the mountain - but they are tethered together by a safety rope. Climbers give one another the space to achieve their individual goals - and need to have a clear understanding of their individual roles during the climb. Communication is key. (How are your team members connected to one another - what are the roles/responsibilities of each? Do they understand one another's roles, goals and priorities? This type of cross-communication is critical for coordinated action.)

Leadership and Communication - Rock climbers have a person who takes the lead; that person sets the course for the climb. The team must trust, follow, and provide feedback. And the leader must check on the progress of the team (the individuals and the collective). (Do you have regular check-ins with your team members? There ought to be a regular team and/or individual meeting embedded within the system to ensure coordinated action. How effective are the meetings? Question and refresh agendas to reinvigorate systems.)

Exhilaration and Fun - Rock climbers love what they do - they bring a sense of exhilaration and fun to the moment. (Is there an element of positive energy and fun in your work environment? There ought to be - many of us spend long hours at work. Why not make it pleasant? Recapture an element of fun this week.)

Rest and Appreciation - Rock climbers take time to rest. They smile. They take deep breaths. They take time to appreciate the beauty around them. They take time to appreciate their team members. (When was the last time you led your team members to stop and appreciate a moment, an achievement, a person? It can be done in 5 minutes or less.)

If you decide to launch a similar discussion with your nonprofit board or corporate team, it will not only give you a creative brain stretch but it will set a productive foundation that aligns thinking and reinforces interdependence. The discussion won't take very long - you can do it as quickly as 10 minutes. In addition, you'll have a thematic analogy that will connect the entire session - whether it last a few hours or a few days.

Let the analogy unite group thinking.

What can we learn from rock climbing? Ask your team. Show them the video. And let them tell you.

For every climber, the most important step is the next step - what's your next step going to be?

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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