Why I Took my Team into the Woods



Twenty years ago when I was CFO of our company, I started having annual meetings with our whole management team to review performance, goals, and financial results as well as improve communication between team members who had never met. These were about as much fun as a trip to the dentist... Dilbert cartoons notwithstanding.


So five years ago when I became president of our company, I resolved to change the tone and content of these meetings to change the culture & expectations of our team. I wanted to spend time training our team to be better leaders. I want them to think like owners and to make decisions in a situation the same way I would make them. I want them to know & understand the core values & mission of our company. To take action & make decisions consistent with those values. 

Since that time, the meetings have been a lot more fun... especially because they suddenly contained a lot less of me talking.


This year I took my team away. Far away. Into the middle of nowhere actually.

Then I took them to the top of a 40 foot platform.

And made them jump off.


 What was I thinking?


1. You are capable of more than you think.

Standing on top a tiny platform, 40 feet in the air can you get across a swinging bridge? A balance beam? I didn't think I could, but I found out I can do anything I set my mind to.

2. You are capable of more when you work together.

The oldest member of our team was one of the first people up the ladder... then the problems started. He might still be up there if other members of the team didn't help & encourage him to complete two obstacles to zip line down.

3. Nothing awesome happens in your comfort zone.

I had to be the first one up the ladder. I cannot lead from anywhere but the front lines... but man, was I scared. I tried not to show it, but there is NOTHING natural about standing on a rope obstacle 40 feet up. I kept looking down wondering, "What the hell was I thinking?!?" I actually completed all 8 obstacles, but only by pretending to be brave. It ended up being awesome.


4. Not everyone is capable of the same things.

A few members of the team chose not to go up with the rest of us. That's OK. Phobias are unreasonable, but admitting you can't do something is the first step in making sure it still gets done.

5. Safety is about training, communication, & double checking.

We spent over an hour (almost half the time) getting harnesses, learning proper communication techniques, and double checking everything. Every single time. Not surprisingly, no one got hurt.

6. Don't look. Don't think. Just jump!

The only way out from 40 feet up was a zip line. The longer you stand there thinking about jumping, the harder it gets to actually jump. No matter the situation, once you decide to do something... Go Do It.


7. Less Leadership = More Empowered

I wasn't in charge. That's not only fine, that is an opportunity to see how people work together... or don't work together. It takes confidence for a leader to admit that "Less of me is better for the health of our team."



We spent the next 24 hours eating, drinking, talking, and doing exercises focused on communication, teamwork, & cooperation. We ended with presentations about the expectations & vision of the future.

 In 5 years, I think my team will only remember the ropes course... And no one misses the detailed budget review.


Topics: Goals, Lessons