What I Learned About Leadership from a Low Ropes Course

This past weekend, I took the eight young men in my mentoring group on a retreat. It was the kickoff to our 2012 season.

A Challenge on the Low Ropes Course - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Figure8Photos, Image #14392450

We went to Deer Run, a beautiful retreat center in the hills of middle Tennessee. The weather was absolutely gorgeous—mid-40s and plenty of sunshine.

We focused on the topic of life planning. Most of the guys had written a life plan, but we used the time to review the basics and update our work. (A life plan is never done. It must be updated on a regular basis.)

The most memorable part of the retreat for me was the low ropes course. Bob Elder, a local businessman, facilitated the experience and did an outstanding job.

He presented to us a series of five challenges that we had to solve together as a team. They became progressively more difficult as the afternoon wore on.

The last one—and the most difficult of the five—was climbing a twelve-foot wall. We had to get each man over the wall alive. All the men were permitted to help the others until they successfully scaled the wall. Then they could only watch.

This exercise took some serious teamwork and a deliberate strategy. But I’m pleased to report that every man made it.

Here are seven of my leadership take-aways from this experience:

  1. Someone must step up and lead. I made it clear on the front end that though I was normally the leader of the group, I wouldn’t be leading during these challenges. I expected them to figure it out. No one really led during the first exercise and it showed. Then the men started appointing a different leader for each challenge, and it made a huge difference.
  2. The best leaders solicit ideas from their followers. As we quickly learned, being the leader didn’t mean you had to have the best ideas. Each of the leaders started by asking the team for ideas. (We had a very creative group.) They gave each man a chance to express himself and then made a decision on the goal and the strategy.
  3. Alignment is more important than strategy. The leader didn’t always pick the best strategy. As team members, we were not always in agreement with the strategy. Regardless, we voluntarily aligned ourselves around the leader and did our best to execute on the selected strategy. Sometimes, we had to try multiple strategies. Still, we stayed together..
  4. Trust makes everything easier. Most of the men in my my group have been meeting together for two years. Many of the men have gone through incredibly difficult life experiences. We have shared in one another’s joy and pain. Through this, we have built trust—something we needed and used in each of the challenges.
  5. Debriefing is essential to progress. After each challenge, Bob had us debrief on what he had learned. This was huge and dramatically improved our results with each successive challenge. So often, we fail to do this in life and in our work—and it shows. Perhaps we think we don’t have time. But this actually saves time in the long run.
  6. Almost any problem can be solved by teamwork. There were several times that I personally didn’t see how we would solve the problem. This was especially true on the last one. But thankfully, I was not left to my own resources. Someone on the team always had an idea that worked. It made me relax and trust that we could figure it out together.
  7. Working together is more satisfying than working alone. Going through these challenges was such a powerful, bonding experience. We were on the course for a little over three hours. It seemed like it was less than an hour. We had a blast, accomplished more than we could have done on our own, and grew closer together. It was a great reminder of the joy of teamwork.

I love reading books on leadership and attending seminars. But as helpful as these are, they are not the same as doing something together with a team. There are some things in life that are best learned by doing.

If you live in the Nashville area, I highly recommend taking advantage of Deer Run. If you don’t live nearby, see if you can find a retreat center with a low (or even high) ropes course. It is well-worth the investment.

Questions: Have you ever taken your team through an alternative learning experience? What did you learn? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

    Last year, I took my department to serve at Philabundance – a food sorting and distribution service that provides food to those in need throughout the Philadelphia region.  This event was designed to serve, but it was also meant to pull our team together.

    We learned that by working together we can move mountains.  Within 3 1/2 to 4 hours, we had sorted over 20,000 pounds of food.

    We learned that it feels good to work together.  When we left the sorting facility that afternoon, our team was talking, smiling, and energized.

    While this event/project cost our company on paper (40+ employees not driving revenue for a day), I believe it saved us so much as employees came to work the next day excited to work with their fellow teammates.

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      That sounds like it was a was well worth the time!  I am the others in your department appreciated your leadership in this instance.

      Great job, Jon!

      • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

        Yes, I think they did.  It was encouraging to hear the buzz around the office for the next couple of weeks.  I’m hoping to put something like this together again this year.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      Great story, Jon! As you said, events like this bring freshness into the team and the work that they do.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great experience. We did a similar thing with my family on Christmas day. We all went and worked at a local rescue mission. It was a great experience.

      • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

        That’s a great idea, Michael!  Spending time serving with our families makes the holidays (and the rest of the year) much more memorable.  Our family is involved in a service group called H.O.P.E.  We meet once a month at our home with a few other families to eat together, study what God’s Word has to say about serving, and doing a small service project together.  Then a couple weeks later, we get together to service somewhere outside our home.  We’ve served at nursing homes, food pantries, clothing and food distribution centers, and community homes.  This group has been a great way to consistently expose our kids to the joys of serving others.

        • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

          H.O.P.E. = Helping Other People Everywhere

          • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

            Great definition!

          • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

            Thanks.  The credit belongs to my daughter and my wife for coming up with the acronym.

        • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

          Your nursing home story made me laugh as I remembered doing something similar when my son was in grade school. Ellen, Daniel, and I volunteered to be an adoptive family for a nursing home resident. The woman we visited kept wondering who we were and why we kept showing up at her room. After a month or so, the social director said, “Well, she really doesn’t want you to visit anymore.” Talk about a humbling experience. It didn’t stretch us. It deflated us.

      • Annette

        I can’t figure out why you want 10 people working with you to respond to blog comments. Are we really that needy that we need accolades? I absolutely love reading your blog but liked it better without all the “attaboy” comment replies. No offense to any of you-you’re nice people but it seems solicitous.

        • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

          Good feedback, Annette.

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

          I certainly appreciate your point of view, and although I can’t answer for Michael, I can give my perspective. I don’t think of the dialogue here as empty flattery nor the participants as needy. The conversation here doesn’t differ all that much from that with a few of my friends. We toss around different experiences, perspectives and questions, to which we sometimes respond “I agree — I’ve had a similar experience” or “Way to go!” Maybe I’m misunderstanding your feedback, but to me these comments are just a part of the ebb and flow of conversation.

        • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

          Annette,

          I think you see the result of engaging a larger audience as Michael’s blog has expanded its outreach in the past year. I also think it reflects his generous spirit and willingness to share the spotlight with others.

          This has been one of the noticeable differences in the website from even a few months ago. I wondered how Michael managed to keep connected with his readership when I felt overwhelmed with my first response at my own website. “Holy mackerel! Someone’s actually out there reading this.”

          As for accolades, needy or not, I enjoy them when they happen. But it’s mostly nice to be engaged in conversation, even if it happens over a period of hours or even days.

        • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

          Annette, this is interesting feedback.  This whole blogging thing and the community that can surround blogs is a new for many of us.  Sure, we need to examine our motives in everything we write – here in the comments, on our own blogs, and elsewhere.  But there is also something about expanding each of our platforms through other blogs platforms that seems natural and justified.

          I agree with Michele that the comments represent a back and forth conversation.  Some of these comments may be brief, but it’s part of the conversation and community.

          I for one have met several new friendships through this blogging community for which I’m thankful.  And I can say that I generally appreciate all the comments that appear here and on my blog.

        • http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/ Susan

          It’s actually a great idea to increase positive engagement and far preferable to anonymous, negative comments you often read online that people would never say in person (well, most people). My issue is that I really  like his advice and find it motivating, but unbalanced in that it is so male oriented. Scott Eblin writes on leadership issues too but is not so skewed to only presenting primarily perspectives of male leaders. Here’s one he wrote today about COO of Facebook http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/30044/wondering-am-i-a-good-leader-take-the-sheryl-sandberg-test   His 3 questions a leader should ask him/herself are
          Do I have followers?Do I have a cause bigger than myself?Do I get stuff done?His clever use of bloggers as moderators, with names/faces/personalities promenantly featured actually meets the test of all 3 of Scott’s questions. Am I missing something Michael? Women/minority view points would add strength to your work. 

          • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

            Yes, I would love that. I was hoping that more women would have applied as community leaders, but out of almost 100, we had less than ten. This is why I try to feature women as guest bloggers when I can. I’m sure I have a long way to go! Thanks for you input.

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      Thanks for sharing. Perspective really does change things. As you said the project cost your company if you just looked at it on paper but really the company benefited in a way that just cannot be measured on paper.

      • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

        Brandon, we’re still seeing the benefits in our office nearly a year later. There has been a clear indication that employees in our office want to be part of something bigger.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      I do that kind of stuff with my church every month. It is a lot of work, but seeing others benefit from it is why we all do it!

      • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

        That’s great, Brandon.  In one of my comments above, I mentioned the service group (H.O.P.E. – Helping Other People Everywhere) that provides a monthly opportunity for my family to service others along side other families from our church.

        • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

          Yeah, that’s awesome! Is it a group connected with your church or is it a community service group?

          _____

          • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

            Yes, it is associated with our church.  My wife and I lead the group.

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            That’s awesome!

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Jon, I enjoyed reading about your experience. I know the short-term mission trips I’ve taken create in two weeks a sense of camaraderie and buzz that a year of conversation on mission outreach couldn’t.

      I’m curious though about one thing. What motivated your company to do this in the first place?

  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    Our nature is the opposite of these lessons. We tend to want to do things ourselves without the help of others. We struggle to listen and work together. It takes practice to learn to work as a team as well as to lead.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      I agree with you, Jeremy. We got to be intentional about team work.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      I agree. With our Internet Marketing Company, I am trying more and more to incorporate a team approach to projects.  It is hard as I am the direct opposite.  I would prefer to close my door and work alone. Work in progress!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I struggle with this a lot! I worked for a small congregation (about 30-40 people) as the Youth Minister. The youth group was small so I thought I could do it all on my own. I had to remind myself constantly that even in a group that small I still needed the help of others (prayer, volunteering time or resources, putting on events, etc…).

      • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

        That is HUGE to acknowledge the need for a team. Press on that path.

        • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

          It has been difficult for me but I cannot deny the results!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I’m reading “Unbroken,” the story of Olympic runner Louie Zamperini whose plane went down over the Pacific during WWII. After being lost at sea for almost 2 months with 2 friends, he then drifted ashore only to be captured by Japanese and interred in a POW camp. In the camp, prisoners were isolated and forbidden to make eye contact or communicate with each other. He said they lack food/water and sweltered in the sun on the Pacific. But the lack of connection and camaraderie in the POW camp was by far the worst torture. I keep thinking how it often takes hardship for us to finally understand the value and importance of a team.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        I loved that book. Gail and I both read it. I particularly loved the ending.

        • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

          Adding it to my Amazon wishlist right now!

          • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

            It’s excellent, Jeff. Intense, gripping.

          • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

            I’ll check it out.

      • Susan

        I liked that book too … and your comment reminds me of  the concept relayed in opening paragraph of “How full is your bucket?” re: torture by the North Koreans that was   psychological in nature such as deliberately turning POWs against each other w/ lies, etc was worse (and more effective in breaking them) than physical torture. All people need support and validation … we do like our attaboys (attagirls) … .

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

          We all need to know someone believes in us, is cheering for us …

    • Jim Martin

      Jeremy, you make a great point.  I think you are right.  It really is our nature to want to do things ourselves without having to depend on others.  Perhaps it is pride.  Maybe it is a desire to maintain some illusion of control.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      I think some of our reluctance to listen to instruction or work with others is based on a bad experience or two. It only takes one very rough and rigid leader to discourage a desire for team building. On the other hand, I think we’re wired for community in the same way children, until squelched, tend to be curious and inquisitive. I’m attracted to stories like Michael’s or Jon’s or someone else’s that highlight a positive interaction within the context of a team. Even as an author who works primarily at home alone, I recognize how the influence of others keeps me on task. I need their corporate wisdom to succeed in my preferred profession.

  • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

    Thanks Michael for sharing this exciting experience!

    What you said about alignment is so true. In our teams also, we may not agree with everyone’s ideas and suggestions. Nevertheless maintaining unity is always considered essential. 

    After reading this post, I am thinking of doing something similar for my team in this year!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good. It is really worth the investment!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      The point about alignment being more important that strategy is the one that stuck out to me as well. 

      • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

        Yes, that’s a growth principle.

  • http://twitter.com/burlw Burl Walker

    Those types of retreats are always fun! Thanks for sharing with us Michael!

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    Thanks for helping me overcome my belief that experiential learning is great in the moment, but not very sustainable in terms of a visible change in behaviour. In particular, point #5 strikes me as important – the debrief on the learning from each challenge. It seems to me that making the learning more conscious at each stage will result in the individual being able to take action. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Alan,

      Yes, I think that was key. We debriefed after each challenge and then spent 20 minutes debriefing after the whole afternoon. Our facilitator was very intentional about it.

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      This is the same logic behind Michael’s idea of a book Net Out.  Though I often feel like I do not have the time to do it, the benefit far outweighs the time spent on it.  The learning is “stickier” when I do this!

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    Excellent reminders about leadership.  Life plans?  I’m past 50, didn’t get the PhD I had hoped to have by 50, but I’m not inclined to return to study. But planning the next 2 or 3 decades still seems like a plan is in order.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. I have had people in their 80s do the life plan. It’s really about steward ship of your life not the length of it.
      By the way, the other day I heard a video interview with a woman who was 113. She said, “Oh, to be 90 again!”

      • Jim Martin

        Michael, now that sounds like an interesting interview!

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        “It’s about stewardship of your life, not the length of it.” That needs to be turned into a wall hanging for my office!

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        It’s all about perspective…

      • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

        Life = Plan

        No matter the age.

    • Rachel Lance

      Working up a life plan is such a good exercise. Have you read Michael’s e-book? Great place to start!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jane-Babich/100002993676826 Jane Babich

      Thad, Just turning 60 and have PLANNED all my life, but in 2011 did the “Life Plan” of Michael’s…. it so changed the way I viewed and will invest my next 20 years.  Go for it! It is worth it!

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Sounds like a great experience. It reminds me of the book, The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki. In it he talks about how groups can become smarter than the smartest individual person. Your experience certainly points this out. Teamwork, done right, can be critical to solving difficult and complex problems. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I really liked that book. This is a good example of it.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      John, the book you mentioned (The Wisdom of Crowds) sounds interesting! Hope to get hold of a copy.

  • Dave Anderson

    Freshman summer at West Point is called Beast Barracks.  That summer was my first experience at a low ropes course.  Squads of 18 year old future combat leaders learning to follow and lead by doing it.  

    Low ropes courses were used in my 20+ years in the corporate world as well.  We were in our 30’s and 40’s but the lessons were similar.  

    In both cases though, I believe it was learning to be a good follower that separated success from failure.  There never seemed to be a lack of people wanting to lead in either situation.  It was the lack of followers that hindered progress.

    I am a big believer in the ropes course and other experiences like them.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is really an important point. There is nothing worse than someone who tries to lead who has never learned to follow. This is a prerequisite.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm, we’re not allowed to envy, but you’re making that very difficult Mr Hyatt! At http://searchandtrace.wordpress.com we source and distribute free resources to the Christian community – do you perhaps know of any free ebooks that you could recommend that deal with this subject of team leadership retreats? Thank you Michael.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry.

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    I have taken my teams on smaller experiences throughout the years, but taking on the young adults worship ministry will prove to be my biggest challenge. I’m sure I’ll be able to share some amazing stories in the next few weeks

    • Jim Martin

      I look forward to hearing about some of your experiences, Daren.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      I am sure you will!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      Should be great! Be sure to share them here!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Andrechyn/1379558387 Jeff Andrechyn

    One of the best team building experiences I have taken men on is a white water rafting trip down the Gualey River in West Virginia. The river is beautiful and dangerous just like our journey with God. Once you survive, the men have a shared experience they can all relate to. Jesus knew what he was doing when he took 12 men on a three year, high adventure, camping trip.

    • http://www.heartyourchurch.com/ Jason Stambaugh

      Jeff thanks for sharing your story. I’ve had similar experiences rafting. Did you also find that it really helped people “open up” and communicate better after the trip?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Andrechyn/1379558387 Jeff Andrechyn

        Jason – The campfire conversations after the rafting trip are dramatically different then before the rafting trip. I have found the shared adventure to be the key that allows men to open to each other. The adventure has to be one where everyone is needed. When a man receives the dignity of inclusiveness which shows he is needed then he will not only open up but also participate and offer to the group (his God given glory will be felt in the group). 

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I like connecting white water rafting to our journey with God. It is one that definitely would appeal to men. 

    • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

      I hear that it is easier for men to share when they are ‘doing stuff’ instead of sitting around a table ‘sharing their feelings’.

    • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

      We have defined our church as a whitewater raft. Grab a paddle!

  • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com/ Eric S. Mueller

    I was in the Civil Air Patrol in high school. One summer, I spent a week at a cadet leadership course at Bergstrum AFB in Austin, Tx. As part of the course, we got to go on the Leadership Reaction Course. It was a series of obstacles we had to take as a team. Oh, yeah, on at least half of them, no talking was allowed. I had to lead by gestures, hand signals, and facial expressions. Somehow we got it all done.  Very interesting and enlightening experience.

    • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

      Leading without talking? Eric, that’s a true test of leadership!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      The real question is if you got to hold up the fist indicating, “stop”, “go”, or “I’m going to punch you!” (I never could figure out what that particular gesture meant!) 

      • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com/ Eric S. Mueller

        I think fist up and down is “move”. Fist pumping parallel to the ground indicates a fight about to happen.

    • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

      Wow that’s got to be hard!

  • Stephanie

    As a team building facilitator, I wholeheartedly agree with your observations about the value of experiences like low ropes courses and appreciate the importance you placed on the debrief. If it’s going to be more than just a “fun time”, the facilitator must help the group connect the learning to the real-life situations the group faces. 

    One of my favorite workshops is called Real Colors. It’s a temperament assessment based on the Myers Briggs but simplified to four basic temperaments, each associated with a color. It’s fun and interactive and the simplicity of the instrument makes the information memorable and easier to apply. Teams love it and walk away with a better understanding of themselves and their teammates, as well as tools to help them communicate and work more effectively with each other. 

    Thanks for sharing your experience and learnings with us.

    • Jim Martin

      Stephanie, thanks for sharing this resource based on the Myers Briggs.  This sounds very interesting.

  • Rob Sorbo

    I have always found ropes course challenges like this incredibly frustrating and rewarding.  As a larger guy, my team always has to decide if they want to try to get me over the wall at the beginning (when they have a lot of people to push and lift) or at the end (when it will be hopeless to get me over, but I’m really strong and can help get the others over easily).

    • Jim Martin

      Rob, sounds like you’ve shared this experience with others several times.  I wonder do these groups typically choose to help you over the wall in the beginning or at the end?

      • Rob Sorbo

        They usually either send me over early on or wish they had!

        • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

          Rob,
          At 6’8″ and over 300 pound I am with you! Not to mention that most of the time I am participating with Middle and High School students, and if they don’t send me over early it’s a lost cause! So, when I read your comment I laughed out loud!

  • Michael Mulligan

    My friend and I chose the high ropes course.  It was identical to the low ropes except it was 30 ft. above the ground.  I was surprised my buddy picked the high ropes because he suffered from a fear of heights.  We didn’t get back to camp until dinner was almost over because it took over an hour to finish the last portion – two parallel ropes with nothing to hold onto and no instructions for getting across.  We discovered the best way to proceed was to face each other, each one on his own rope, embrace and move forward, one inch at a time.

    Congrats on your team-building efforts.  I look forward to learning more about your weekend discoveries.  Yes, retreat centers are great for building teams…and conquering fear.

    • http://www.heartyourchurch.com/ Jason Stambaugh

      Thank you for sharing your story Michael. Glad to hear the high ropes were a valuable experience for both you and your friend.

  • http://www.chaplainmike.com/ Mike Hansen

    Our leadership team did a low ropes course in the nearby Front Range mountains at a place called Devil’s Thumb Ranch.  Spectacular setting definitely some good learning for us. No 12 foot wall though. 

    BTW, I noticed a typo, “serious” (I assume) should be “series” in paragraph 4. Love the practical lessons learned! Thanks for sharing!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Thanks for the heads up, Mike!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Mike. I appreciate you catching that! I have fixed it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, thanks for pointing out the typo. I did correct that. Thanks.

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    “The best leaders solicit ideas from their followers.” I think this is huge. Unfortunately, many leaders get into a position and think they look weak if they look to their followers for ideas. So not true. 

    I attended a Captivating women’s retreat at Deer Run last May. Though we didn’t get to do the ropes course, it was a beautiful place to be. 

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      What a great quote, Sundi Jo!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lisa-Fedders-Brouwer/100000210427442 Lisa Fedders Brouwer

    I took my team and a group of referral partners to a local church that had a climbing wall.  Climbing a rock wall brings out raw emotions in people.  We learned that each of us approached the wall differently and we tied those emotions in with how we run our businesses.   It was a great relationship building experience for all of us.

    For me, I learned that I was defeated by the wall before I even touched it.  My negative thinking and “I’ll never be able to do this” attitude squashed any chance of my making it to the top.   However, the second time, I was not going to let the wall win so sheer determination got me to the top on the toughest run… the one with the 90 degree ceiling I had to get around.  

    Climbing this indoor rock wall gave me the confidence to attempt “real” rock climbing last February at the Joshua Tree National Park in CA.  Without conquering my fear and apprehension, I never would have done the real thing.  Same is true in growing my business… my success is a matter of inches… the space between my ears!

    • Jim Martin

      Lisa, what a great comment!  Your experiences illustrate so well the power of our thinking as we approach various tasks which may seem impossible.  Congratulations, by the way, on climbing the real thing last February.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Two thoughts came to me as I read your story, Lisa. One, having the opportunity to “try on” a challenge when there’s less risk helps us have greater confidence and ability when the stakes are higher. And two, doing it with others might offer the greatest boost of courage!

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    Point #3 really stood out to me. Sometimes, even when it is not the best strategy, we must align ourselves behind our leader. If we don’t then the whole thing falls apart and it will be harder to get back up and try again. Instead of making the whole system weak, we should align ourselves and make the team stronger. Even if it was not the BEST idea, it will be much stronger and have a higher ability to succeed if we are all behind it.

    • Jim Martin

      Brandon, you make a very good point.  After all, when we have a group of people working together, we are bound to have multiple opinions on matters.  Choosing to align ourselves behind a leader is so important in order to move forward.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      And often the better lesson is learned in the failure of an idea rather than a success.

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        That is a great point, although not a very easy lesson to learn.

    • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

      Great thoughts! I’ve learned this one the hard way.

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

        Daren,
        Me too!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Brandon,
      I am with you—this one really stuck with me as well. I wonder if sometimes we are waiting for the perfect solution and therefore remain inactive? If you have “A” solution, that might not be the best, yet everyone is on board, and you are actually in action—seems way better!

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        I agree!

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I agree.  Unity is critically important, especially in a church, but in a lot more areas as well.

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        Yes, I was thinking about this in a church setting. As the Student Minister I am “under” the Preacher who is also under our elders. If I start undermining them because I think my way is better then a lot of the congregation can suffer, and that is not the point of what we are doing! 

        • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

          Agreed!  I’m in the same situation, although because our senior minister and I am the same age, we operate more as a team than an “over/under” scenario.  But either way, presenting a united front is key.  We’ve agreed that even if we disagree, by the time we are in front of any other people, we will present unity.  And so far, we’ve never had a problem doing this.

      • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

        Amen to that.

  • Brdgbldr72

    Michael, thanks.  Once again you have shared a very useful idea that we as part of “God’s Team” can piggy back on. 
    I am a firm believer that experiential learning embeds the discovery – If properly unpacked.
    Brings back my Navy days.

    Thanks again,

    Larry

  • Anonymous

    Michael, I think you meant a “series of five challenges”.  Looks like maybe a typo happened.   

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. It is fixed.

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    Almost 4 years ago my husband and I went on a 2 week mission trip to Africa. Before we started any kind of “work”, our team of 13 spent an entire day on an obstacle course. Not only did we laugh like crazy and cement as a group, but it clearly showed us the unique value each member brought to the team. Each individual excelled in a different area, and we couldn’t have completed it without the addition of the others.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      What a brilliant way to start a mission trip!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Nice! The bonding that happened on that course probably set you guys off to a great start!

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    Two of my friends and myself are mentoring some “inter-city” youths and we have taken them to eat, and have started a program to help them with school work, projects and to prepare for college. We wanted to take them to something fun like lasr tag.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Great job Kimanzi! You’re making a difference in their lives.

    • Rachel Lance

      What a great ministry. I bet a ropes course would be really impactful for the kids (and the mentors…you’re never too old!).

      • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

        We’ll look into that, you’re right

  • http://www.charlesspecht.com/ Charles Specht

    A “ropes” course is what my college used for us Resident Assistants (R.A.’s) to build partnership and familiarity.  It was a great time, and very beneficial.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    I have done a ropes course before…it was awesome!

    • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

      I’ve never experienced a ropes course.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        It is something to definitely check off of your bucket list! If you ever have the opportunity, do it!

        _____

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

        Jon,
        It’s a must—and fun!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      So have I Brandon, but that was many years ago. Lots of fun though!

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        Haha!

  • http://twitter.com/JaysonFeltner Jayson Feltner

    We try doing similar things, on a much smaller scale, in our offices every other week.  It’s a great way to break up the Monday blues and it keeps us all connected and keeps the office running with one unified pulse.

    Also I wish I could have stopped by Rudy’s in Austin, I was somewhere between Waco and West Texas.  Maybe next time you’re in Texas!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      That’s great that your office has mini-team building sessions. Especially on Monday. I bet that helps get you out of the Monday morning blues.

      • http://twitter.com/JaysonFeltner Jayson Feltner

        Joe, breaking the Monday morning blues was our vision.  We didn’t know it would have such a unifying effect too.  We tried music, breakfast, all sorts of things but found that team-building exercises really got everyone on the same page. 

  • http://about.me/brendancosgrove Brendan Cosgrove

    I took groups through low and high ropes courses and the biggest hurdle for some was agreeing to give in to the contract of team work.  As an example, I led the local fire dept through both low and high ropes and they blew it off as insignificant, until they almost dropped a guy from about 30 feet up.  They didn’t buy into the idea that they’d HAVE to help each other.  As soon as the stakes were made obvious they straightened up and worked together.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Wow, Brendan.  It surprises me that firefighters didn’t realize the importance of teamwork until the stakes were made clear.  That’s a lesson for all of us!

  • http://www.comprehensivemedia.com/ Joel W. Smith

    Mike,

    We did this at the office last year and it was an incredible experience for our entire team.  They are still talking about it!

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    I love the idea that debriefing saves you time in the end! Having done countless ropes course with teens, after 15 years in Youth min, I can tell you that unless you debrief you may never know where people struggled—and where they were encouraged during the process.  By debriefing our teams we actually hear where friends and co-workers needed support and encouragement/felt support and encouragement—and vise-versa.

  • http://www.cheriblogs.info Cheri Gregory

    When I worked in sales, we did a board breaking exercise in teams. I was the designated holder and quickly discovered that I could predict who would break their board and who would not before they ever touched it. 

    I could see what the non-breakers could not feel: they were “quitting” before they made contact with the board. It was like watching a horse balk at a jump, right at the last minute. 

    Some were able to hear me describe what I saw, make corrections, and break the board on their second try. Others insisted they WERE giving it everything they had, they WERE following all the way through, they were NOT stopping short. Most of them repeatedly failed and eventually gave up. My neck/shoulder/arms were sore for the next week from absorbing the shock of their board hits!

    I learned two lessons:  First, caring colleagues who can tell me when they see me “stopping short” are valuable allies. Second, I don’t want to spend my life absorbing the shock for people who insist they are trying as they insist on failing.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This should be an entire blog post of its own. Very powerful! Thanks for sharing it.

      • http://twitter.com/JaysonFeltner Jayson Feltner

        That is very powerful!  How many times a day do we break through the boards before us and how often do we stop short because we’re afraid?

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    I agree so much with your debriefing comment!  So many time we stop short of learning all we can from any given experience.  Followup is a must!

  • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

    I love #5. I’ve been obser teams that stalled out because we neglected to debrief.

  • Merced Bus Charter

    I think rope courses are a great way to teach not only team work but also trust and strategy. Great post. 

  • http://pagesofflife.blogspot.com/ Rupertt Wind

    A rejuvenating initiative that will lift up team morale

  • Terre

    I’ve lead 16 missions teams to Romania. Each team had to go through the process of training to be a team and working the training on the field once we got there. It was amazing for them to figure out how to do obstacles with – one person blind, one person that couldn’t use their legs, one person who couldn’t use their arms and one person who couldn’t speak. I watched in amazement as the teams developed into smooth running machines by the end of the training. Blew me away! It immediately shows you who is in for the long haul and who’s a quitter. It’s great to see the others pick up the slack or encourage the quitter that they really can go the distance with a little help from their friends.

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  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    I participated in a high ropes course with fellow youth group leaders in high school. It was really interesting to learn about trust and leadership through physical activities instead of a book or seminar.