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CAUTION! Teambuilding Ahead
My affection for teambuilding sparked during the journey through cubscout and webelos. Army experiences further revealed that survival depended upon team. We had to work as a unit to navigate our way through a forest or through complex situations while under fire. Eventually, I recognized the transferable benefits to the corporate world. Today, few things thrill me more than getting my team outdoors to test and build our collective capabilities.
Of course…there is an element of danger involved in these pursuits.
The Burn. My first civilian ropes course. I was a Director at Parkview Medical Center, and all leaders were required to attend this training. We had a blast pushing the boundaries. That is, until we got to the capstone element: the Power Pole. “One participant climbs to the top of a utility pole using staples. Upon reaching the top, the participant leaps from the pole and attempts to catch the trapeze bar suspended in the air.”
A 45-five foot pole towered above me. Few attempted to even reach the top, and I couldn’t blame them. I was the last to go, and peer pressure and pride kept me from bailing out. I climbed to the highest point, and I still recall the effort it took to reach above the climbing staples and hook up to the safety line. Then I stood on top of the 12-inch wide utility pole. It swayed with the wind, keeping me off balance. About 10 feet out and 2 feet lower than my line of sight, the trapeze bar beckoned. I’d never felt so scared in my life—except the time I got arrested for joyriding when I was fourteen.
My halfhearted plan was to make it look like a strong attempt for the trapeze then just fall and wait for the safety line to catch. I removed my gloves, crouched, and made the leap. Before the safety caught, I grabbed the climbing rope attached to the trapeze. Gravity sucked me down about 10 feet until the safety jerked me into a halt. I hung in pain. The skin on the insides of both hands had ripped away.
Once I was lowered, the CNO and ED Director took me straight to the hospital. More agonizing than the burn was the ED doc cleansing the wound before working on it. Even writing this makes me want to clasp my hands shut as I had done after the injury.
- Never do anything half assed or expecting to fail
- When handling ropes, wear gloves!
Rapids. My team had accomplished the incredible. Over 18 months, as part of a start-up, they installed a new application across 23 disparate and independent minded academic departments that represented 750 physicians plus residents. To celebrate, they chose the teambuilding activity of river rafting. A month later, we entered the Class III/IV rapids of the Youghiogheny River. Although I rafted a bit in simulated beach assaults with the Army, I had zero experience with rapids. I became raft captain by default.
We hit the first Class II rapids (easy), and I fell out. My raft-mates grabbed for me, but the current was too swift. Floating downstream and getting beat up by underwater boulders I then remembered the training: float feet first and on top of the water. Easier said than done. The rafting company had a three-tier safety layer in place in the event a bozo like me fell out. Tier one failed. I was headed straight for serious Class III and IV rapids. A Tier two guide in a kayak couldn’t reach me. I started to panic, which made matters worse. In the distance, the Tier three guide stood on a large boulder in the middle of the river with a rope. She threw out the safety line, and my eyes affixed like laser beams on my last hope. She couldn’t have been more than 100 pounds, but she was all I had between life and death.
I grabbed the rope as I hit the Class IV rapids. A “keeper hydraulic” took me under. The jet-like flow ripped through every crevice of my life vest and helmet until I felt as if the water would strip away all my safety gear. The current pushed me under, and I fought for air. I saw the proverbial flash of my life. That one-hundred-pound saint on top of the boulder…to her credit, she remained steadfast and eventually pulled me into an eddy. I stood there, shaking. The Tier two kayak made its way toward me, and the sliver of courage I had left got me back in the water and reunited with my team. And yes, this entire event was caught on video thanks to the “package” we purchased from the tour group.
- Listen to and consider all safety precautions
- Don’t stick your ass out too far unless you’re willing to accept risk (that’s how I fell out of the raft)
- If you fall, muster your courage and soldier on
Slide for Life. Prior to being commissioned as an Army Officer, all cadets had to acquire a RECONDO certification. One of the activities in the course was the Slide for Life. You slide down a zip line across a lake, keeping your eye on the flagman on the far side. When the red flag raises, you extend your legs straight until your frame forms an L-shape. When the flag lowers, you let go of the zip line and drop into the water. Given the trajectory, this posture enables you to hit the water butt first and the world is good.
With great amusement, I lingered after completing this event to watch the other platoons execute. Most did fine, but every once in a while, someone decided against the L-shape and let go in an I-shape. The soldier hit boots first resulting in spectacular somersaults. In other cases, some were too scared to release at all and ended up crashing into the sandbags at the end of the zip line.
- Follow instructions
- Fear causes paralysis
After a string of traumatic experiences, I chose safer team building activities. Here’s what happened:
Curling. One of my directs was a curling fanatic, so I agreed to some ice time. What could possible go wrong? We dressed warm and headed for the Mayfield Curling Club. My CTO was tall and aggressive. We were in this to win. I shoved our stone down the ice where he was sweeping to heat up the ice and influence trajectory. He pushed too hard on the broom and his feet came out from under him. He fell face first. When we rolled him over, blood gushed from his mouth where his teeth had punctured a hole through his lower lip. Our CMIO and two nurses applied first aid. Given the severity of the cut and apparent concussion, we called an ambulance.
I could just hear my CEO. “We lost our CTO to what? Curling?” Thankfully, the man was released the next day following observation and stitches.
- Ice is slick as hell
- Don’t make fun of curlers
The “low-key” retreat. I held an offsite retreat once with no outdoor events. One of our team accidentally slipped and fell and messed up his knee before the meeting even began. A great object lesson in teamwork followed: The CMIO did an evaluation. The combat medic rounded up some gauze and wrapped the knee. The CTO ensured the meeting room was set-up to accommodate the wounded. The non-clinicians fetched ice and painkillers. And, in the ultimate display of team and knowing nothing was broken, the injured refused to seek medical attention until after the day was done.
- Injuries can happen in any environment
- It is smart to have clinicians as your direct reports!
Despite the potential for injury, if you haven’t escaped with your team to develop relationship and strengthen the bond, then plan one today. Mmmmmm…perhaps climbing mountains should be avoided….
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn andFacebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.