Two years ago, I got the first taste of what has become my favorite hobby; I partnered with a colleague and friend to enter an 8-hour adventure race in the north Georgia mountains. Adventure racing is a sport in which teams of 2-4 people orienteer, walk, run, bike, and paddle from “point a” to “point b” while collecting checkpoints along the way. The objective is to find as many checkpoints as possible and return to the finish line within the allotted time. Since that first race, I have had the opportunity to compete in events up to thirty hours in length; these experiences have taught me a lot about teams.
Adventure racing is teaming at its best. Throughout the course of a race, teams will problem solve, communicate, endure hardship, leverage individual strengths, provide support and encouragement to one another, fail, succeed, and celebrate. I love the personal challenge adventure racing presents; but it is the team effort and the way the team pushes me to excel that keeps me coming back.
You may not be an adventure racer (yet), but the lessons for teams it can teach are universal.
4 takeaways that you can apply to help your team grow in both productivity and fulfillment:
Create value for your team.
Teams are at their best when every member gives their all for the collective goal. If anything is held back, someone is carrying the extra load. In adventure racing, the last thing I want to do is make someone else’s job more difficult. For this reason, being on a team makes me better because it pushes me to give everything I have; I don’t want to let the team down. We need that same mentality in the workplace and the best teams have it. A team is a unit with a collective goal. When we are accountable for our action items and give our best effort, we get to enjoy the triumph of pushing ourselves and others to be better for the sake of the team.
It is difficult to create value for the team without preparation. In a race, one teammate’s failure to train can derail everyone. Rather than staying fixed on achieving the goal, the team’s focus must shift to helping an unprepared teammate catch up. This is true in any team context. Walking into a meeting without reviewing the agenda, or with incomplete action items, or having neglected to properly prepare for a thoughtful discussion are all ways to stall progress and hold the team back. We can serve our teams well by showing up prepared.
Rely on your teammates.
My adventure racing team employs a system that enables each member to communicate his mental and physical status throughout the race. If someone is struggling, the team adjusts, and at one point or another, every member struggles. It can be hard to ask others for help, but if we are not willing to rely on our teammates for support, why be on a team? I don’t want to work alone on a major project or initiative any more than I want to look for an adventure racing checkpoint by myself in the middle of the night. By letting the team help when you fall behind, you can prevent the more significant setbacks that occur when you wait too long and things really fall apart.
If the goal is shared, then resources should be shared as well. On a team, everyone wins or everyone loses; there is no value in keeping resources to yourself. Time, tools, information, knowledge, and networks are all scarce resources; team members must be willing to share these freely. It is not valuable for you to complete your task if others fall behind and the project ultimately fails. Share whatever you possess that will benefit other team members. Rest assured there will be a time when you need resources from others, as well.