There’s No ‘I’ in Team, Except When There Is

Sportsmen-parashutist soaring in sky

By: Jim Lotz

 Having been in sales and sales management for more years than I care to reveal, I’ve seen many sales training, team building, and personal advancement exercises. Thinking back, I find them very interesting and I’d like to contrast a pair of them, here.

While working for a large technology advisory service organization, the manager wanted people to think and act outside their comfort zones. At a team dinner meeting, she shocked us with the next day’s activity: we were going skydiving, tandem style. For those unfamiliar with the term, that means you fling yourself from a perfectly good airplane with an experienced jumper strapped to your back. Sounds relaxing, right? Because it was a risky endeavor, we were not mandated nor obligated to participate in this potentially life-threatening activity. Response to the manager’s proposal were across the board: complete fear and refusal, all-out enthusiasm, and some borderline.

To me, jumping from a plane at 14,000 feet seemed downright wrong. Despite our misgivings, everyone went through the training. Only four of six, plus the manager, made the jump. After we made the jump—an exhilarating and terrifying experience—I did feel a sense of accomplishment, of doing something scary and coming out the other side flush with success. Not only that, the five of us had experienced it together. How did the non-participants feel afterwards? Did this turn out to be a case of spending more on high performers and less on lower performing?

Another team building day was at Hurricane Island Penobscot Bay, Maine. Here’s how it went down. We were put into groups split among all areas of sales and sales leadership for an Outward Bound School course, which required trust, mastery of skills, fitness, confidence, tenacity, leadership, initiative, and compassion. The course included a climbing wall so we could demonstrate trust and teamwork. There was a high-altitude leap of faith from a totem that emphasized trust, confidence, and tenacity. We built a raft and maneuvered it into the water to practice leadership, compassion, and teamwork. Unfortunately, through it all, the SVP decided to go first for each event and the rest of us could give it a try if time permitted—not exactly the kind of team building or example of leadership most of us were looking for.  This would have been an ideal day to see how people could rise to each challenge in their own unique way. I would have been looking for potential leaders, making sure everyone had opportunity.  It didn’t turn out that way.

Each experience was interesting in how it was chosen, planned, and executed. The goal for both was to unite us as a group, to improve the team’s ability to problem-solve and communicate, but the outcomes were radically different. Do you think of these types of team-building activities are valuable? What have you done and how did you feel afterward?

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