Management Lessons - learnt the unconventional way
An email ..
Often companies take their employees to an offsite location and have a program wherein they talk about things other than work but which is supposed to help us be better at what we do each and every day.
There was once a Business Leader who conducted such an annual offsite program which was a mandate for all managers. Who doesn’t like a fully paid trip by the company? So when it was announced via email about the upcoming offsite, there was a natural buzz amongst all managers. The excitement was even more since the first email about the ‘camp’ was sent over a month in advance which just mentioned the date and asked to wait for more information.... so everybody could get their back up managers in place and get all necessary approvals from their respective Clients (this was a services business where almost all teams were Client facing functions).
Thereafter every few days, the business leader would send emails about ‘getting prepared’. He asked everybody who has never exercised to start something today; get out for that run, get time out to swim or just hit the gym after work. Curiosity was arisen and all were wondering what this is all about? Why do we need to start exercising for a company management offsite?? But nobody had answers and there was no grapevine information. Senior leadership were as clueless as the mid and junior level managers.
Finally the mail came about ‘things to carry/essentials’ – few warm clothes, torch, whistle, a party dress, shorts, swim suit, a fancy dress, track pants, comfortable sneakers....leaving everybody all the more bewildered. Nothing was making sense. Warnings were sent not to take the camp preparations easy and to follow all advise and instructions to the T. Nobody even knew where we were headed!! Family was to be informed once we reached the camp destination. You can only imagine the excitement brewing amongst the brave hearted and the uneasiness of the less adventurous.
D Day arrives
So on the D Day, all managers updated their outlook with ‘out of office’ messages and grabbed their bags, changed into comfortable sporty wear and assembled in the cafeteria per the instruction mail.
Our business leader was there with a cap and whistle sharp at the meeting assembly time, he addressed the curious bunch of approximately 75 managers. Told us, we were in for a great time ahead, to be strong and courageous and be open to listen, follow instructions and learn. He laid down a few rules of conduct for all irrespective of hierarchy and warned of consequences not nice for not adhering to rules. The business leader was an ex army man and we started feeling we were headed to boot camp!
All of us got into buses and realised we were heading to the railway station! At the railway station a group of non office folks started to organise us into small teams and took over our luggage, gave us more instructions. We boarded the train in the dead of the night with no idea where we were headed. Too tired and knowing we won’t get any answers, most of us dozed off. After around 6 hours, we got off at a small place in the hills and were asked to get into buses again!! Groan, tired and stiff, we complied, some grumpy, some excited and some too tired to express themselves. After another couple of hours of winding bus journey through the hilly slopes, we stopped once to eat and finally reached a camp site by a river just after dark.
...at camp finally
There were numerous tents already put up and a blazing bonfire in the middle of the camp site. It was a chilly dark night in the hills in the month of November.
We were told which tents to occupy and could not choose to be with our team mates or friends. In fact we were three of us in one tent and had to introduce ourselves to each other. We all belonged to the same business function, but worked in different teams for various clients and probably saw each other in office, but never really interacted.
With ‘orders’ from our business leader to report at the main meeting ground at 6am sharp the next morning and to finish breakfast and be dressed for a day long trek before assembling, we wearily retired for the night.
It was quite a restful sleep actually – sleeping in actual tents, hearing the river flow by and cuddling in our warm quilts, a new experience for many of us.
Day 1 at camp
Next morning we wore awoken at 5am with calls for tea and hot water buckets being sent to the ‘tent bathrooms’ just behind each tent. Hurriedly, we showered in the freezing cold, thankful for hot water and hot tea. Rushed for breakfast and I think 70 of us 75 reported sharp at 6 am. The Business Leaders warning of punishment for being late and not ready was taken seriously by most of us!
We then witnessed what happens, if you didn’t heed to his instructions – the 5 of them were asked to do front rolls in front of all us- men & women alike. Management Lesson One – if you don’t follow established guidelines, you affect everybody around you with whom you work, it is essential to meet timelines – do your bit because you contribute to the larger picture. We were told how because of the 5 , we were delayed by ten minutes and that ten minute delay affects the entire full day schedule for all the 75 of us.
We then boarded our assigned buses again and reached the trek starting point. Given some chocolate bars and juice & small water bottles, we were briefly instructed and started the long long trek up the slopy green hillside. It was a beautiful experience, the grasslands were lush and spotted with colourful flowers in bloom and the incline wasn’t too trying. Yet for many uninitiated, it got tiring within an hour and we had four hours more to go. One observed small teams or groups being formed – based on physical stamina and spirit. There were some more experienced folks who hung with the inexperienced and boosted their morale. Some considered it a race to the finish and strutted off not bothering about the rest while some just trudged along with a swollen face! The various kinds of ‘people’ , personalities and behaviours were being exhibited by each 75 of us and we did not know notes and observations were being made.
It was a day long trek and we made it back to base camp only by late evening. We were nevertheless asked to freshen up and report for the evening activity. Gathered around the bonfire, our business leader asked people of their opinion of the day’s trek and many different opinions were expressed. He then summarized and explained many facets of group behaviour and the learnings of the day. We then had to participate in a fun role play team activity post which steaming hot dinner was served. Later we were divided into two large groups and Group A was asked to dress in clothes appropriate for water sports and Group B was asked to wear clothes fit for regular outdoor activities. All of us then crashed again not knowing what tomorrow holds, each one just being sure not to be late for report time of 6am and aware of what to wear!
Day two of camp- no one was late barring one person. (You will always have one bad apple!) With another different set of reprimand tasked out, Group A was informed they would be heading out for rafting and some water based activities and Group B was informed they would be going Bungee Jumping. After realising which group was in store for what, we split for breakfast and for sure, the folks heading for rafting ate well and cheerfully and the group headed for bungee jumps barely got a morsel in and some of us were ready to throw up in spite of empty stomachs!
Camp rules were straightforward; there was no laying back or saying NO. You were explained, comforted and convinced to do every task, unless a medical condition existed, nobody was spared. All had to give it a try, not trying was NOT an option. Our Business Leader travelled with the group heading for Bungee Jumping and it was quite a solemn bus ride to the Bungee Spot – a suspension bridge around 75-100 feet above a flowing river. Here too, every different facet of human personas were exhibited, there were those who were daredevils, those who needed to put their minds to it and those who had to be coerced to try and even THINK that they can do it. Surprisingly after the business leader and a prior experienced bungee jumper did their jumps, we were ten women who took the plunge from the bridge and into the valley below shrieking our lungs out in a mix of fear and delight. Later it was our Business Leaders favourite line – I had ten girls come forward to do the bungee jump, while the boys looked and thought; and then what did the boys do..they jumped too!! It was a very memorable day for most of us, yes there were a few who couldn’t get themselves to step off the bridge even though the entire remaining group cheered and encouraged them. Some took as much as twenty minutes standing at the edge and then finally dived, few jumped soon after being strapped up- it was a great mix of experiences and we all learnt a lot that day about courage, about equality, about being convinced, about learning from experience, learning by seeing, peer pressure and most of all bonding and working to one cause..we wanted each one of us to be successful, to be courageous and to take the plunge to experience the exhilarating.
That evening on our ride back in the bus, the group was on a natural high of having overcome great fear and accomplishing something a majority of us had never done before- of being successful as a team even though it was each individual moment of truth. We sang heartily all the way back to the camp – quite opposite of the morning ride in!
Back at the evening camp fire gathering, we were informed the other Group had done some intense level 4-5 rapids rafting and jumped off a cliff into the flowing river with helmets and life jackets (non swimmers too) and had also rappelled down a 45-50 foot bridge via a rope which ended ten feet above water (everyone was told it ended 4 feet above the water!). But the Bungee group was naturally a happier lot knowing that next day was going to be doing tricks from a height of a bridge almost half of the one they had dived off from earlier today. Stories and experiences were shared once again and more lessons were summarized by our Business Leader. Those debrief sessions post the days activities were simply fabulous.
Learning and more..
Day 3 at camp, the groups inter- changed activities and we all came through. It was the last night, after two days of strict regimen and timelines and no smoking, no drinking it was party time and we had a fancy dress evening. This one was mandatory too and given the limited resources at hand in the middle of the hills, driven by mandate it was amazing at the number of ideas, funny materials and costumes people came up with. It just proved that if you put your mind to it and have no choice but to find solutions to problems, you will.
Those three days at camp taught us A LOT and our Business Leader summarized it so beautifully for us – he made a power point presentation which had only pictures (yes, we had an official photographer with us ALL the time) and a fabulous motivational background score with punch lines.
It was all about breaking barriers, achieving targets, utilizing our strengths and working with people we have never met or never will and driving results. It gave us a chance to network with people we would not do in a normal work days, it taught us to believe, to adapt, to not be afraid to try new things, ideas....things we were urged to use in our work lives and aim to be better managers.
“when was the last time you did something for the first time” – that became the punch line for many more camps to come and did we young budding managers learn so much from them. We saw people in a different light – the stern manager at work was a totally different person when rowing those rapids by your side on the rough river!
We were young and we learnt well and we moved on with great memories too...