Learn about team development from a group of educators who participated in an 8-day North Carolina Outward Bound course. Through backpacking, rock climbing, and challenging themselves they learned more about team development than they expected. Listen to their stories and how they will apply what they learned to their classrooms and schools.
What You’ll Learn
- How hiking together taught this group the power of having a common language
- The impact of a shared team vision
- Ways to build trust amongst teams
The Weekly Challenge
In this episode participants talked about shared vision, goals, building trust, and scaffolding the team development. Pick one of those to focus on this week with your team and do one thing to help your team move forward. Share in the comments what you did to help your team grow. Feel free to also use the comments section to ask Amy questions.
Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!
On today’s episode, you’re going to hear seven teachers talk about what they learned about teams on their North Carolina Outward Bound course.
Amy Climer: Welcome to the Deliberate Creative Podcast episode #012. This episode is a bit different from previous episodes. It’s a series of interviews from students on a recent Outward Bound course I led. They are talking about what they learned about building teams. As you listen to them, think about the teams you’re part of particularly those teams trying to be creative. I think you’re going to find it interesting, relevant, and even entertaining.
Before we go to the interviews, I want to tell you a little bit about Outward Bound in case you’re not familiar with it. It’s the oldest and most respected outdoor program in the US, maybe even the world. It’s in several countries around the world. When someone signs up for an Outward Bound course, what they are signing up for anywhere from four days to 72 days of wilderness adventure. That wilderness adventure might involve backpacking, rock climbing, white water canoeing, sea kayaking, mountaineering, or even dog sledding, which I’ve never done but sounds really cool. I tend to do more of the temperate climate activities, but really it’s not about being outside and doing adventurous sports, although that can be amazing. Outward Bound is about pushing yourself. It’s about developing a team and learning who you really are.
The history of Outward Bound is significant. I’ll just give you a little blurb about it. It was originally founded in 1941 by Kurt Hahn who was a German-born Jew and he had fled to England to escape Hitler’s reign. Once in England, he ended up connecting with a shipping company and he helped them develop a program to help the young sailors learn how to handle the challenges of the ocean, essentially learn how to handle being outward bound, which is what it’s called when ships are leaving the harbor. Something Kurt Hahn said I think sums up the essence of Outward Bound. “There’s more in us than we know and if we can be made to see it perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” To me that’s the essence of what Outward Bound is about.
I had a personal experience with that when I was 16 years old. I went on a 16-day Outward Bound course and it absolutely changed my life in a really good way. It taught me tenacity and resilience. Just as an example, a couple of weeks after the Outward Bound course I did, I was at a soccer camp. I played soccer all through high school and it was August. This was in Florida. That’s where I grew up. So we were out there all week playing soccer and practicing. A couple of days into the soccer camp, my coach pulled me over to the side and he was like, “Hey Amy, what do you think of the camp so far? Do you think that I’m pushing people too hard considering the heat or how do you think things are going?” I remember thinking, I can’t answer that. I can’t answer that for the team because my understanding of what is difficult and what is hard is completely different than what it was a month ago or what would be for the rest of the team. I just remember being somewhat speechless and having no idea how to explain all this to him because he didn’t know what Outward Bound was or he didn’t know what I had just done. That was just an example of what I learned and how I applied that tenacity and resilience.
One thing I do remember talking about at the very last day of my Outward Bound course, I told everyone there that I wanted to come back someday as an instructor. It took me a long time. Finally in 2012, I decided to go back and lead some Outward Bound courses. This last month, I was invited to lead an eight-day educator’s initiative course, which is a course specifically designed for Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers. This eight-day course is just the beginning of a 10-month long program that teachers around the US can participate in to learn how to apply experiential learning into the classroom. This particular course involved four days of expedition backpacking in North Carolina, a day of rock climbing, a ropes course, and an overnight solo where students are by themselves in the woods overnight and they spend that time reflecting and learning more about self-reliance. The course concluded with three crews of educators all coming together for some reflection time and to talk about how they are going to incorporate what they learned into the classroom.
It was during that final time when everyone was together that I decided to do some interviews, just short little interviews of some of the students that I was working with. In the interviews, they were answering this question: What did you learn regarding team development that you want to take back to your school? The first person you’re going to hear from is Michael Follo. He’s actually the director of the educator’s program at Outward Bound. Here’s what Michael has to say.
Michael Follo: One of the things that almost every teacher in an Outward Bound course comes away with is the power of what we call crew at Outward Bound, what you’re calling teams and the importance of having the support and the trust of their team members and that’s what allows them to take the kind of figurative leaps that we talk about at Outward Bound, stepping out of your comfort zone into your stretch zone, whether it is going up on a high ropes course, rock climbing or for some teachers, it’s simply being able to sleep on the ground at night, and they talk about how the team building that happens on an Outward Bound course allows them to step out of their comfort zone and how they trust their teammates and they communicate well with each other and then suddenly I see this light go on and they are like, “Holy cow, that’s what I want in my classroom.”
They are taking it away because they are being put in the role of a student again or a team member as opposed to being a team leader. In the classroom, they think of themselves as a leader of a team, but by being put back in that student role and seeing the power of that team in action, they then go back to their classroom really inspired to start trying to change some things about how they run the classroom to give the students a greater voice and to engage the students more in different ways. The other piece that comes in is one of the four pillars of Outward Bound is compassion. Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, said, “Above all compassion.” A teacher can go back to the classroom with greater compassion. I can’t tell you how many times that I have seen a teacher standing at the edge of a rock cliff getting ready to rappel and tears are streaming down their eyes and their legs are shaking and they don’t know if they can do it and suddenly this light goes on and they realize, “Holy cow! This is what little Janie feels like when I asked her to go to the front of the room and solve this problem on the board.” I think having that appreciation of a shared struggle is something that they pick up in the notion of crew or team at Outward Bound and they take back to their classroom and they put it into practice there.
Amy Climer: On the rest of the podcast, you’re going to hear from seven of the nine students on the course that I led and the first thing you’re going to learn about is the importance of shared vision.
Jeanné De Kock: My name is Jeanné De Kock. I teach German at Gilbert High School but I’m originally from South Africa. What I learned during my Outward Bound experience about teambuilding is that in order to unite a team, the most important thing is to have a shared vision. In this case, it was a bit extreme because we really had to rely on each other in order to survive and to have a successful trip; however, I think in everyday situation that is still possible. You can have a shared vision. You can have everybody buy into it and just contribute so that the team is strong. The team survives wherever they are and that everybody can have fun in the process.
Amy Climer: There’s a lot of research to support what is Jeanné is saying. For instance, there’s a study published in 1989 by these two researchers Larson and Lafasto. They interviewed members of highly successful teams to learn what worked, what made those teams so successful. The teams they interviewed were NFL teams that have won the Super Bowl, the team that investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster. They also interviewed members of some political teams that have had some great successes, trying to really get this broad gamut of different fields. Every single team had a clear vision. They were actually surprised at how unequivocal that result was that every single team had a clear vision of where they were going and what they wanted to accomplish. Researchers have found the same thing for teams trying to be creative. Vision is so huge. It’s so simple, but sometimes it’s really not as easy as you’d think it would be.
Next we’re going to hear from Britney who is going to talk about one way to help achieve that vision.
Brittany Frohnhoefer: My name is Brittany Frohnhoefer. I teach seventh grade Life Science at a school in Columbia, South Carolina called Irmo Middle School. It’s an expeditionary learning school. It really seemed to be about creating not only an environment, but also putting in place systems that allow the group to perform the way that we wanted the group to perform. Creating really explicit goals that we all knew what our end goal was for the day. We knew where we needed to get to, we knew what tasks we needed to accomplish, and we all had a common language that we use to talk about those things. If people were not feeling great, we had a red light-green light system to help with the pace and that enabled people to be more vocal and kind of take that initiative in making sure that we were all moving towards that goal.
Amy Climer: What Brittany is talking about is so true and for every member of the team to understand what the goals are and to know where you’re at in reaching the goals. First, Jeanné talked about the vision, kind of hat big picture, and then Brittany is talking about the shorter goals that you have in order to achieve that vision. When everyone understands where they are at and what the status is and how the group is progressing towards those goals, it’s kind of amazing how well it works to help achieve those goals. It’s such a simple concept but often, I’ve seen many, many times where teams think that they are doing that and then they are actually not. If I asked any member of the team, “What’s the vision? What are your team goals? Where are you at when reaching those goals?” Sometimes they can’t answer that. That should be something that any team member can answer pretty quickly.
What I’ve seen is that sometimes, it’s one or two members of the team know that information really well and they just assume that everybody else does as well. I think that’s just something to really pay attention to which is a great segue into the next two people you’re going to hear from. You’re going to hear from Devin and Faith and what they learned was the importance of paying attention to your own behaviors and needs as well as the behaviors and needs of the whole group. First, here’s Devin.
Devin: I’m Devin. I’m a high school Social Studies teacher living in Columbia, South Carolina. One thing that I learned about group dynamics this week is while it’s important to be self aware of how you’re feeling and how your physical state is and your emotional state, it’s often times almost more important to be aware of other people in the group to be looking outward at how other people are doing. For instance, there was a moment on our hike where as a team we were struggling, we were physically exhausted, and mentally tired, and then we arrived in camp. We could have muscled through setting up a camp, but we wouldn’t have been a high performing group at that moment. Instead, somebody recognized our situation. We had a pudding snack that lightened the mood and it made us so that we were a high performing group while we set up camp and for the rest of the evening.
There are other examples of where if one member wasn’t feeling well, they were hiking slow, their pack was too heavy, for whatever reason, they weren’t physically able to perform at their peak, if we recognize that, we could readjust the pack weight to make the load lighter on them so that we could still be moving forward as a team as opposed to having an injured member or having to stop completely. Similarly with looking outwardly at the emotional state of people, if somebody was frustrated, if everybody in the group was thinking about themselves, nobody recognized that and it would be a stress or a strain on the entire group, whereas if one person recognized that another person was stressed, they could go talk to that person, figure out what’s going on, try to resolve it, and then that wouldn’t be a strain on the entire group and the entire group could be just a little bit better performing again.
Faith Carnes: Hi, I’m Faith Carnes. I’m from Columbia, South Carolina. I teach Math at River Bluff High School. From this week, working with this team of people for just several days, I think the one thing that I’ll take away working with groups is just awareness starting with myself, just being self aware, knowing my personality, knowing my attitude, and how it changes depending on certain events and certain circumstances. I know that I’m an introvert a lot of times but I’m very outgoing. I know that can play as strength into my group, which leads into like another thing is knowing your strengths and your weaknesses. For me, I know that I’m not very physically fit so I wasn’t very good at climbing the hills, very steep hills, but I know that one of my strengths was setting the pace for the entire group. I felt like I could keep them altogether. Another strength of mine is I think I brought a lot of humor and a lot of energy into the group from what I lacked in being able to do actual tasks well.
The other side of that is if you’re going to be self aware then you need to be aware of your group as well and the same exact things. Knowing your team members, knowing their personalities, knowing who is an introvert, who is an extrovert, knowing who is naturally going to step up first and knowing who is going to kind of hang back last. Knowing what people are good at and what they struggle with, you can really play on those strengths and give people purpose that they may not necessarily had before especially when you’re in such a confined setting as Outward Bound.
One of things that I’ve done this trip is I like to wake everybody up with singing and I really enjoy singing. It’s one of my passions. It’s one of my enjoyments. When I get stressed out or when I get frustrated, I really enjoy just music and it always lightens my mood and removes any anger or frustrations that I have. One of our favorite songs this week has been when we jumped off the ropes course swinging and for some reason, I thought, it will be a good idea to sing Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball so I think I’ll just do a little number for you.
Amy Climer: That would be awesome.
Faith Carnes: [Sings Wrecking Ball]
Amy Climer: That’s awesome.
Faith Carnes: Thank you.
Amy Climer: This was awesome. When you were on the platform, you started and then like the pause, and you jumped and you were belting out Wrecking Ball, it was so cool. Hopefully we got it on video.
Faith Carnes: I know. I really hope so.
Amy Climer: All right. You just heard Faith’s amazing singing abilities and we did get a video of her on the giant swing. It was actually pretty amazing. The giant swing starts about three stories high and you jump off and it’s just this huge swing. As Faith jumped off, she was singing wrecking ball. It was awesome. Fortunately, Devin brought his GoPro Camera and he put together this great four-minute video of the whole experience. I’ll put that in the show notes. If you’re interested in watching it towards the end of the video you can see Faith and Brittany as well go off the giant swing. It’s pretty epic.
I want to talk briefly about what Faith and Devin brought up, this idea of understanding yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses. One of the things that Faith really brought to the group was this amazing musical ability. She is a beautiful singer and she would just launch into song at the best moments. She would bring this sense of humor and there was so much laughing. It was incredible. She understood that about herself and I think she was also really cognizant and aware of when to use that and when not to. I think that is a critical for a group to understand their own behaviors and sometimes it’s a good time for humor and sometimes it’s not.
If you’re curious about how to help team members understand how they impact other people, I would recommend using a tool like FourSight which we talked about in episode #008, Myers-Briggs, DISC, or Social Styles or several of those tools combined together can actually be really powerful because all of those tools look at different aspects of our personality and our behaviors. Doing that as a team can really help the team get a better understanding of themselves and how they impact each other. Absolutely, the most important powerful person of a team is not necessarily the team leader, but the group member. You’ve probably been a part of teams where there was one person in particular that really brought the whole team down or conversely, brought the whole team up and helped make it an amazing experience because of their particular strengths that they brought. Not to say that it’s one in particular person on the team, but just that every person on the team impacts the group. The leader also is important. I don’t mean to diminish that, but it’s not just the leader. Every team member is critical.
Next you’re going to hear from Cat and Krista, and both of them talk about just the process of creating the team and how it’s not just about throwing a group of people together and letting them do their thing, but there is some intentional process around that. They also talk about building trust and that ability to learn to disagree with each other and get comfortable with that. Here’s Cat and then Krista.
Cat Bitty: I am Cat Bitty. I currently teach in Greenville, South Carolina and I teach Spanish to 2nd through 8th graders. I think one of the most important takeaways I got from this Outward Bound experience is that to have an effective team, you really have to scaffold the creation of that team. You just can’t throw people into a group and expect them to function and perform. You need to create opportunities to build trust, to practice effective communication and just to lay the foundation for that group to be successful, and I think that’s one of the things that our leaders definitely did. There were no assumptions about us as individuals or as a group, and we had opportunities to come together and to build exactly that – trust, communication and then performance. I think that is really important and then just being really aware of the relationships and the group dynamics. That was definitely the biggest takeaway.
Amy Climer: Can you go back and give an example of, you talked about the scaffolding which I think is so true. Can you give an example of something that helped you all develop trust and get to know each other better?
Cat Gbédey: I think one great example was it was an initiative called Traffic Jam. Basically, you’re set up with a challenge, different people’s personalities kind of came through in a way that you had to be cognizant of all the group members in order to accomplish the task. I think a common goal, a common language helps with that providing common language so the group can communicate effectively, but having a shared goal where you need to work together as a team and not have too many dominant personalities to get the task done, and then more importantly is taking the time after that to debrief and discuss what was successful, what wasn’t, and what can you do better the next time. Not only that but having a feeling of success. So once the task was accomplished, can we do it again and can we do it better, and then feeling that sense of accomplishment later because even that feeling of success, of finishing the task translates into developing a better relationship. That was a really nice step that we took.
Krista: Hi, my name is Krista and I teach at the Franklin School of Innovation in Asheville. What I learned this week as far as about team development, I think the most important thing for me is creating an environment of trust because without that, I don’t think group members can fully function. They can’t be their true selves and they don’t feel like they have the ability to speak out or even be quiet. I think trust is huge and without that, a team can’t reach its full potential. It just gives people the opportunity to disagree if they need to disagree and really buy into the goal or the ideas that the group is trying to work for us.
Amy Climer: How do you feel like trust was developed on this course?
Krista: I think part of it was we spent a lot of time just getting to know each other as people and kind of learning about, just talking with one another about our like and dislikes. I also think the fact that we had a commonality of being teachers. That was big so we knew we have this purpose of trying to work with children and help children. I also think our leaders did a great job of providing us opportunities to build that through initiatives and other activities like the rock climbing that we did and the training for the rock climbing before that, our navigation.
Amy Climer: I was just going to say that.
Krista: Our navigation skills and so forth so that we could put trust in our team members to get us where we needed to go either on foot or even mentally.
Amy Climer: On that last clip, you heard Krista and I laughing about navigation and I want to tell you about what happened because I think it’s interesting story and may help you understand more about leaders and teams and how they fit together. I think this was day three of the course and we had spent the previous two days backpacking. Students had learned about navigation, map and compass and knew at least the basics about how to navigate and how to understand the terrain and how to use a Topo Map. We get to an intersection. It’s a three-way intersection. We knew which way we came from and so we could go either straight or right. I knew exactly where we were. I had been there before, but of course they didn’t know where we were and so we stopped in that intersection and they are looking at the map and mulling over it and trying to figure out which way we need to go. At this point, the group and their stages of development, I would say they were pretty comfortably in the norming stage. They had gotten to know each other fairly well even though it was only day three. They’d had a few moments of storming but they were working really well together. So as a leader, I felt like at that stage, my job was really to step back and to be fairly abdicratic and let them figure it out. Let them do their thing.
We were close to our camp site and one direction was the camp site and the other direction wasn’t. I knew that the camp site was straight so they are sitting there at the intersection and they sent a few scouts in either direction to just go up a few 100 yards to see what they could see. They came back and they are having a conversation about which direction to go. Ultimately, they decided to turn right. So now as a leader, I’m in this situation where I had to make a decision – do I tell them that actually the camp site is straight and we should go straight or do I go along and focus more on their learning, learning about navigation and decision making together. My co-leader and I decided we were going to step back and we made that decision for a couple of reason, 1) because of the stage of where the group was at. We wanted them to learn more about themselves and we wanted them to learn more about decision making. The second is it wasn’t a safety issue. Whichever direction we went, we weren’t in danger or anything. It was about 3 PM. We had plenty of time to go back if we needed to and we felt that was going to be more powerful than just telling them “Well, actually you’re wrong we need to go in this direction.”
Then the group decided if we go in the wrong direction, they could see on the map that there was a creek that went along the trail. They felt like, “Well, if we start going in this direction, it’s not the right way, we’ll see the water or at least we’ll hear the water and then we’ll know we should turn around.” That’s a great little stop-back to decide. So we turned right. We start walking down a little ways. What do you know, there’s a creek. We can hear the water. Somebody said, “Oh, there’s a creek. I can hear the water.” Everybody just kept right on trucking along in the same direction. I’m thinking, “This is fascinating.” Finally, we hit a road and it was very clear once we hit the road, we were probably about 1-1.5 miles past our camp site. At that point, they realized, “Wow, we completely ignored all the information. We didn’t pay attention. We knew there was a creek and we didn’t decide to turn around, and now here we are 1-1.5 miles away.” Then they had to make a decision. Do we go back or do we stay where we are? Again, it wasn’t a safety issue. We were in National Forest, which means you can camp just about anywhere within some parameters, but it didn’t have to be a designated camp site. They had a great discussion about that.
What was interesting I think in some ways was how they responded to my co-leader and I because at this point they knew that we knew that we should have gone straight back there and we didn’t speak up. Some groups respond in a way where they were really angry like, “Why didn’t you say something? Why did you let us keep going in that direction?” This group – I was really impressed with their maturity because they realized they had made this decision on their own and it was up to them. They looked at us and basically said, “Well, thank you for helping us learn.” We kind of laughed about it and we talked about what problems came up in the decision, how they made the decision, and I think at the end of the day it was a really good learning experience for them.
I bring up this example because if that group is in that norming stage, it can really be valuable for the leader to step back and be a bit more abdicratic with the focus on the group learning how to work better together and how to make decisions together, but as a leader if you’re going to do that, please make sure that you are comfortable with the decision the group makes. In this case, I was completely comfortable. I was fine if we walked 1.5 miles and then walk 1.5 miles back or if we decide to stay in the new place. I knew it was okay whichever decision we made.
I have seen leaders who want to empower the group and want them to make their own decisions but then at the last minute when they don’t make the decision the leader likes, the leader said ”Oh yeah, just kidding. You actually have to do this other decision.” That’s not necessarily empowering a group. If you’re in that situation, make sure you’re truly comfortable with the decision the group makes. Next you’re going to hear from Sarah. Sarah talks about the stages of group development that the group went through. At this point, it’s the last day and the group is really in that adjourning stage. Prior to that, there’s the forming, storming, norming, and performing stages. If you really want a really in-depth conversation about that, you can listen to episode #009 of this podcast. You’ll hear Sarah talk about how those stages evolved in the group and her insights in them. Here’s Sarah.
Sarah Holland: Hi, I’m Sarah Holland. I currently live in Asheville, North Carolina and I teach Kindergarten at Evergreen Community Charter School. Throughout our trip on Outward Bound, we talked a lot about the four stages that groups go through when they are developing. We talked about how at the beginning they form, then they go through the storming phase, further progressing to the norming phase, and then finally ending with the adjourning phase or the departure of the group. A lot of people had a lot of emotions with our upcoming departure. I noticed the group was reacting in a couple of different ways. Some people were feeling really nostalgic and resistant to move on while some others were feeling numb to the process and would rather choose to ignore our pending departure. As a group, we reflected on it and decided that adjourning or the departing of the group was just as important as the former three phases that we went through and that they should be equally celebrated and equally embraced because once a group adjourns, another will surely form. By that, I mean we can take what we learn together throughout the past eight days and we can carry those skills on into the next group that we find ourselves a part of.
Amy Climer: You all just heard from seven different educators who were part of the crew of an Outward Bound course that I led last month as well as from Michael Follo, the director of the Educator’s Program at North Carolina Outward Bound School. They all talked about some different important pieces to developing teams. They talked about the importance of a shared vision, of shared goals, common language, developing trust amongst each other and how to scaffold that team building process as well as understanding the stages of group development.
I hope this was helpful. Let me know what you thought. I would love to get an email from you. Tell me what you thought of this episode. It’s a little different than some of the others, but I might do this style on occasion if you liked it. It’s definitely a little bit more work than some of the other ones, but I really enjoyed it and the Outward Bound course was just absolutely amazing.
For those of you who are regular listeners, you know that we always end the episode with a weekly challenge related to the topic. This week’s challenge is I want you to think about one of those things, pick one of those things that the participant’s talked about, shared vision, goals, building trust, scaffold in the team development. Pick one of those to focus on this week with your team and then do one thing to help your team move forward in relation to that concept. If you can, I would love it if you went to the show notes and share it in the comments what you did to help your team grow and tell us what happened. How did it go? I would be happy to write you back and offer comments and feedback if you like. The show notes you can access online at ClimerConsulting.com/012 because it is episode #012. Feel free to also use those comment sections to ask me questions or you can go to my website and shoot me an email. The website address is ClimerConsulting.com and the show notes are at ClimerConsulting.com/012. I’ll also put up there the link to the research that I mentioned, the link to the Outward Bound School website and a link to Devin’s video that he put together. You can see Faith and Brittany jumping off the giant swing. It’s pretty cool.
I also like to make a request of you if you’re listening. If you haven’t already, go over to iTunes and write me a review for this podcast. Let me know what you think of the Deliberate Creative Podcast. Write a review. It only takes a few minutes. It makes a big difference. It helps the show rank higher, which means more people have access to it and more people can listen, and it’s great feedback for me. I love reading the reviews. I read every single one of them. Thank you to all of you who have written a review and if you haven’t, head on over to iTunes, you can go to ClimerConsulting.com/iTunes. It will take you right there. That would just mean so much to me.
Thank you everyone. I’ll see you next time. Bye!
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