Scavenger hunts, paintballing, and escape rooms can be fun but do they really help to build your team or do they just reinforce divisions? Here's why you need to get your team outside into nature instead.
photo: PlusX at a School of the Wild team day. Courtesy PlusX.
What did your last team-building day look like?
Perhaps it was a day of all-out fun and activities: paintballing, go-karting or scavenger hunting. These kinds of team-building days can be a fantastic way to get out of the office and allow team members to get to know each other in a relaxed environment.
Or maybe it was a more sedate, work-focussed day, held at a hotel or conference venue, where your team could learn, strategise and think together. This kind of day can be really useful as a way to kickstart new plans and re-evaluate old ones, away from email distractions.
But there’s a big problem with both of these kinds of traditional team-building: neither does much to actually build a team. They can feel as if they do, but the real, deep work of growing together rarely happens.
The "secret" behind the world's top performing teams right now (hint: it's right outside your window)
Photo by Linda Knicely on Unsplash
How can you up your team’s performance without micromanaging or stressing them out?
The last thing you want to do is to become some kind of strict, school teacher leader, standing behind them cracking the whip (and the reality is, that never works).
But you know that you could be performing better. You see other teams in organisations like yours with more creativity, more focus and better results…
It’s not that you don’t try. You read articles on productivity in Forbes and HBR every week. Your door is always open…and you hope your people know that. You’re constantly checking-in and being supportive, especially when everyone’s working from home.
And yet you’re not seeing the results you know your team is capable of.
Where exactly are you going wrong? You think you’re doing everything right, so what’s the big secret that you’re missing?
Top-performing teams understand the power of nature
The secret to creating a high-performing team doesn’t lie in switching from Asana to Basecamp. Or thinking up new KPIs. Or even in more away days (even if you do choose a jaw-dropping hotel conference room to run them in…)
The “secret” to high-performance is in learning from nature.
Our ancestors did this naturally, because nature was all they had. When you’re working together to kill a mammoth, you really need to perform well under pressure and work to each others’ strengths.
And while we’re not killing mammoths any more, we’re still the same humans. We’ve evolved to work collaboratively in small groups, in which everyone is equally valued. We’re designed to solve problems together, not just in nature, but because of nature.
Remote work or back to the office? How nature can help you to navigate the right path for your organisation.
On 23rd March 2020, as Boris Johnson confirmed the inevitable coronavirus lockdown, everyone’s world changed, abruptly and decisively.
Days, even hours, before we commuted to work on grimy, busy trains, worked all day surrounded by hundreds of colleagues in open-plan offices, and socialised elbow-to-elbow in packed-out pubs.
We were forced to adapt suddenly to back-to-back Zoom meetings at the kitchen-table while listening to a six-year old’s maths lesson. Our lives beyond the home were reduced to a daily walk around the block and a weekly supermarket queue.
The change was brutal but necessary. There were no choices, either for organisations or individuals, and no time to think before we took action.
Now, as we come out of lockdown, we do have time to think as we plan a future that combines the best of our pre and post-pandemic worlds.
The problem? Not everyone will agree on what that future will look like. The old normal has gone, and we don’t yet know what the new normal is.
The organisations that thrive will be those that recognise that everyone now has their own definition of normal, and is able to adapt to these multiple normals with both empathy and ambition.
Is it time to bring your team back?
In your organisation, you might have:
Forests are places where a great diversity of life thrives. Understanding how a forest works can help you discover new ways to promote creative thinking, encourage support and foster better communication in your organisation.
Photo by Galan Regatama on Unsplash
Back in 1997, chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric America, Tachi Kiuchi said this about what he’d learned about business - from the rainforest: “With thin soil, few nutrients, and almost no resources, rainforests could never qualify for a loan. Yet rainforests are more productive than any business in the world, home to millions of species of plants and animals, so perfectly mixed that they sustain one another and evolve into ever more complex forms. These environments excel by adapting to what they don’t have.”
Kiuchi and his colleagues came up with a surprising business principle based on this: by applying strategies and practices gleaned from nature - such as introducing feedback systems, finding niches, and using cooperative relationships - business can adapt rapidly to changing market conditions and attain greater and more sustainable profits.
Similarly we believe one of the most valuable lessons that you can learn for your teams, your organisation, and how you can work together better in the current times - is to think like a forest and how that relates to the systems you are a part of.
Communication is everything when you're leading a team. It all starts with listening. Getting out into nature can help you and your team come together and be better listeners and communicators.
photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
As a leader, everything you do and say communicates something, whether you want it to or not. So it's no secret that good leaders are also good communicators.
When teams have problems with performance or relationships, poor communication including anything from a lack of clarity to not sharing information to being unable to have honest healthy debate - will be one of the reasons why.
Communication issues are common in many organisations. Much of the time though the problem isn't communication. It's listening.
At the start of 2020 we asked 60 business leaders about their experience of having meaningful conversations with their teams.
One of the biggest frustrations they reported was people not listening and instead talking at each other, “so it’s not a dialogue where new understanding might emerge.”
As a leader, you can learn lessons from nature to help your team work better, think better and be more creative. Here's why it's time to think about rewilding your organisation.
photo from Unsplash
In today's world, there is a distinct separation between indoors and outdoors, town and country. When we're not slogging away at our desks working during the week, we escape to the countryside, or parks and gardens to relax, have a breath of fresh air and decompress.
The result is that nature is often seen as something separate from us – something to be enjoyed, or experienced as a distinct entity in itself.
It never used to be this way.
In the past we were intimately connected with the natural world. For thousands of years before the industrial revolution, we lived on the land. Our sleeping cycles followed the sun, our diets followed the seasons, and we hunted and gathered in a symbiotic relationship with nature. Now, 80% of us live in towns and cities, and we couldn't be further removed.
Here's the problem: we are nature. And being disconnected from nature means we're disconnected from who we are - this disconnect has an impact on our lives and work: as a society, we've never been more anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted and unhealthy.
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash
Remember the days when you dreamt of being able to work remotely?
No more morning commute, setting your schedule, taking walks and exercising when you wanted... it all seemed like the dream set-up. Then COVID hit and the dream became a reality.
The joy of working from home hasn't worked out quite as any of us expected.
Working from home has apparently led to a 13% increase in productivity, partly from being less distracted and more focused.
However, most of that increase in productivity comes from working more minutes. The payoff may be fewer breaks, shorter lunch periods and staring at Zoom for longer than is healthy.
You end up with that feeling of always being "on" and a lack of separation between home life and work. Those longer hours also mean more screen time than ever.
This all adds up to stress, anxiety and, ultimately, serious implications for your physical and mental health and wellbeing.
When you don't allow yourself the space and time you need to switch off, your body and mind pay the price.
Photo by niklas hamann on Unsplash
Managing a team during COVID-19 is a challenge.
As a leader, CEO or business owner, you're faced with trying to rally a team that is mainly working remotely. Keeping morale high and productivity flowing is even harder through a Zoom window.
I don't need to reel off a slew of statistics about the effect of working from home on team members. You've most likely already felt it from your own experience.
But while it does have benefits, there are challenges for those working remotely. These include:
After months of online sessions, on Friday we ran our first outdoor team development day of this year, for a stressed management team from an NHS partnership who've been remote for the past 6 months.
We've made a few changes to the way we run the days to make sure that social distancing and hygiene is maintained.
There are some trees in my street that are an example of how working together can give us hope for the future. It's led to ideas for how you can build a stronger and more resilient organisation and business, says Nigel Berman
There’s a line of elm trees across the street from my flat.
I love those trees. Their branches are directly opposite my lounge window, and I sometimes watch as birds and the odd squirrel hop about in them.
They turn an otherwise ordinary urban street into something more alive and positive. Especially now, during lockdown.
So I was very upset a few years ago when the council cut one of them in half.
If you're lucky enough to have a garden or somewhere green to enjoy the spring weather during corona-lockdown, here are 6 ways you can use it to get away from screens, reduce work-related stress and boost your mental health and wellbeing.
Photo by Martin Kníže on Unsplash
1. Twenty mins a day in your garden significantly reduces stress
Spending a lot of time in front of a screen? Feeling sluggish, stressed, or anxious? Are you distracted, or going a bit stir crazy? Need a break from the kids, or your partner? Research shows that being outside in nature for just 20 minutes a day is enough to significantly boost vitality, reduce stress, and enhance your focus and your wellbeing. If you live in a city, even a small park, a patch of grass, or any area with trees can suffice.
If I had a garden I’d be spending as much time in it as I could.
Having a team meeting where you're honest and truly listen to each other can yield great results. It’s not always easy to do, so we asked business leaders about their experience of facilitating meaningful conversations with their teams.
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash
When was the last time you had an honest and meaningful conversation with your team?
A few weeks ago we asked 60 business leaders from a range of small, medium, and large organisations a series of questions about their experience of this with their teams.
The responses showed lots of common issues that leaders face when working with their teams, but interestingly, a few immediately pushed back: “What do you mean by a meaningful conversation?” they asked.
So first things first.
What is a meaningful conversation?
A conversation with your team is meaningful if it nudges along your understanding - of each other and the situation - as well as influencing you in a significant way.
The conversation could be on anything from aligning on vision or goals, clarifying a key message, working out a new way of doing things, or deciding what to do next.
What’s important is that a meaningful conversation requires an honest discussion - where you all feel safe enough to share your truth, really listen to each other, and allow the full meaning of what each other says to come out - so that everyone feels heard and understood.
Even better if there’s some tangible impact and beneficial change as a result, moving you all forward towards what matters.
Client: Sussex Recovery College
Location: Self-contained nature site, nr Brighton
Group Size: 20
Who they are:
Sussex Recovery College offer educational courses designed to promote self-management of mental health and recovery. The courses are delivered by a combination of professional and peer trainers.
Why a strategy away day on legacy in the wild?
The peer trainers have tended to work independently, and didn’t know others from different regions very well. The college wanted to bring the peer trainers together to celebrate achievements, and to look at how they work together, using nature as an inspiration for the learning.
“How do we generate a stronger, more integrated team?”
“What do we want our legacy to be?“
I'm reminded of The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry for a short time like a line from the poem "I rest in the grace of the world and am free."
#naturerecharge #scotland #stillness #gratitude #
When I started School of the Wild back in 2014, I was having a bit of a crisis. I’d spent the best part of a decade sitting in front of a screen, running an e-commerce business, and it wasn’t going too well.
Sales were declining. The pressure was mounting. I’d lost my way and my purpose… it was very stressful. In the end I opted to close that business down.
And then I discovered nature.
Spending time in the woods, and sitting around a fire was a revelation. It felt like coming home.
I noticed that my stress levels went down, my energy went up, and the barriers fell away in the woods, leading to all sorts of connections, meaningful conversations, and new ideas.
How we helped a remote team to communicate better
In the woods today, we worked with nature to help a remote sales team from a global medical supplies company answer a pressing question: "How do we want to communicate with each other?"
Client: Global Medical Supplies Co
Location: Woodland, West Sussex
Group size: 7
Who they are
This global medical technology company provide innovative healthcare and medical solutions. The south east region team is pretty new and has grown from two to seven people in less than a year. The product they sell is complex and the market is competitive.
Team members come from diverse backgrounds, and all work remotely, so they don't spend much time together, and don't contact each other often.
"How do we want to communicate with each other so that we can work together better?"
Back on this stage again. Pitching a leadership campfire session to 150 entrepreneurs at Happy Startups Summercamp. Thanks for a great weekend everyone!
Pic thanks to @katydot76
#schoolofthewild #cocreatingwithnature #meaningfulconversations #climatecrisis
photo by Sarah Davenport
What can your team learn from building a shelter in the woods together, that you can take back to the workplace?
A team from digital agency Pragmatic come to the woods for one of our team building and strategy away days, and to explore their purpose.
Read what happened and what they learned in the case study here.
#digitaldetox #teambuilding #businessunplugged
Photo thanks to Sarah Davenport
What could your organisation learn from spending a day in nature, helping each other, and having a meaningful conversation? Here's a time lapse of us setting up a team day in the woods for a digital agency client.
Groups from Sussex University's Library Service get creative at a team wellbeing strategy in the wild day.
The Library got in touch because staff are pretty stretched and stressed. They were looking for non-traditional ways of dealing with that. They also wanted to make more use of Stanmer Park, which is a great outdoor resource on their doorstep.
Their challenge: "How can we use nature to manage the pressures of work and reduce stress in the workplace?"
Read what happened on their strategy away day and what they learned, in our case study here.
Delicious foraged mocktail knocked up by the R+T team as part of their wild team buidling away day with help from @brightonherbalist. Spot the hogweed straw and edible flowers.
#teambuilding #foraging #wildisthenewworkplace #digitaldetox
Hottest day of the year and I'm helping a group of cool business people and changemakers get inspired by nature and talk about how we can make more of a difference together.
#schoolofthewild #meaningfulconversations #leadthechange #stepup #leadership #busi
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.