Team Communications – Lessons from the Wilderness

(by Katrin)

What can we learn about Team Communications from a 22 year old? A wilderness-fanatic chemistry student who recently spent 60 days in the Yukon wilderness, trekked above the Arctic Circle, and biked the Colorado Trail? 

As a Team Coach working with business teams, I love hearing about team dynamics in other contexts. So, here is a conversation I had with our son Daniel.

Q: Daniel, what have you learned about team dynamics from your experiences in the wilderness?

A: Wilderness travel isn’t always easy and can be dangerous. Everyone’s decisions are affected by the environment and their physical condition.

Things get tough for teams in the backcountry the same they do in normal life (low morale, bad results, conflict) but the consequences of a disjointed team are more severe and can put them in danger.

Teams with poor communications don’t do well. You can’t just leave the office and forget about your $hitty co-worker, because you’ll likely be sleeping next to them. You need hyper levels of communication. Good communication is when there is constant, respectful and constructive dialogue between teammates on literally every aspect of team dynamics.

When you have inter-personal conflict – and you’re so angry you don’t want to talk to each other, you still have to STOP and listen. Stop, take a breath. No interruption. I’m gonna hear this person out. And, they’re gonna hear me out.

You have to be able to give constructive feedback to overcome interpersonal struggles. If you can’t tell someone why you’re mad at them, they’ll never know, and who knows what the result of that silence could be . . .

For example, when you see someone pack up their back pack in a sloppy way and you know that’s not good, you need to be able to point that out. You need to be able to say something like this:

  1. Tell them what you observe: Hey, I see that you rolled your gear up in a hurry and some pieces are loose.
  2. Show empathy and respect: I understand that we all want to get up and going fast. I’m not trying to step on your toes.
  3. Share considerations: Here are some things to consider. If you pack up too fast and it starts raining, our gear will get wet. We’re expecting sub-zero temperatures, and wet, frozen gear could put us at risk.

You don’t have to like each other, but you have to respect each other and work through it. The more consistent everyone is about having these kinds of conversations — the more you can depend on each other, even when conditions are ridiculously hard. And this kind of bonding stays with the team forever.


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