Corporate Team Building Outcome

Lessons Learned during Rafting Trip
(August 2002)

Sometime last year I shared my experience of a rafting trip. It was very adventurous. During this trip I also learned some aspects of Project Management and Team Building related tips.

Team oriented trips sponsored by organization are very beneficial. Team members who interact only on business purposes get to know each others well during such trips. These trips also provide to experience that teach us some more skills and lessons.

During the entire trip I drew parallels of the trip experiences with Project Management. I am sharing my views in this article.

It was around 15 member team that went on rafting trip. We were assigned to a guide who will lead us on the trip. He is "Project Manager" who has rich experience in handling such trips. Before the trip started he gave a brief of what to expect and what are the risks. He explained clearly risks of some one falling off during the trip and assured us that the safety belts will help us float even if we don't know swimming. He also explained that we can encounter what is called 'high rise' where the raft can land on a rock. He explained what to do in such cases. He also explained how long the trip will last and when and where we will be having a lunch and also answered questions raised by everyone.

Lesson 1:
A project manager should have rich experience in handling similar projects and should have relevant experience to lead the team to its goal.

Lesson 2:
A briefing of what the project is very important before it starts so that every one. It is also important to understand the extreme risks in the project and detail the rescue methods thought out in such scenarios.

Before we started the trip, the guide also taught us how to handle the paddles and gave a quick primer. He also gave instructions on what commands he will issue and what we should do each time.

Lesson 3:
It is necessary to ensure we have all necessary tools and we know how to use those tools before starting the project.

As we started our journey, guide started giving commands. Soon we realized that we are not going properly because our paddling was not synchronized. He pointed to us that every one was paddling at their own pace and suggested that if we want to move smoothly and swiftly on the water it is necessary that all paddle at the same pace and at the same time. Once we made this change we were moving smoothly on the river. Guide was using the rudder to ensure we stay on the course.

Lesson 4:
During any project it is not just enough that every one does their task, the tasks should be synchronized to meet team goals.

As we started sailing on the river, we encountered rapids where there was lot of turbulence and we had to change our pace of paddling so that we cross the rapid safely. We also had couple of accidents like someone falling off and our raft getting onto a rock. Since we had already been briefed we were able to react properly to those incidents and recover

Lesson 5:
Any project will not be a complete smooth sailing. You will have tough turbulences which we can overcome by putting in appropriate efforts.

Lesson 6:
Recognizing risks and understanding corrective actions makes us prepared to handle the situation well when the risks occur.

For some stretch of the river (in the initial few miles) there was lot of turbulence and some of the team members got scared and wished they had not come on the trip. They also started asking questions to the guide how much far is the trip and is the entire river such tough to navigate. Team was assured only when he told that it will be a smooth sailing after some time.

Lesson 7:
It is possible that turbulence in early stages of the project can upset team motivation. But any team will be able to overcome such initial concerns and make the project a success, by recognizing that a project will have a smooth sailing once the process stabilizes.

As the team gained experience of rafting, we became experts in handling rapids. We also learned a new skill of recognizing a rapid ahead. Sound of water will be more when there is rapid is approaching. By recognizing this we were able to get prepared for the turbulence.

Lesson 8:
Recognizing danger signals in the project is important. By using appropriate devices (metrics or status reports) one can recognize whether to expect difficult phases in next weeks can be recognized.

As the guide told us after sometime the river was smooth without any rapids and team got bored because the trip lacked the 'excitement' of rough waters. But during this phase we sailed lot more distance than when the rapids were there. When the water was smooth we could also enjoy the surroundings, pick a few fruits from the trees.

Lesson 9:
Projects will have phases where there will not any fires to extinguish. These phases allow us do our work at normal pace. Lot of work happens during this phase and allows us an opportunity to do all activities as per plan.

We took a lunch break and after the break we started on the river. During this break some members switched positions from one raft to another.

Lesson 10:
Changes to team composition can happen in middle of the project. Be prepared.

After the break, team members started feeling lazy. At this point the guides forced the team members to jump into waters. They forced everyone to get into water irrespective of our like or dislike. They said one of the main purposes of rafting is to 'enjoy' the trip. Instead of enjoying the waters, if you just sit in raft and sail without getting into water, it is not fun.

Lesson 11:
Enjoy. As you are doing the project, remember to enjoy the work, the project and everything associated with it. Don't treat the work as a burden, but that something that should be done with enthusiasm and enjoyed.

As the trip was getting over, there were couple of accidents and our team was involved in rescuing another team whose raft over turned. It brought excitement back into the trip.

Lesson 12:
Projects also involve heriocs of rescue and such things. By interacting with other teams in the project and other projects in the company, the project becomes more exciting.

End of the trip, everyone was exhausted. The guide ensured that we all enjoyed the trip and were satisfied. He played his role to perfection of making us enjoy the trip, bring us to our destination safely as promised. Before we said goodbye, we all had to pitch in to put the gear and the raft back in its place and then celebrate the end of trip with a few refreshments.

Lesson 13:
After a project gets over, it is important that the team performs the last few stages of the project also properly and then gets together to celebrate the success.

During this entire trip a few person were taking video and pictures and by night we had the video and picture available. This provided us an opportunity to treasure those moments and also relive those moments. Only after looking at the video we realized that we went through more turbulent rapids that we realized. Despite all the varying moods and experiences, everyone admitted they enjoyed the unique experiences and wanted to do it again.

Lesson 14:
Every project provides unique experience and by revisiting the experience, one will realize the project provided an opportunity to realize our potential, do our best and despite the changing moods, it has been worth the effort. This also gives the team a confidence that they can handle similar challenges in future also.


Any team event organized outside work environment might involve similar experiences. Such practical experiences improve cohesiveness of teams and by drawing a parallel between a 'work project' and a 'real experience project', one can apply lessons and become a better 'project team'.

(C) copyright, 2006 - Himalayan Holidays Pakistan. All rights reserved.
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