“It looks… exposed”, comes a nervous mutter over my shoulder. “And high”.
It’s 8am on a Tuesday morning. There’s an icy, not-quite-gale-force-but-getting there-breeze whipping about our faces and the promise of snow in the air. Hands are gloved, and beanies are being pulled out of rucksacks.
We’re Cahill’s Lookout taking in the awe-inspiring, blue-tinged vista of the Megalong Valley just west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains, before our collective gaze fixes on a singular landmark. Directly across from our lookout spot is the majestic natural rock formation of Boar’s Head, perched high and proud on the escarpment which we’re due to abseil off in the next hour or so.
Three members of our team are newly joined; one has just rocked up for her first ever day “on the job”. Ahead of us lies two days of team bonding (not to be confused with team building!), culture affirmation, setting our strategic goals for the year and planning how we’ll deliver those goals. Immediately in front of us, however, is the prospect of dropping over the side of a cliff. Will our organisational goals be as big, hairy and audacious as today’s team challenge? We’ll see. Welcome to Wild Women On Top.
A few moments later however, the call is made: the multi-pitch Boar’s Head Abseil is off due to the high winds shearing across the cliff face. Cue sighs of relief from some of our crew and groans of disappointment from others. Instead, we’re going to challenge ourselves with a 4hr hike through some of the most rugged and varied terrain the mountains has to offer. A more “inclusive” activity we agree on is our first team win of the day.
Teams who play together, stay together
Erm, who doesn’t want to be part of a high performing team? The kind that’s more than the sum of its parts and has the results to prove it? Sure, there are teams and organisations out there who would rather tell each other to “take a hike” than go for one. But unless that counts for dubious office banter, it seems likely these are dysfunctional situations marked by high turnover, dissatisfaction and disengagement. None of which make for a productive or enjoyable work environment. The principle of T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More) is a core value at Wild Women. Both in the wild and in the workplace, we know when we work together towards a common goal we can achieve so much more. As humans we’re also wired for connection – and with many of us spending significant chunks of our lives at work our relationships with co-workers and managers matter a lot.
Why out in nature?
High performing teams are underpinned by trust, which enables open and clear communication, the ability to navigate challenges and work cohesively. And smash goals, obviously. Traditionally we might foster closer bonds and trust through things like team lunches or Friday night drinks. Those are great but they don’t tend to resolve any deeper underlying issues or truly help a team support each other when the going gets tough.
At the other extreme is the principle of “an intense cooperative experience”. Like the wilderness expeditions NASA sends astronauts on to ensure crews have built trust and a solid working relationship before they leave on long duration space flights – and where decisions could mean life or death.
The benefits of getting out moving in nature are well known. Fortunately, for most of us one small step into the wild vs one giant leap into full Survivor mode is plenty good enough to develop group dynamics, uncover hidden strengths and become more unified. Not to mention have fun at the same time!
Walking is a powerful equaliser
We set off on the Centennial Glen Walk with our two awesome and ridiculously knowledgeable guides Jannice and Zuza. The heath is scrubby to start and spirits are high. By virtue of not being in the usual work environment and in unfamiliar territory it’s like the mind and senses are sprung open and alert (hello fresh ideas and creative thinking!).
It’s also a powerful equaliser, where the usual hierarchies, structures and specialty areas of leadership and expertise don’t apply. There’s a different natural order out here: who’s striding ahead vs taking their time, stopping to notice a particular plant or admire the agility and strength of climbers trying their hand at the crags. Who’s heard someone stumble and helped them navigate the uneven terrain underfoot. Who’s deep in discussion with someone they don’t usually spend much time with and who’s taking a moment for some quiet self-reflection. There are no phones ringing or screens pinging, no schedules and competing commitments today. Just birdsong and the sound of our voices as we descend and climb and weave our way along the cliffline.
Get off the beaten track
A couple of hours in, Jannice and Zuza announce that we’re heading off trail for some “proper bushwalking”. So far they’ve guided gently, stopping us every now and then to point out native plants and explain their medicinal properties, or the quirks of how the sandstone has formed over past millennia. But they have a surprise in store and are grinning like Cheshire cats.
We navigate through the heathland and then pull up short. We’re stunned into momentary silence as the view suddenly fans out away from us, across the valley and up the towering golden escarpments aglow against a vivid blue sky. “Everyone hungry for lunch?” they ask cheerfully as we pick our gobsmacked jaws off the ground. So distracted we almost hadn’t noticed the enormous arched cave etched in the cliff face, but it’s the perfect setting for stretching weary legs and filling our bellies. You don’t need team-building sessions when you have view like this!
Step outside your comfort zone
Refreshed and refuelled, we head back towards the main trail which leads us down into the rainforest gullies. The scenery is lush and a total change – and very very beautiful. One last surprise from our guides, wrapped up as a challenge: we’re nearing the end of our hike and can see an innocuous little trail leading off to the left. It’s a tiny slot canyon complete with hidden waterfall and plunge pool. It’s also Jannice’s “local” and she tells us she’s set a personal goal of taking a dip in the icy water every time she’s passing. Are we up for it?
The vibe, previously quite relaxed, flicks to nervous excitement. Glances are exchanged. But you know what? We came here to find courage and confidence, tease out our strengths, support each other and grow as a team. We came here for a shared experience to bond over. Hell yeah we’re getting in that pool! One by one we step up and take the plunge. The water is so cold it knocks the breath out of your body, but everyone is beaming. Then we hike it out with muscles zinging and spirits soaring.
Take the outdoors in
The day after our hike we’re comfortably settled in the charming Library at Katoomba’s grand dame, the heritage-listed Carrington Hotel. It’s snowing, as forecast, bringing a dusting of delight to our proceedings. There’s all the usual corporate getaway paraphernalia: powerpoint presentations, projector screens, whiteboards, flip charts and sticky notes. Tea, coffee and the all-important cookies. There’s also banter and an easy camaraderie. New-found respect.We understand each other better, but we seem to like each other more too. The energy in the room feels positively charged as we take everything we gained outdoors and use it to chart our course for the coming year.
Five months and another COVID-lockdown later…
It’s clear our mountain adventure has continued to do some heavy lifting in keeping our team foundation strong. Movement breaks, stand up Zoom calls and lunchtime walks are all encouraged, as are walking meetings to get off the screens and do an “old school” phone call. There’s a rotating boost buddy system to help stay connected – and active.
We also have three more new team members yet to meet in real life and plans afoot for our next team hike. It’s the best team bonding activity you can do.
With thanks to the Blue Mountains Adventure Company and our amazing guides Jannice and Zuza – passionate, experienced, and truly Wild Women after our own hearts.