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Building high-performance teams: Business insights from a Hike

In my experience, some of the best business insights have emerged from unexpected places. Recently, I undertook a challenging hike in the Drakensberg mountains and it was filled with lessons relevant to any team. Here’s what I learned about preparation, teamwork and adapting to challenges.

Preparing for the unknown

The hike started with careful preparation. Before stepping onto the trail, we had to choose the right gear, align as a group and mentally prepare for the challenging task ahead - a lot like starting a new project. Even though we didn’t have a detailed map and only knew general directions, being prepared enabled us to adapt on the fly and confront the unknown. This is a vital skill in business, where things change rapidly and often, unpredictably.

Setting and tracking goals

The importance of setting clear, achievable goals was one of the first lessons. In the absence of trail markers, estimating our progress was tough. This uncertainty complicated our planning for supplies and managing the group’s expectations. This mirrors the business environment, where without clear benchmarks, it's hard to know how far you've come or how close you are to achieving your objectives.

High-performing teams know where they are going and believe in what they are trying to achieve. Breaking goals down into achievable horizons, with targets to indicate and measure success, keeps everyone motivated and moving in the same direction.

Embracing diversity and support

As the hike got more challenging, the value of having a diverse, supportive team became clear. Facing difficult paths is much easier when you can rely on team members for support. Each person’s unique skills were vital for navigating obstacles, and the experienced hikers among us provided essential guidance that enhanced our decision-making. This diversity and support are just as critical in business. Having a team that brings different perspectives and strengths is key to agility, problem-solving and innovation.

Moreover, mentorship from the guides proved invaluable. Their knowledge, based on best practices, helped us make improvements that conserved energy and optimised our pacing. Similarly, in the workplace, the most significant shifts in behaviour and performance often occur on the floor. On-the-job coaching and mentoring are vital for enhancing daily task execution, facilitating the adoption of tools and increasing accountability.

The importance of team wellbeing

Caring for each other was another vital lesson. On the trail, we looked out for anyone struggling, sharing resources and encouragement. Whether it’s in life or at work, people will stumble, but it's important to remember that success is achieved together, as a team. Supporting the wellbeing of the team directly enhances our overall success and performance. Simple acts of kindness and collaboration can uplift the entire team, helping everyone to continue moving forward together.

Having a strong sense of purpose

Initially, everyone was in high spirits, singing together as we moved along the flat, easy path. This is a great metaphor for business: when things are going smoothly, progress feels effortless. However, as the path inevitably becomes tougher, maintaining a strong and clear purpose is crucial. Everyone in the team and organisation needs to "see the picture" - to know the benefits of reaching the destination, both for themselves and for the organisation.

For me, the goal of the hike was to challenge myself, to demonstrate that I could overcome difficulties through determination and a growth mindset. Equipped with the right gear and backed by a supportive team, I was prepared for the challenges ahead.

Overcoming setbacks as a team

There was a moment on the hike when the path became extremely steep and the group began to spread out. After walking alone for a while, self-doubt set in and I ended up missing a turn and having to double back. This was a valuable lesson on the importance of sticking together, especially when things get tough. In business, when challenges arise, it’s tempting for people to disengage and focus on individual tasks. However, it’s collaboration and a focus on common goals that help us overcome obstacles while continuing to hit our targets.

Communication plays a key role in this. Keeping everyone informed about the progress towards our goals - both the successes and setbacks - is essential. Regular, transparent communication helps create a collaborative and authentic atmosphere. It establishes a psychologically safe environment where team members feel secure to share thoughts and ideas.

Valuing the journey

The most rewarding part of the hike was experiencing the journey - the views, the challenges and the camaraderie. A reminder that enjoying the process is as important as achieving our goals. Whether on a mountain or in the office, we should take time to celebrate achievements, learn from setbacks and savour the moments that make the journey worthwhile. Sometimes we will hit dead ends, but these are opportunities to pause, reflect and refocus on our goals. Occasionally, taking a wrong turn might lead us to something great.

Do you have the mindset to view these detours as opportunities for growth and learning?

Looking ahead

Every end of a hike represents a new beginning, a chance to tackle another mountain or venture. It’s the same in business. Each achievement sets the stage for the next challenge, pushing us to learn, grow and improve continuously.

The midpoint of the year is a perfect time to pause and reflect on our goals. Let’s evaluate where we stand and prepare ourselves for the next journey, whatever that may be.

About the author

Hennie Brittz, Managing Director at 2Collaborate has spent 15 years in business and consulting conceptualising, designing and implementing large-scale performance improvement processes.

Get to know more about Hennie on LinkedIn. 

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