Rollin’ on the River

A previous post outlined the process of “building” a team: establish, increase, then strengthen. A real-world example of how the process looks is easy to find. Several of our program managers are experienced river runners and often go on rafting trips with an assorted group of friends and family members who are looking for a new adventure.  

When these dozen individuals gather on the river bank the first day of their trip, they are a group of acquaintances. They may all know the trip organizer but other than that, the only thing they have in common is that they want to get from point A to point B (and hopefully have fun doing it). Some of them have been rafting before and know what to expect, others may be anxious and nervous about the next few days.

Despite their differences, it’s important for the entire group to have the same training. Down there on the river bank, before anyone sets foot in a boat, the boat captains must see that everyone knows how to paddle and how to respond to his commands. They must know how to use the safety equipment and how to respond if someone is thrown from the boat.

Then, in the boat, out on gentle waters, the group practices what they have learned. At first their actions are hesitant, uncertain, uncoordinated. But gradually, they start to find a rhythm and learn to listen and respond to the captain. This day on the water is followed by an evening in camp. Everyone is eager to continue absorbing the experience and the knowledge. They talk about how the day went, what they liked most, what they want to do tomorrow. They start asking questions of each other– getting to know about families, careers and hobbies.

This is prelude to the adventures of the upcoming day. Drawing on what they have learned and done the group is now tasked with navigating a rapid together. The powerful force of the whitewater is capable of turning the boat upside down. It’s up to the boaters inside to keep it right side up. One person cannot paddle hard enough to compensate for the other six people in the boat. Everyone in the boat must be engaged in keeping the boat balanced and upright.

Each individual is now faced with sobering realization that he or she must trust the other individuals on the boat to get through the rapid. Not only that, but they have actually gotten to know these other individuals, shared their feelings with them around the campfire. So they want to keep themselves safe and dry but now they also care that the person sitting next to them stays safe and dry as well. Suddenly, they have gone from an individual who only to have an enjoyable trip, to someone who wants to work in joint action with those around him, to accomplish those goals.

By the end of the week, the group is fully synced. They respond to commands without effort, they paddle fluidly. Even more telling, every one is helping each other out, without needing to be asked.

The Building Process

These individuals were built from a group of strangers into a functioning team. The team was established the first day, on the bank when they were trained on what they needed to do accomplish their goal. The boating experience was amplified when the group had a chance to practice their skills together and discuss the outcome of that experience. Through this debriefing they develop relationships and become engaged with the other people in the group. Then, the group had to rely on each other to get through stressful situations. This trust building experience served to toughen and reinforce the relationships that had been established.

So, no matter what stage your team is at— newly formed or seasoned veterans, it can still benefit from being “built.” Establishing, increasing and strengthening a team is an ongoing cycle. We’re happy to consult with you and figure out an plan to meet your team right where its at. Contact for more information or to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, which provides simple team building activities you can do on your own.


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