Team building is a complex-balanced activity that requires fine-tuning. On one hand it has everything to do with work, since the main goal of it is the increasing of teamwork productivity. On the other hand it is natural to want to leave the office behind and give in to that festive state of mind that comes with being on holiday, particularly when outdoor activities are involved. A sailing trip will give you the best of both worlds: intense teamwork, set in a context that is as unlike your daily routine as you can possibly wish for. Incredible as it may sound, a sailing boat is the ideal training field for precisely the kind of skills you want to nurture in your workplace. The capacity of working together towards a common goal, distributing and delegating tasks, respecting hierarchies, facilitating the work of others, thinking on one’s feet and making quick decisions: all of these qualities are equally useful in the headquarters of a multinational company, in a small family business or on deck on a sailing boat on Lake Como. Which is exactly what we offered our client, the automotive marketing division of Michelin.
Corporate sailing: the lasting effects of good team building
Each team building exercise is meant to achieve different results. Some, such as treasure hunts, aim at encouraging creative thinking and problem solving, other are designed to strengthen leadership or human interaction, such as adventure sports. Few activities, however, put a boost on group dynamics quite like sailing. What makes this sport such an effective team building exercise? It appears to be a fortunate combination of elements. Part of its effect is rooted in the fact that it takes place in a context that is generally new and unusual to most, where acquired certainties and familiar hierarchies don’t apply and relationships can be rewritten from scratch. There is also the fact that the kind of needs that arise while sailing are generally urgent and not particularly negotiable. It is essential that everyone has a well-defined role, with attached tasks to be carried out in the right way and at the right time, leaving very little to improvisation. Communication plays an equally vital part, since each crew member needs to be aware of all the others and each action must be accurately planned and coordinated. These are commonly termed soft skills and they translate seamlessly from a boat deck to an office desk. It’s no coincidence, after all, that job often applications require candidates to name their hobbies and the sports they play. <strongSomeone who is used to a team sport, particularly a complex one like sailing is likely to be a better team player and be familiar with the concept of respecting boundaries and hierarchies.
Not just for the pros
A widely spread misconception about sailing is that it is the kind of sport that requires years of training before it can be not only mastered, but even approached. The complexity of the settings and the perceived potential risks have driven many to the conclusion that one can’t book a simple two-day trip – the kind corporate team-building usually requires – with no prior experience. This happens not to be the case. Sailing is indeed a complex sport, but skilled professional can provide an experience that is tailored to the needs and skills of individual participants. If a team comprises one or more already skilled sailors, it will obviously have a wider range of options and will be able to embark on longer and more complex maneuvers, but even a team of absolute novices will enjoy the thrill of sailing and achieve gratifying goals, as long as they have adequate guidance from seasoned professionals. Roles on a boat don’t follow office hierarchies: they depend on each individual’s inclinations and skills. This allows team members to express their personality and decide how active and committed they want to be, while at the same time ensuring that even less active roles are essential to the achievement of the common goal and appreciated by the whole team.