Last week our Tribridge leadership team had a two-day retreat to work on the 2011 strategy. We did some teambuilding exercises on the first day, which included a two-man kayak as part of an obstacle course. The objective was simple: two in the kayak paddle around the buoy and back to the beach, then give the kayak to the other two team members and they do the same. The team to finish first wins. It sounds easy, but here is how it went down.
Our team is clearly ahead, as Howard Joyce and I run to the kayak, jump in and start paddling. I’m in the front and Howard is in the back. I’m feeling very confident that we will do well. Howard is from Alaska, and I've kayaked many times and know the drill. We are paddling fast and straight for about 10 yards, but the kayak goes sideways, a wave comes crashing over the side and we are overturned. We quickly get back up and into the kayak. Again we paddle fast, and again the kayak goes sideways and we are overturned.
We are baffled! It must be because Howard is in the back, and everybody knows the guy in the back steers. I yell, “You go up front, I’ll steer!” Howard jumps up front and I take the back. We start again – this time slower – but the boat keeps going right, so we try paddling on the same side. Then we try paddling on different sides, but we are overturned again. Nothing is working.
At this point the other team is clearly ahead of us and goes around the buoy. We are still not even halfway out from the beach. Howard thinks maybe someone tied the rudder in a fixed position, so we look and the rudder is up. We are confused and continue the cycle of paddle hard, get pummeled by the waves. We get overturned at least eight times. The other team has already beached the first kayak and the second kayak is passing us. We finally find some rhythm, ironically paddling backwards. We cross over the buoy and are moderately more successful going back with the waves. The other team won by a landslide.
The exercise wore both of us out, but at the end of the day it turned out to be a great metaphor for business strategy. No matter how fast we rowed, we couldn’t get where we wanted to go without a good plan. For those of you from Tribridge reading this blog, you must be hoping that we are better at management than we are at kayaking.