Doing sports outdoors has taught me that I can take on any challenge, climb any mountain and overcome any obstacle that lies in front of me. I love the fact that there are no set rules and no paved ways; instead, I’ve realized I can actually create my own path. Obviously, this becomes a lot more challenging when you’re out there with a group, since pace, stamina and experience often differ. Not only that, but there is often more than one idea of what direction to take.

Francis Gravel climbing man climbing on a mountain
I'm used to finding my own way on a hike but have learned to look at other paths with my team.

Going through such a challenging experience can be beneficial for any team. We would have loved to tackle the crevasses of the Aletsch Glacier, climb El Capitan in Yosemite or trek through the Brazilian rainforest. But we found an option that was much closer to home and a lot easier on our pocket and went for a two-day off-site to the equally impressive but safer environment of a children’s playground, where we faced the challenge of rebuilding two tree houses to cater for future young explorers.

I figured it’d be the kind of challenge that’d push us through the four stages of team development (as defined by Tuckman): From forming – bypassing storming – to go right into norming to finally become the best performing team possible.

Team up

At the playground, we split up the group and were assigned to one of the tree houses. Ours had a beautiful balcony and looked nice from the ground; however, up in the tree we realized that a big portion of it was rotten and needed to be torn down completely. Our resources were limited but our expectations were high. As we assumed we would have plenty of time, we discussed different ideas and tried various approaches, but didn’t choose one path to go down. Our team was simply having a good time.

Survive the storm

In the afternoon, we realized that we had fallen way behind our initial schedule. We knew that we needed to change our plan if we wanted to build the second floor before the kids were all grown up! Arguments started and we got caught in endless discussions about why things might or might not work.

Before things got out of hand, one of our quieter team members called for a time-out. He briefly reflected on everything he’d heard and pointed out that we were here to help build a safe playground, not to create an architectural marvel. This pep talk gave us the direction we needed: We agreed to cut down on complexity and focus entirely on feasibility.

Get going

I was happy to see the storm calm down as we followed our revised approach. Even new ideas from the team could now be appreciated, as our leader was quickly re-assigning tasks and keeping us focused on our initial goal: To put smiles on faces. As we made progress, we learned about the different strengths of our team members and used them where they were best placed.

five people working on a treehouse
Five people - seven ideas.
woman with a saw is cutting wood
If you want to put smiles on other people’s faces, you have to smile at them first.
two guys working on a treehouse
When everybody finds their place, a team becomes one. Now, we’re ready to perform.
group of people in adidas shirts smile and eat lunch
Good food is the foundation of any team activity.
abenteuerspielplatz sign at a metal fence
The adventure playground was just the right place for my team to leave our comfort zone and explore the wilderness of team dynamics.
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We’re rolling

On the second day, we managed to keep up the momentum and even increase the pace; however, there was still plenty of work to be done. Our streamlined process and openness to collaborate allowed us to invite helpers from the other team and seamlessly integrate their skills and experience into our work flow. It was good to see that we were making progress at full speed.

Finally, when the last board was cut and the last nail was hammered, an intense feeling of relief and pride rushed through my body. Looking around, I knew that we were united by the same feeling, as we stood gazing at the modest tree house as if it was a marvelous mansion.

Mission accomplished

The reaction of the kids to the reopening of the tree house was priceless. Immediately, they climbed the tree, got onto the balcony and shouted into the wilderness with the chant of urban explorers.

We were happy and proud. Our greatest reward, however, was that we had grown into one team that was now ready to tackle any challenge. A powerful purpose, clear vision and the willingness to change people’s lives has helped us to get from forming to performing in only two days. Surely, this experience was more impactful than any workshop you could attend for team development.

This was our North Pole expedition, our Sahara crossing, our Kilimanjaro ascent.


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by Tony Jackson 10.03.2017
Hi Francis, I'm curious as to why adidas moved away from the traditional three stripe design for performance basketball sneakers? The last would have been the crazyquicks (ASAP Rocky). That classic design is embraced on the casual front, note the adidas shells long lived popularity. It appears someone or multiple someone's are overthinking hoop design. Aesthetically many of the hoop sneakers look no different from an And 1 sneaker. In other words, unless you look closely you don't know its adidas. The trademark is missing on the product. The Harden's have an odd look and though I own the Crazy Explosives they have taken fire online for resembling something akin to a ski boot. Anyhow my two cents. When marketers tell you it's what the market desires, my first thought is who are they surveying. Are they going to the urban playgrounds? These are the people you want buying your sneakers. Playground ballers purchase what's familiar which is why Nike dominates. They don't stray from the swoosh. They go for look and secondarily comfort. Look 1a, comfort 1b. Thanks and take care.