Take the adventurous approach to team building and leadership.
Ben Southall is a professional adventurer who believes off-the-beaten-track experiences provide the perfect opportunity for business leaders to build and discover strength, fortitude and resilience so they can better run their business and be happier people.
Best known to many as the winner of the 2009 Best Job in the World competition as Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, Southall (pictured left) has created a business taking entrepreneurs and leaders on personal growth and team-building exercises that are about as far from ordinary as imaginable.
“There’s something innately primeval about getting off the beaten path to recreate that feeling of being an early explorer or pioneer,” Southall, Adventurepreneur and Expedition Director of Best Life Adventures, tells The Brief.
“Being tied to such controlled, premeditated paths through life is something most people want to escape from at least once or twice.
“Add in the more recent need to digitally disconnect, and it creates the perfect synergy to facilitate personal growth, adventurous mindset coaching and extreme networking in an environment where people can fully apply themselves with little distraction.”
Southall says his adventures incorporate his mantra of what he refers to as the Five Bs - a little bit of Bear Grylls, James Bond, Richard Branson, Red Bull and Ben Southall.
Adventures for “team building”
Southall describes adventure in the great outdoors as “the ultimate business mentor”, insisting it makes good sense for some businesses and some teams to embark on what are somewhat unconventional “team building” and personal growth adventures.
“The term ‘team building’ has been around for a hundred years and something about it makes me feel a little uncomfortable,” he says. “It’s seems like a forced cliché loaded with expectation. In my mind, when a group of people go through an incredible shared experience together, they become better connected, so team-building is a natural by- product.
“Office-based team building has its place, but I feel it’s an extension of the school classroom - somewhere you just want to get out of!
“Getting outdoors where the air is clear and you can feel the earth beneath your feet develops a better connection to the planet and the people around us. Shared, digitally-disconnected wilderness experiences are the best places to really get to know someone.”
Southall says shared physical experience “is an absolute leveller” stripping back hierarchical structures and status, offering a new opportunity to see each other in a different light.
“When you make it to the end of a long day, and you’ve helped pull each other through, conversations are more open and direct, and the relationships that result are stronger,” he says. “And the shared sense of accomplishment is something which cannot be recreated or manufactured.
“When you’re in the middle of a wilderness environment, there’s something exhilarating about it that makes you feel alive. The more time we spend stuck working in toxic office environments, the more we lose our connection to nature and our natural survival skills that are vital for creativity.
“We only grow as humans when we enter that space just outside of our comfort zone – and it’s almost impossible to find that stuck inside four walls staring at a screen.”
Southall’s corporate adventures include hiking to Everest Base Camp, motorcycling or cycling the world’s highest bicycle road in Northern India, Tri-Nation Arctic Challenge as well as customised corporate programs for different levels of fitness, location and prices.
He also launched the Venturer Program for the Queensland Government to deliver “extreme networking” to support start-ups.
“I designed these adventures to build the physical and mental resilience of entrepreneurs, but also strengthen the resilience of the startup community as a whole,” he says. “People who are better connected build stronger businesses and, through the curated collisions the program provides, they get to share resources, float ideas and build a lasting alumni.
“Our first adventure solely for entrepreneurs was a week kayaking the hidden beaches of the Whitsundays. In between the on-water-action, we delivered a balanced program of mentoring and personal development workshops, but also left time for our clients to be alone with their thoughts or more importantly, their journals so they could record and review their thinking and headspace.
“Giving people the space to think without distraction is vital to creativity and goal-setting.
“I’ve seen people give up their jobs and completely change their lifestyle, open up to their boss or colleagues for the first time, or sit down to map out their next few months as the brain frees up from daily distraction.
“We work with indigenous groups in different parts of the world and map out their territories to understand the threats and opportunities they experience. We then do the same for our Venturers in their business and personal lives, to compare the two, very different ideologies. It’s during these activities we see the greatest results. From issues that sit deep in our subconscious, to opportunities that have been right under our nose but never had the chance to propagate into reality.”
Given the chance to share just one piece of advice to employers and workplace leaders about team building, he says rewarding and empowering staff should come down to what works for the individual and not just the business.
“Make your team feel special by putting in effort to be innovative, creative and unique in whatever you deliver to them,” Southall says. “It’s easy to follow the well-trodden networking path of drinks on a Friday night or a brainstorming session on the grass in the park.
“But if you get them together for an important meeting, or team- building activity, get the fire going in their belly by doing something they absolutely won’t expect. A happy, excited, inspired mind for everyone in a business is what every great employer should aim for.
“Be adventurous, be innovative, embrace creativity and take your team into the unknown – when they reach the edge of their comfort zone, they’ve entered the space they learn the most about themselves, grow as individuals and a team.
“The majority of the population are slaves to the grindstone and some jobs require working in stale office environments.
But I think over the last few years we’ve realised this definitely isn’t healthy and have transitioned our working lives from the normal nine to five to flexi-time.
“More recently we have migrated into co-working spaces, and even to remote, nomadic working spaces that move around the planet. Being a digital nomad is an incredibly acceptable lifestyle these days!”
Southall says adventure starts with a sense of curiosity and willingly stepping out of your comfort zone. The challenges are many, but so too are the rewards.