What Managers can learn from Obstacle Runs!

Let’s start with a topic which needs to be transfered to fit the international business section. It’s about the increasing number of events of obstacle races. They are a mixture of sports, drill and hard mental work.

Tough Mudder and Fisherman’s Friend Strongman Run

I just read about it in a business newspaper and the article reminded me of my start at one of those events in May 2013. I received a wildcard by a friend for the Strongman Run at the Nurburgring and thought “let’s try it”. It was a two rounds course with 15 obstacles per round and all together we had to run 24 kilometres. The worst part was that I got my first cramps when I jumped into the ice-cold water after 10 kilometres and I really had to force myself to go on and finish this competition. And believe me, it really hurt.

Beer in the finish zone of the Strongman Run 2013Afterwards I asked myself why do people do this kind of competition like the Tough Mudder for entry fees like 80 – 120 $? I mean there were a lot of different characters in the race. People who seemed to do professional sports, women and men at my athletic level and even some where you wouldn’t think that they can even run such a long distance. I think especially this mixture creates a picture that you want to succeed in such a race. And succeeding means just finishing because the time actually doesn’t really matter. For some of the obstacles you also need help of the other participants so this creates a big team spirit throughout all paricipants. And you have to overcome your inhibitions.

This is especially a phenomena in the US, in Europe and in Australia! Why that? I think most people are not fulfilled by their experiences in their daily routine and they need those kind of adventures to be able to reinforce their own spirit and talk about something. It seems that those mentionable experiences are getting the status of a luxury good. So how can we work with this from a management perspective? As a manager we can learn different things from such events. If we want to create a team spirit we need a clear goal which should be – probably most of you know – SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). Moreover a vision for a greater achievement should be set which most management lectures call EVEREST goals. Those are not easy to achieve but they keep the spirit of your employees because they get the feeling they are working for a higher purpose and that their work really will make a difference.

Overcome the tires at Strongman Run 2013 People who participated in such events are feeling as a part of a large team and this especially when they are reminded by the emblem of those events. So if you really want to create a strong unity within your team you could work with such things as uniforms and emblems. Of course not every employee should wear the same but you could at least provide some team gimmicks to them which create a unity. But in this case always be careful and remind yourself of the danger of groupthink. Because if the unity gets to strong the group is likely not accepting opinions of people who are not in the group. For such probems you need to implement precautionary measures as for example creating subgroups or providing a critical external analyst. Otherwise you risk that new ideas and innovations are blocked by the group.

Another thing we can learn from the outcome of such events is, create your own event! Employees need to have something in common of what they can talk about later. This will help to overcome conflicts and be more honest to each other. So go out with your employees and plan an adventurous day to create a better team spirit!

Last bt not least I have to admit that I will search for new challenges and maybe in some years I’m going to try such obstacle run again. But if you have some challenges in mind don’t hesitate to tell me!

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