Five Lessons About Organizational Culture From White-Water Rafting

5 lessons from white-water rafting

Tino MantellaBy Tino Mantella

TLG President & CEO

What does organizational culture have to do with rafting the class three and four rapids on the Ocoee? Plenty. Our exceptional staff enjoys selecting unique bonding experiences and white-water rafting on the Ocoee River was our most recent venture.

As we hit our Tennessee destination, we received comprehensive instructions from the Lead Guide. Our team was filled with excitement, exhilaration, and perhaps a bit of trepidation. The time we spent before hitting the water was not unlike the experiences I have seen when an employee takes on a new role or a new team comes together. Often, cultural norms and perceived expectations are established in the early days. Then, the days to come will prove the accuracy of the initial view. That’s why it’s essential for both employees and employers to be 100% candid about expectations.

After receiving our instructions, we entered our boat. The Guide tutored us on stroke mechanics and her role. The gist was, when she said to paddle forward that’s what we were to do and when she said to rest or paddle backward, that’s what we were to do. The other thing she coached us to do was to be in sync “with the paddler in front of you”. Seems simple enough, right? I would suggest it was just as simple as when a leader gives instructions to their team and then expects everyone to perform with the same synchronicity as an Olympic rowing crew. Unfortunately, in business and on the water, it doesn’t work that way. At the beginning of the ride, our team was a poster child for what could go wrong.


Hitting the Rapids

Initially, our cadence and outcomes were bumpy at best. People were not rowing together. Part of the challenge was not being able to hear the Guide’s instructions. Yet, like our work culture, we didn’t get frustrated with one another. We aimed to be supportive.

With practice and success, our confidence grew, and as it did, we were able to better enjoy the beautiful scenery as well as the rapids. “Bring it on” was our motto.

Effective communication was a key ingredient in our improved performance. Making our Guide aware that we couldn’t hear her was essential. After experimenting with repeating her orders, (which created chaos and confused the Guide) she became bolder in her communication, which helped us to get in sync. Next, like our office practice, we supported each other with the goal of being helpful rather than finding fault.


Five Lessons on Organizational Culture

Today, research has shown that opportunities to learn and develop are high on the list of employee satisfaction. Several decades back, companies like IBM were known for their exceptional training programs. Perhaps the pace of change and economics have short-changed professional development opportunities. In light of the escalating number of calls we are receiving at Turknett Leadership Group for leadership development support like coaching, perhaps the pendulum is swinging back. In a tight employee market, providing professional development opportunities is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

Here are five cultural takeaways from rafting the white water rapids:

1. Effective communication is key. 2. It’s natural to become frustrated with early miscues. That’s the most crucial time to show the most support. 3. Always be sure to clarify instructions at any point in the journey. 4. Everyone rowing in the same direction produces the best results. 5. Find time to enjoy the journey. A rafting trip, and life in general, are too short to miss the ride.




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