Joyfully

From the twinkling lights strung along roof lines to the ornament laden branches of firs propped up in the window, it’s clear that the holiday season is upon us. While major retailers had the jump on holiday spirit – with decorations hung and inventory stocked since before Halloween, the rest of us are now catching up. Packages are dropped off on the front porch and favorite sweets are popped in and out of the oven as we brave lines, battle wrapping paper, hang greens, and gather in friends and family to celebrate.

We hope that your holiday season is marked by joy. We know that the holidays are not always easy, and can serve to highlight the pain and messiness of life. But we hope that wherever you are in life’s journey – whether skipping along higher than the Nutcracker ballerinas or plodding from one day to the next – that this month you experience joy that goes well beyond circumstance. May you find reason to celebrate, even if it takes above average effort to search out.

Here at Odyssey Teams we have abundant reasons for celebration. We are in amazement of all that has occurred in the past year. Changes, improvements and recalibrations for our staff, facility, and programs. Hundreds of bikes and thousands of hands built and given away to those that need them most. Hours spent in trees and on wires high above the ground in our ropes course programs. Miles upon miles logged in planes as we fly across the country and around the world to deliver programs and connect with companies and individuals. We joyfully celebrate lives changed – by a first ever bike, a second hand to carry groceries, or a new perspective on life and work and the relationships found therein. And we look forward with hopeful expectation for what is to be in the year to come.

Gratefully

The work of Odyssey Teams regularly gives us a front row seat for displays of genuine gratitude. As a ten year old has a brand new bike adjusted to his height, he repeatedly exclaims his thanks to the graduate students who spent the afternoon putting together the parts. A team of insurance brokers are greeted with enthusiastic gratitude as they present a completed playhouse to a homeless shelter. And thanksgiving is expressed in a whole range of languages as prosthetic hands built by teachers, engineers, students, and CEOs are fitted for amputees around the world.

These regular brushes with gratitude contagiously prompt us to express the same. We are thankful for work that allows us to see transformation in the lives of individuals and whole teams. We give thanks for the hundreds of hands, bikes, skateboards, and playhouses that have been built and donated by the remarkable companies that we have the privilege of working alongside.We are grateful for the friends we have made within companies near and far, who catch our vision, encourage our dream, and allow us the opportunities to do what we love. Thank you for inviting us into your teams, companies, and schools. For stepping out of your comfort zone, for giving time to build something for someone else, and for joining us in this journey. We are grateful.

What Good Looks Like

Many Odyssey Teams programs culminate in a closing that involves Tipping Points. Participants are instructed to author an original quote to be dispersed to their team over the course of the coming weeks as a vehicle of continued learning from one another. Here at Odyssey, we have the privilege of reading each submission as they are entered into a database. And some of them are too good not to share.

“The excitement of our youth customer will last a lifetime and be a constant reminder of ‘this is what good looks like.’”

Odyssey Teams’ – The Business of Giving™ programs accomplish a lot of good. As a result of the Life Cycles program, children who have grown up in scarcity receive the unexpected gift of a brand new bicycle. Never before ridden, built especially for them, with no strings attached. The smiles and joy that result are unmatched, and the memory of that day lasts far beyond the shininess of the frame. Because of the Helping Hands project, a Philippine man who lost his left hand while operating a rice-milling machine is given a prosthetic hand free of charge. In that moment, he is handed freedom, accessibility, and improved prospects for work and provision for himself and his family. The gift of the prosthetic extends far beyond just the individual’s life – rippling out to impact his family and community.

These programs allow participants to access the potential of their heads, hands, and hearts to build a better team, a better organization, and a better world. When participants return to actual life and arrive at the office Monday morning they know what ‘good’ looks like. As they interact with coworkers, converse with clients, and add their piece to the puzzle of an end product, they are cognizant of ‘good.’ They have experienced good, felt good, and participated in good – and they are not likely to forget it.

Hamster Wheel

Many Odyssey Teams programs culminate in a closing that involves Tipping Points. Participants are instructed to author an original quote to be dispersed to their team over the course of the coming weeks as a vehicle of continued learning from one another. Here at Odyssey, we have the privilege of reading each submission as they are entered into a database. And some of them are too good not to share.

“Maintain perspective on what is really important – the working together, the mistakes, the learning, the growing. Every step does not need to be forward.”

We live in a world that expects and demands forward motion. And not just any kind of forward motion – but rapid, far-reaching, and immediate progress. In the pursuit of bigger, faster, and better, other values can fall to the wayside and lesser priorities be sidelined until a later date. But full throttle can create a bit of a hamster wheel effect – lots of energy expended with no forward movement. Sometimes the more productive option is to take a step back. To set aside time as a team to rethink and regroup and make necessary adjustments. To work together to find a better solution, learn from mistakes made and their implications, and grow as an organization as the matter at hand is readdressed. It may seem counter productive to opt for a momentary retreat, but in the long run it is far more beneficial. If your team is in need of a back step – to revision, refuel, or escape the wheel – don’t be afraid to make the move.

20 Years

Odyssey Teams started off September in Los Angeles, running a high ropes course program for over 300 UCLA MBA candidates. Our partnership with the UCLA MBA program has spanned two decades – and we can mark significant moments of Odyssey Teams history by the annual programs. There’s the year that Odyssey Teams’ COO Lain Hensley won it big on the Price is Right the day prior to the start of the event. The year our staff had to drive instead of fly because the September 11th terrorist attacks grounded planes nationally. And two years back, the one that Lain had to sit out, as he underwent chemo in his battle with cancer.

Twenty years worth of programs – that’s a lot of ropes knotted, harnesses tightened, and individuals impacted. We are proud of the longevity of the program – it is evidence that someone believes strongly in the power and value of what we do. But more than that, we are proud of the thousand of individuals represented by the years. The emerging business leaders who are shaping the world in which we live, travel, and work, carry a little bit of Odyssey with them. As they make critical decisions, broker deals, and interact with teammates, employers, and employees, we so hope that they draw upon lessons learned high above the ground that one day in September.

We’d love to partner with your team to impart similar lessons to your students, faculty, employees, or partners. Whether it is through walking a wire tens of feet off the ground, building a bike for a child in need, or assembling a prosthetic hand for an amputee halfway around the world, our programs are designed to be applicable and transformative. It just might be that an Odyssey Teams program is exactly what your team needs as we head into the fall.

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Bad Day

Many Odyssey Teams programs culminate in a closing that involves Tipping Points. Participants are instructed to author an original quote to be dispersed to their team over the course of the coming weeks as a vehicle of continued learning from one another. Here at Odyssey, we have the privilege of reading each submission as they are entered into a database. And some of them are too good to not share.

“Millions of people in the world would love the opportunity to experience your bad days.”

This quote originated from an accountant that had just completed a Helping Hands program, in which participants receive a glimpse of what life is like for an amputee living in a developing country. It offers a perspective oft forgotten – that the challenges and hardships that we face pale in comparison to those lived daily by countless around the world. An anxiety laced deadline, an emotionally charged conversation, an unexpectedly poor performance review, an ill-timed empty gas tank are trivial when placed on a scale opposite the poverty, corruption, disease, and conflict faced by so many in our world. At the end of the bad day, we drive a car home, walk into a temperature controlled home, and open a refrigerator stocked with multiple meal options. A few minutes of the news ticker and all of a sudden a dropped account seems fairly trivial and TGIF becomes TGI Have A Job in light of staggering statistics of poverty. Bad days can be exactly that – really bad. But sometimes a littler perspective is the ideal antidote for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

 

 

Labor Day

For well over one hundred years, the first Monday of September has been recognized and celebrated as Labor Day. Nowadays, this holiday is synonymous with cookouts, pick-up softball games, and one last summer fling before the seasons change. However, as its name indicates, the original intent had far more to do with recognizing the blue collar “working class.” But as the American workforce has diversified far beyond that original demographic, the celebration of work grows from recognizing the people building the skyscraper to include those seated around a conference table within its walls.

And though the majority of the workforce no longer falls under the designation of manual labor, Americans have not ceased to work hard. Hours spent at the office are often extended beyond the desk to the dining room table, as email accounts are only as far as the cell phone in a back pocket. Labor Day is a celebration of the contributions of all workers. A round of applause for the teachers in the classrooms, and the individuals that clean the campus after hours. A hats off to the hospital workers, stock brokers, bus drivers, and the coffee baristas that keep them all moving. A nod to the CEOs and the minimum wage workers, the entrepreneurs, researchers, administrators, bureaucrats, and everyone in between.

We are so thankful that our work allows us to intersect your labor. We get to see Americans in every sector of the workforce, and help you connect to the why of your work. Thank you for allowing us to partner with you in your industry. We hope that you have an amazing Labor Day. Enjoy the BBQ, the baseball, and all things summer. And maybe, just maybe, let that email inbox wait until Tuesday morning.

Perspective for the Mundane

As we leave the freewheeling days of summer and begin to settle back into the routine, life can begin to feel suffocating in its predictability. Get up, work out, meeting, deadline, conference call, traffic, eat, sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Here at Odyssey Teams, we participate in this loop alongside you. Our scuffed suitcases are evidence of the many hours spent in airports, taxis, and hotels. The boxes of prosthetic hands donated are the result of thousands of quality checks performed at our office. Retired ropes are proof of the many participants that we have harnessed and belayed as they balance on wires and jump from platforms.

But rarely do we feel the strain of the repetition. For us, the distinguishing characteristic is the people. Each time we deliver a program, we have the incredible opportunity of connecting with new faces. Event planners, participants, ten year-olds receiving bikes, the grandma seated in seat A on the plane. The people we have the privilege of interacting with, learning from, and building up, serve to differentiate one program from the next, and make each day spent on the road more than worth the repetition. We so hope to be the break from the norm for you and your team this year. If you’re finding yourself bogged down by the redundancy, give us a call. We’d love to be the exception to the rule that provides perspective to the mundane.

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Facing My Worst Fear

It is said that more people are afraid of public speaking than dying. Probably because you only die once. But public speaking is something you must face any time you are in public. More accurately, it is not the “public” that drives you nuts, it is the private time you spend with your little voice — those minutes, hours or months prior to ‘public’ speaking. It can be terrifying or flat-out life limiting. It was for me.

In my five and a half years of college, I knew I would have to face speech class. It was a requirement for my degree. When I learned this, all hell broke loose in my mind and I began the art of denial-avoidance. I avoided signing up for speech class for the first, second, third, and fourth years of college. I met with an adviser to review my needs for graduation and she pointed out the missing class just prior to my final year. I was at a crossroads. I went back to my apartment and tried to figure out how I could possibly get around this and I thought, “perhaps graduation is not actually that important.” But I had too many years already invested, and decided that IF I were to take speech, I would take it during summer school, 400 miles away from the college I attended to be sure that I would not know a soul.

And so I went — with pounding heart. The first speech in class was to describe something…anything. I spent hours practicing, trying to memorize what I was going to say. And I did. All five minutes of it. It was my turn and my throat felt like I was being choked and I was on the verge of a heart attack. After starting, my lack of presence created a gap of consciousness where I forgot all memorization. I stood there for what felt like thirty minutes of being naked with nothing to say. But I stayed standing and I was somehow still alive.

So I started talking in this out-of-body moment and then began to re-enter my body as I heard myself saying things that actually made some sense. I did not know quite where it was coming from and I felt as if I was listening to myself. I kept at it and realized I wasn’t dying and that people weren’t laughing at my nakedness. By the time I finished my five minutes, I felt like I had recovered at least a loincloth. I got an “A” on that presentation and it was the last time I relied on a script or memorization. A lot happened for me during that class, but I NEVER overcame any fear. I can’t say that it got one bit easier. But I realized that even as ridiculously nervous as I was, it was possible to be nervous and good at the same time.

Don’t let ‘em see you sweat

If you are old enough, you might remember a commercial by Ban Extra Dry antiperspirant, which said with an imposing voice: “NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, DON’T LET ‘EM SEE YOU SWEAT.” This slogan fits beautifully into the cultural illusion that not sweating is the key to success. But going outside the comfort zone, risking anything, riding a bike for the first time, investing, confronting a work situation or person, being honest, or giving a public speech requires a venture into the territory of sweat. Our bodies are designed to respond to this territory with increased heartbeat, quicker breathing and of course the lovely secretion of sweat in our armpits.

So what does this powerful advertisement-command mean? One: Do not go outside of your comfort zone. Or, two: if you do, don’t let ‘em see you sweat. It is an easy cultural myth that proclaims that nervousness is a sign of weakness.

Much of my job today involves being on stage, presenting team and leadership development programs to high-level executives. Most of them come in with a cynical eye waiting to validate their doubts that the program is relevant or worth their time. So I take another deliberate step outside of my comfort zone. I know the sweaty armpits are a natural part of the process but I hear that Ban Extra Dry mantra screaming in my ears, and as I try to stop sweating it creates more sweat and what feels like the Nile River pours down my sides. Ban’s slogan was brilliant. They were creating the sweat they wanted people to try to cover up with their deodorant.

When I realized this, I decided to test the hypothesis by doing the exact opposite of their slogan, the opposite of this macho illusion of NO FEAR. If the pressure to not let them see me sweat created more sweat, then why not let them see me sweat and see if I produced less sweat? Because this theory applied to successful risk-taking, creating a supportive team, and producing results, I used this theory with the audience. I would get to the point of telling them that I was all-in, sweaty-armpits-and-all, to bring them my best. Then I’d raise both hands up revealing my sweaty, wet, armpits. Most of the crowd was shocked, some got dumb chills for me, others applauded the authentic possibility of it actually working. But for me, it would be THE moment the sweating would begin to stop. My shirt would dry out and I had the audience because in that moment I had myself.

Fight or Flight

What you resist persists. Antiresistance is 100 times more effective than antiperspirant.

The worst nervousness NOW comes when I am not nervous. There have been a few programs I have delivered where I was not nervous and I can tell you that they were emphatically not my best. My best seems to come from that feeling that feels like nervousness. Or, when there is a lot at stake. Like when a client flies me to Timbuktu and spends a fortune to have all of their people in one room, giving up so many other things at the possibility that I might bring them something more valuable than all the other things they could be doing. Nerves are our primordial fight of flight mechanism, and if you don’t flee – run off stage – then you’ll fight for the best result you can produce. The audience loves that.

The illusion is that it requires a fight or flight response to survive but it is not your life that is at stake; it’s your ego. All you need to do is separate the two and you quickly realize that it requires no fight at all. The easiest way through for you is the hardest way out for your ego. I am still not a master of this but I can say for certain that my very best results in speaking to large groups all over the world and several benchmark moments in Odyssey success have come at those times of surrendering to the absolute truth of the moment. Nothing to hide. Sweat or no sweat.

- Bill John

 

A Commitment to Community

We ardently seek moments that allow us to engage in something bigger than ourselves. Surrounded by people working towards one common goal, there is a certain amount of awe and belonging that emerges from the tangible sense of community. We experienced a bit of that a few weeks ago. In late July, Odyssey Teams spent several days in humid Florida, delivering one of our largest annual Life Cycles programs – 1,100 participants building 183 bikes for children in the surrounding area. The resulting impact was impressive – as kids flooded the room in expectant anticipation and participants met their recipient face to face. But the community that had formed and flourished in the hours prior was of equal note and celebration.

Community within the workplace is an oft-discussed buzzword, as organizations attempt to create a foundation of cooperation, communication, and friendship between cubicles and across pay grades. Regrettably, faltered community is often seen as the expected growing pain of expansion, or the unfortunate opportunity cost of an increasingly technological world. But here at Odyssey Teams, we keenly believe that does not have to be the case.

We stand firm that it is of utmost importance to put people in a room together and connect them as a team and as people – leading to the creation of a positive emotional memory of the company, team, or leadership. It might not be cost or time efficient, because frankly, relationships are never going to be primarily economic in their formation. But it is of immeasurable value. We will only be at our very best when our hands and hearts are connected and engaged with our community, and we are reminded that we are a valuable part of it all. Our programs are designed to foster that community – addressing both the individual and the greater team that they represent. Teams consistently leave from an Odyssey Teams event with a powerful memory of a shared experience, and with the tools and resources to effectively build upon that foundation.