When Combating the Bully, Our Hands Aren’t Tied

As a part of growing-up, most of us have experienced bullying either directly or indirectly. And despite our efforts to build awareness, today bullying still persists. As a society we have to not only work to eradicate bullying, but also to prepare children for it. Like animals in the jungle, if somebody is weak, they get picked on so another can assert dominance. And the sad truth is, the behavior kids face today is at a new high, or low, depending how you measure it. Thanks to the Internet, cyber bullying is a whole new outlet for kids to attack the weakest members of the social herd outside the classroom. So how can we, as adults, combat this critical issue? As it turns out, we’re not as powerless as we might at times feel. Here are a few steps we can take.

In the School Environment

We show up for kindergarten excited to be a part of something. We take risks, we raise our hands without hesitance, we want to participate and grow. And that can work out pretty well for a while, but then 3rd or 4th grade rolls around, and we get made fun of for getting an answer wrong. The next time the opportunity to participate in class comes up, that little voice inside tells us, “hey, that didn’t feel good last time, let’s not take that risk again.”

School should be a place for taking risks and seeing good things happen. It should be an environment where people can make mistakes and try new things. I like to call it learning ugly. Like in sports, learning should be ugly at times. If you go to a sports practice and never strike out, then the pitcher isn’t pitching hard enough. But the difference is with sports, it’s expected that you’re going to learn ugly—in school it’s not so safe to fail, which results in a sacrifice of knowledge and growth.

In school, our intentions should be focused on reprogramming the experience of taking risks and having something bad happen as a result. We want our youth to understand that if they take a risk, something good should happen next. It’s up to us to create this type of learning environment where positive reinforcement is king—not just for getting the right answer, but for trying and taking that risk in participating. Being positive and uplifting is the most powerful tool.

In the Home Environment

Kids need the support of a family to lift them up, such as an available family that listens to them at the dinner table. At least four times each week, families should make the effort to sit together for a meal. No cell phones, no TV, just talking and listening—good old fashion conversation. Let kids know that they matter, and give them a voice in a safe place where their thoughts and opinions are heard.

Find activities, such as sports or music lessons, which will build kids’ self esteem so they can withstand the impact of other’s bad behavior that can’t be controlled outside the home.

Help them develop a work ethic by doing chores around the house such as cleaning their room or even watering a plant. The overwhelming hours kids spend watching TV, using social media and texting do not teach them how to become an important part of the operations of the family and the world. These two roles tend to go hand-in-hand.

Most importantly, give them a place where they belong, so if they feel out of place at school, at least they feel comfortable at home. Without a sense of accomplishment and value outside of peer acceptance, kids may take extreme measures to let people know how much they are hurting.


This is a great acronym that shows the five ways parents and caregivers can create a safe space for kids to flourish.

Safe place to learn and grow.

Perspective. Shifting perspective to understand differences.

Awareness. Recognizing what it is that we’re most aware of (such as ethnicity and economic status), and redirecting if misguided.

Choice. Making it safe for people to make a choice, and recognizing that we have one.

Energy. Getting in touch with energy. You can feel if a setting, such as the classroom, has a positive or negative environment.

The ugly truth is that bullying has gone too far and we all need to step up and do our part to make a difference. But the good news is, with a little effort, we can all look around and do something to help.

-Lain Hensley is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Odyssey Teams, a corporate training and youth education company that works with schools and non-profits across the nation. 

Conquering the February Blues – part II

This is part II of a two-week look at how to keep yourself and your teams motivated this year.

  • Get together with your work team in person or virtually.  We need to feel like we are a part of something bigger than us.  It will lift your spirits and help remind you that your work matters and that you are not alone in the challenges and the rewards.  Talk about the ups and the down of life and work and be honest. People love to help others when you let them know what is real for you in your life and work.  People lifted me up when I was at my lowest point and I am constantly amazed at the generous spirit of people.
  • Enjoy time with your customers if you can, or take time to follow your work to the eventual end user or beneficiary.  We often lose our sense of flavor for life and for our work because we are distant from the impact on them and us.  Taste the joy of helping someone or making the world a better place through your work.  It feels good to do something good!
  • Answer these five questions on a sheet of paper or on your computer and print them out.  1. Why is my work important to me?  2. Why is the answer to number one important to me?  3. Why is the answer to number two important to me?  4. Why is the answer to number three important to me?  5. Why is the answer to number four important to me?  Odds are very good that the answer to number 5 is motivating and downright powerful in a meaning of life kind of way.  Know your 5th why.
  • Move your body.  Motion creates emotion and if you are feeling the blues you are probably sitting and standing in a slumped posture. Get up and MOVE!  Walk, run, play, workout, or do anything that changes your posture and could be called exercise.


It is okay to feel a little off now and then. Don’t deny how you feel.  Life is challenging and life can be hard. Remember, the greatest gift in life is not what you get, but what you become.  Stay focused on who you are becoming as you face another year of learning and growth.

-Lain Hensley

Conquering the February Blues – part I

The beginning of another year can be a bit overwhelming and demotivating. The lights only just came down from the roof, while the neighbor seems to have already completed spring cleaning, trained for a marathon, and clearly doesn’t face the same credit card bills given the new car gracing the driveway. There is not a handicap large enough to make up that difference, so why even bother? We know that we should have high expectations for the year ahead, but by now it’s February and life is real and demanding and on occasion really difficult. Resolutions and personal development shrink to make room for other requirements of time and energy. So how do you motivate people who are facing another year of change, continuous improvement, and the always-growing stretch goals?

Last year I was fighting tonsil cancer.  I survived the torture of surgery and 6 weeks of radiation, only to be overwhelmed by the daily challenge of eating enough calories to keep my body healthy sans feeding tube. I would start the day with my treatment and then I would begin to climb “my mountain” as I called it.  The mountain of calories with a summit of 2,500, compounded by the bizarre radiation effect of tasteless food.  Just texture and temperature, no flavor.  How did I find motivation and how can the same principles be applied to propel you and your team through another successful year?

Some simple places to start:

  • Set short term goals and work your tail off to hit them.  Make them realistic and achievable.  You need a partner, friend, coworker or boss who knows your goals and will be ready to celebrate with you when you achieve them, and hold you accountable when you slip.  My wife was my cheerleader, cook, and she would be honest with me on my progress each day.  She had the confetti and air horn ready for my 2,500-calorie summit and was the first one to push me when my determination waned. (My kids would also help her in these tasks.)
  • Look past the obstacles of the day.  Now is the time to start dreaming about the family summer vacation at the lake, the goal of adding a pool to the backyard, or catching a game with a friend.  Make plans that include fun and are beyond the work.  We need to work to live, but we should not live to work.  Find a healthy blend of the two and do your best to separate them from each other.  Notice I did not say “healthy balance.” Balance implies equality, and they are not necessarily season-to-season.
  • Ask yourself a very important question each day. “What do I need to do today to stay motivated and hit my goals?”  Your brain is an expert at solving problems, and will apply its magic to this question lead you to rock your world.  Ask this question one to two times each day.  Do not confuse this question with. “Why am I not motivated and not making my goals?” This might sound like an interchangeable question, but one leads to solutions and an action plan. And the other to excuses. Do not fall into the trap of the latter.


To be continued next week.

-Lain Hensley


The Loop

Despite the overcast morning, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this past Monday, predicting six more weeks of winter. Here at the Odyssey office, spring blooms are popping up all around, so we may have some doubts about our furry friend. While the marmot’s annual forecasts may be suspect, his celebrated role in American culture is undeniable. And Bill Murray’s 1993 film Groundhog Day only serves to further canonize the strange holiday. In the flick, weather man Phil Connors is begrudgingly sent to cover the Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, only to find himself stuck in an eternal time loop. He awakens each morning to repeat the same day over and over again.

While most of us likely do not plan our spring skiing weekend around the predictions of a large rodent, we can all relate on some level to Phil Connors’ predicament. Our lives can sometimes seem to be as repetitive and suffocating as his time loop. Get up, work out, meeting, deadline, conference call, traffic, eat, sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Here at Odyssey Teams, we participate in the 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 loop.


The Climb

Dust rose from beneath my boots as I stepped from the parking lot onto the rock path that would be my guide for the next five hours. I could already see the glow lights of my fellow climbers stretched far ahead. The voices of the lead climbers and the sounds from the line of students that followed blended into one chorus of laughter and singing. The sound of my own breathing became more difficult as the thin air was already taking its toll on my body’s ability to oxygenate my blood.

I could not have done more to prepare the students for the climb ahead, it was up to them now. It was out of my hands and up to each senior to make the difference for each other. I had my own challenge to overcome and I would need their help if I was going to make it. I trudged ahead leaving the parking lot in the distance and embracing the mystery of the full moon and the night ahead.

Thoughts of my 12-year-old nephew, Cody, began to enter my mind and I was comforted to have his memory as my companion for the long hours ahead. I took one look back at the parking lot which was now one half mile behind me. I looked forward to standing on top of this pile of rocks and feeling close to my God, close to my fellow climbers, and close to Cody’s spirit. I missed him so much, but I would have to go on with only his memory.

In memory of Cody Richardson, my nephew and my friend.

January 15, 1988 to September 23, 2000

-Lain Hensley


Helping Hands — Build-a-Hand Teambuilding Kits in England

Odyssey Teams, Inc. is excited to announce that we are looking for the right person or organization in England to be our exclusive distributor of the Helping Hands – Build-a-Hand Teambuilding kits in that region. To date, this program has resulted in over 17,000 hands built for people who have lost a limb in developing countries while simultaneously providing a profound experience of team and leadership development to over 1,000 companies in developed countries. The program has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, Fox Business news, and numerous TV/Media publications/outlets. It is making a dramatic difference inside and out of companies around the world.

If you, or someone you know, has an established training/facilitation practice in England that might be interested in leveraging their training/facilitation services through the use of the Helping Hands – Build-a-Hand project, please have them contact Bill John — bill@odysseyteams.com or 530-342-1650 (US). We will be making our selection in April, 2015. For information on the program including press/media/videos, et. al. please go to www.build-a-hand.com, or to our main site www.odysseyteams.com.


Into the New Year

At the end of the year we tend to look at the twelve months past and pinpoint the highlights. We reflect on a milestone reached, the once in a lifetime vacation, a major purchase, or even heartbreaking tragedy. The short list of momentous occasions becomes the marker for the year. And looking forward, we expectantly search for the next one.

But the vast majority of life happens in the meantime. Significant events occur and their gravities pull on our hearts and lives. But we are formed by the days, months, and hours of the in between. The Tuesday morning headed to work and sitting in traffic. The Thursday evening coming home to a sink of breakfast dishes needing to be washed. Conference calls, deadlines, lunch dates, grocery shopping, and miles logged on a treadmill. Not very flashy or noteworthy, but that’s where life happens. And there is meaning in it all. Those conference calls broker a deal that trickles down to deserving clients. That stress-inducing deadline means a valuable product reaching the hands of customers. Lunch dates establish friendships with colleagues and office mates.

Here at Odyssey Teams Inc. we look on the year past and celebrate some rather notable occasions. But we are also thankful for the day-to-day routine that brought us to where we are now. Looking to the year ahead, we are excited to join you and your teams for the average-Joe Wednesdays. We hope to give the normalcy purpose. To partner with you as we all seek to find the why of our work, the meaning behind the mundane. And perhaps at the end of 2015, you’ll look back and find that an afternoon spent with Odyssey Teams was the momentous occasion that added value to your in between.

Season’s Greetings

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.

We have a lot of things planned for this next year, and we sincerely hope that we will have the opportunity to join and assist you in your own odyssey.


Gratitude. Not always the easiest emotion or attitude to evoke. There are momentary glimpses – thankfulness in response to a grandiose gesture, a major life event, or a meaningful gift received on a special occasion. But gratitude for the small things is more difficult.

We take for granted that this morning we woke up, took a breath of air, and got out of bed. We forget the blessing in opening a refrigerator of food, and the reality that even if the milk was spoiled, there is a grocery store just down the street with gallons more. We fail to be thankful that while brushing our teeth at the bathroom sink, we turn on a faucet and clean water comes out – at whatever temperature we desire. Sideline the big things – the little ones are abounding.

But when the full reality of life is occurring all around us – the ups and down, the stressors, busyness, and the mundane – it can be difficult to default to anything even slightly akin to thankfulness. Fortunately there is November, with the fourth Thursday dedicated to the elusive action-feeling of giving thanks. This week, here at Odyssey Teams we take advantage of a coached opportunity to be grateful. We have no shortage of reasons.

We are thankful for a new building and new team members. We are grateful for the incredible programs that have occurred across the country and around the world these past months. 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. And we are beyond 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.

Lessons Learned from Cancer, Radiation, and Coming Back to Work

Entrepreneurs are famous for being self-taught business minds who relentlessly learn new skills. We read business books and attend conferences. We seek out mentors and develop new skills. But sometimes earth-shattering lessons — ones we could never learn from a book or a fellow entrepreneur —upend our world. They feel more like catastrophes than education. But they teach us the deepest lessons of our lives.

Over the last 23 years, my business partner Bill John and I have built a teambuilding company called Odyssey Teams, and developed a well-recognized brand in our industry. We differentiated ourselves by incorporating service projects into the classroom. We called it philanthropic teambuilding and the term stuck. To date we have given away about 20,000 bikes and about 13,000 prosthetic hands that had been distributed in more than 74 countries.

This success meant a lot of travel, flying across the country to deliver corporate training events. Last year, I was off on another business trip, driving to the airport to catch a 7 a.m. flight to Milwaukee to deliver a keynote speech to 1,000 Northwestern Mutual employees. I was living my dream and, frankly, at the top of my game. A slight hint of arrogance had developed in me as I experienced a level of financial and personal success I had only dreamed about as a kid.

I was still drowsy from the early hour, and I rubbed my face to keep awake. Then, while running my hands over my neck, I felt a strange lump on the right side of my throat. I immediately flashed back to years earlier when a friend of mine described the day he discovered a lump in his neck and it turned out to be cancer. It was almost totally silent as I sped along at 65 mph. It was just me and my imagination wondering about my fate and calculating how soon I could call my wife.

During the drive, somehow I knew in my gut that something was wrong and a battle I had felt looming since I was a teenager was upon me.

Fighting was not new to me. As a dyslexic kid I fought my way through high school and then through six years of college. I fought my way through collegiate tennis matches, and I fought my way though the early years of my business. My father taught me the value of work and that fighting for something you really wanted is just part of the deal.

My wife is a registered nurse and I called her from my layover in Denver. She was anxious to assess me when I returned from the trip and we agreed to just watch the lump until we got back home from our vacation cabin.

When the lump in my throat did not go away, we followed through with a doctor’s appointment. They ordered a biopsy and days passed as we waited for the results. I had my phone with me and my family and friends knew I was waiting for the test results. When the phone finally rang, my doctor told me it was cancer. I wrote the word “CANCER” on the sheet of paper and told her to call my wife. I hung up the phone and the emotion overwhelmed me. Cancer, cancer, cancer. I wept with disbelief. The time had come, and although millions of people have fought the same fight, I felt alone.

I went home to be with my family. I walked into the house and could hear my 13-year-old and 10-year-old daughters crying in their room. After a long embrace with my wife I peeked in to see my girls. We clung to each other in a way I will never forget. My 8-year-old son emerged from his room to give me his brand of love. I had cancer, but they would all need to go through cancer with me. It scared us all.

The next few weeks were a medical blur — test after test and some hard decisions. I had my tonsils removed and a radical neck dissection. They removed 23 glands and a bunch of neck tissue. The cancer had spread to one of my lymph nodes, and I realized that I was a speaker who might not speak again if things did not go well. I began six weeks of radiation.

Work was put on hold. I was a mess and I leaned hard on my team to make it through. The business was growing, but it would need to go on without my leadership. I had to step back and let go of control. Any gaps in the system, any areas I was holding up would need to stand on their own. It was not going to be easy, but we really had no options, and I was ready to see if they could do it. No matter how much I loved my work I did not have the strength to do anything more than fight for my life.

My wife was my rock. When I could not go on she and the kids carried me. The ego and arrogance from my success? Gone. It was just me, 2,500 calories a day and another 24 hours of fighting. I was stopped. The man who always had enough energy and was always ready to take the lead was being carried.

This defining moment has led to some big changes in my life and in my company. I realized that I had way too much of the company on my back, and I was not creating independence or accountability within my team. Many hard conversations came my way following my treatment and I can now see the gaps in my leadership that had been exposed in my absence. Today, my business partner and I are creating independent yet interdependent employees driven by the mission and values of Odyssey Teams, and not just by me. For things to grow bigger than me I needed to learn how to get out of the way more and empower people.

I could tell you about radiation and the after effects of the treatments and issues I am still dealing with today, but honestly, who cares. I am 47 years old, six months post-radiation, and 15 pounds under my normal weight, but I am alive. To really get started, I had to be stopped. I am cancer free and I am a better man, husband, father, employer, speaker and friend. It is not about me anymore or what I can accomplish or whom I can impress or what I can get done. I am temporary. But I can create and contribute to things that can’t be stopped by cancer, things that will live well beyond me.

-Lain Henlsey, Chief Operating Officer of Odyssey Teams