‘Unrealistic’ pursuit – a personal validation of Odyssey’s work

In 2004 Lain Hensley, co-owner of Odyssey, and I were discussing the notion of blowing out our paradigm of what was possible for us in terms of business success WITH family/health balance. We were playing around with a new training concept that would challenge others to be more ‘unrealistic’ in their pursuits. We called the program/process Unrealistic Leadership™. I decided that if we were going to espouse such ideas that I must be willing to try my/our own medicine…. If we can’t produce tremendous results then how can we claim to know anything about it and/or teach others?
So, I committed to train for and complete an Ironman traithlon. I had been a runner before but never a swimmer or cyclist. I had also been discouraged by Doctors saying that due to chondromalacia (knee disorder) my knees would progressively get worse/weaker and my running days were over.
The question of balance in my life at the time when there was no conceivable way for me to find the time to train for this was a real issue. How could I find the time? And could my knees become stronger, more re-generative?
Two boys, age 4 and 6 needing much father time. My wife, ever supportive of my pursuits though a bit worried about this one. The work vacuum pulling me in without enough hours in the day for what we needed to do as a business. Travel to various countries and time zones to deliver Odyssey programs.
I spent the next two years carving crazy amounts of hours and places to fit in my training. Getting stronger and fitter over that time eased my mind a little bit but it never erased the main fear that I had of not being able to accomplish this goal. It was so beyond me and any evidence that I had produced – even all the way up to the day of my Ironman – that I could get off my bike after riding 112 miles and swimming 2.4 miles and begin a marathon. Nothing in my training came even close to providing such evidence of possibility or probability. The only thing that I kept hearing from other Ironman finishers was that (you) will be able to tap into something without ever knowing whether you’ll be able to tap into it. Hmmmm? How does that work?
At the same time of committing to my Ironman, Lain and I had also committed to much bigger financial goals within Odyssey. This multi-pronged ‘unrealistic pursuit’ meant that Odyssey’s global impact needed to have more impact. So while I rode, I thought. While I ran, I thought. While I swam I thought. And there was plenty of time to think with peak training weeks reaching 18 hours. I was learning that some of my greatest breakthroughs for Odyssey came during some of my earliest runs, longest bike rides or hardest training moments. Sometimes really tough trainings were the only way to get out of my head and NOT think about Odyssey. These quiet times of brain and busy times of body were invaluable to freeing up space for something new to arrive in my thinking – later.
The toll of my training time impacted the Odyssey team who compensated enormously for my crazy schedule covering me at different times and events so I could squeeze time.
Notable training moments on Odyssey trips included falling off the treadmill in Singapore when I was too focussed on looking at myself in the mirror and didn’t see that I was running slower than the treadmill. Oops! Falling off an elyptical trainer in Zurich when the handle caught the sleeve of my t-shirt and launched me over the front. Navigating through dozens of kids playing marco polo in an indoor pool in Dublin. Swimming in a roof top pool in Madrid the night the bombs went off in Spain (Al Queada). Long runs in Germany with my Odyssey crew after too much Munich the night before.
May 22nd finally arrived. Friends and families of hundreds of wanna-be Ironmen and women finishers cheered with bagpipes blazing and a gunshot that started the final phase of our Ironman journey and my ‘unrealistic’ pursuit.
Eleven and a half hours later I finished. Many obstacles came up during that time as I covered this last 140 miles of my journey. Perhaps all the fear, trepidation, nervousness and anxiety prepared me to have it be ‘not as bad as I thought’. Trusting more than my little voice may be telling me not to, believing in something beyond the current body of evidence that I have of what is possible, relying on my team (family, co-workers) and others. These lessons still resonate though I often find myself sliding down the slippery path of more ‘realistic’ views that the media, economy, doctors and other influences have that my unconscious uses to manipulate into a perspective that is safer, more ‘real’ and ultimately, less powerful.
Odyssey doubled it’s revenues over the course of my Ironman pursuit. My knees are still stronger than before (Cross training, religious intake of Glucosomine and still the belief in re-generation of these miracle joints) My kids were fine with Dad training so much and will hopefully remember me crossing the finish line with one of them under each arm. My wife, ever supportive, worries about a sequel though I’ve committed that IronDad is more important to me now than another Ironman.

Look, No Ropes

Meetings and Conventions Magazine Article http://www.mcmag.com
JUNE 2008
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Group team-building options get creative
By Hunter R. Slaton
Popular wisdom holds that we are living in the age of the niche. Appropriately enough, team-building companies are now offering some out-there activities that depart from tired-and-true trust falls, paintball games and ropes courses of years past.
One offbeat option is WhirlyBall, which combines lacrosse, hockey and basketball with bumper cars. The WhirlyBall (www.whirlyball.com) company has three Illinois locations, where bumper car team members work together to score baskets using plastic scoops. Visit whirlyball.org to find other places where the sport is played and watch a game in action.
For those who don’t enjoy getting knocked about, Canadian Outback Adventures (www.canadianoutback.com) organizes a barbecue challenge where teams battle, Iron Chef-style, with must-use ingredients in an outdoor cooking competition. After the judges choose the winning team, it’s time to eat.
A do-good way to forge bonds: The Helping Hands program from Odyssey Teams (www.odysseyteams.com) assists groups in building prosthetic hands that are donated to those in need. Since the program began in 2004, a total of 1,200 hands have been assembled, 750 of which have been distributed to amputees in foreign countries including Colombia, India, Jordan and Kenya.

Firm’s team-building exercise helps children

by Nathan Gonzalez – Jun. 4, 2008 05:55 PM
The Arizona Republic
What started as a team-building exercise for a group of Procter & Gamble employees turned into a surprise set of gifts for deserving Valley children.
About 135 Procter & Gamble employees from throughout the country gathered Tuesday at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, where they assembled the bikes as part of a team-building exercise during a corporate training session.
None knew where the bikes would end up, until about 30 children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix were led into the ballroom.

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Transformational Teambuilding – A new twist on the traditional

Written By Diana Rowe
in Insurance and Financial Meetings Management Magazine -May/June 2008 issue
full article
Teambuilding with a purpose — corporate sales meeting attendees assemble bicycles for deserving kids. Odyssey Teams’ Life Cycles program has donated more than 10,000 bikes to children worldwide since 2001. Doing good for others enriches not only receiver and giver, but the corporate culture as well.
Photo courtesy of Odyssey Teams
first bike ever — or his first prosthetic hand — assembled by your team. The same objectives of cooperation and communication are achieved but with the added, profoundly powerful component of doing good for others. “Paying it forward” not only enriches giver and receiver, it extends to the company’s bottom line.

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Becoming Good Corporate Citizens. Is CSR the meetings industry’s new ROI?

Article written by Maria Lenhart
Meetings West, June 2008
”The only reason to hold a meeting is to save the world.”
That was the audacious gauntlet thrown down by Tim Sanders at the end of his keynote address at MPI’s Professional Education Conference-North America in Houston last February. The former Yahoo! executive, now a motivational speaker, author and CSR (corporate social responsibility) advocate, challenged the audience to start taking a leadership role in their organizations by initiating platforms for social and environmental change.
Similarly, CSR has been a hot topic at other industry conferences, including the recent SITE Executive Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where 143 incentive professionals gathered to discuss global trends.
“CSR is like the ROI of 2008–everyone is focused on it,” commented SITE President Padraic Gilligan after the summit. “While it has been a growing item of discussion for the past few years, it has moved to a point where you can’t be willing to take a risk and not have a company position on it.”
At PCMA’s annual meeting in Seattle last January, the Convention Industry Council (CIC) Task Force on Sustainability and Responsibility convened for the first time to determine how CIC member organizations can serve as resources on issues concerning the environment and social responsibility. Shortly afterward, MPI created its own task force comprised of CSR experts who will help the organization develop resources for members over the coming year.
Defining CSR
So what is CSR all about and why is it gathering so much momentum in the meetings industry?
Although it includes environmental issues, green initiatives are only one aspect of CSR. According to its “CSR: Where We Stand” statement, MPI defines it as encompassing a “triple bottom line” of “people, planet and profit,” a broad spectrum of social, economic and environmental concerns.
“The triple bottom line behind CSR also looks at social responsibility–the economic and social equity of business choices,” says Marge Anderson, assistant director of the Energy Center of Wisconsin and head of MPI’s CSR Task Force. “Meetings are perfectly positioned to contribute to social responsibility by integrating community service projects into their programming so the impact they leave behind is positive. We can also have a positive impact by contributing to the local economy.”
While CSR may seem to be most relevant to corporate meeting planners, Elizabeth Henderson, CMM, MPI’s director of Canadian development and staff liaison for the CSR Task Force, says it has significance for all meeting planners.
“Associations, including MPI, are very concerned with CSR,” she says. “And independent planners are working with both association and corporate clients who have an increasing CSR focus. It’s important for them to know how to fit in with this.”
For Sanders, author of Saving the World at Work, which will be published by Doubleday in September, CSR is no mere fad, but a “revolution” that is not going to go away.
“CSR is the biggest social trend of my lifetime and it will continue to be important,” he says. “After all, you’re never going to see headlines that say “Eco concerns are dead” or “Communities no longer need help.”
Sanders believes it is the emergence of a new generation of corporate employees that is making it essential for companies to have CSR policies and practices. He also maintains that companies who don’t have acceptable CSR practices will not be able to attract top talent.
“This is very important to young people and it strongly influences where they want to work,” he says. “Research shows that compensation is no longer the biggest factor–a company’s social commitment has more impact than anything else. This generation, the children of the Baby Boomers, has been strongly influenced by horrific events such as Hurricane Katrina and the media coverage, and corporate scandals such as Enron have also had an impact.”
According to Sanders, there are three main criteria that determine whether or not a company is being a good corporate citizen: how it treats its employees, how it gives back to the community and its ecological and sustainability practices.
“The first is the most important,” he says. “You can be as green as you want, but if you’re not good to your employees, it doesn’t matter.”
Sanders is optimistic that corporations have the ability and even the will to have a positive impact on issues such as global warming and poverty.
“I’ve always believed that companies can change the world for good, even though a lot of environmentalists believe that corporations are evil,” he says. “I don’t. Corporations are made up of people and people want to do good.”
Not everyone in the meetings industry is as optimistic, including longtime educator, consultant and independent planner Joan Eisenstodt, CMM, head of Washington, D.C.-based Eisenstodt & Associates.
“I do not agree with Tim Sanders on this one–because I do not think that most companies and organizations are embracing the deed versus the words of CSR, and because customers and staff and members are not shouting for it,” she says. “Moreover, when it is shouted out, most organization find a way around the actions.”
The Planner’s Role
Where Eisenstodt, Sanders and others do agree is that meeting planners can and should play a crucial role in influencing their companies to implement CSR practices.
“Meeting planners have a lot of power for change,” Sanders says. “They are the ones who pick the sites, the vendors, the speakers. They are the movie producers of their companies. Meetings are the only time in which people sit and think about the company’s goals and objectives–so they are the time when the message can be delivered.”
Angie Pfeifer, CMM, MPI’s chairwoman of the board, advocates that planners take the initiative on CSR matters in their companies, something she says she has done in her role as vice president-corporate meetings, travel and incentives for Investors Group Financial Services in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“I heard from my boss that we were starting a CSR task force and I said that I wanted to get involved,” she says. “Since I manage both meetings and travel at the company, I knew there was a lot I could do. My team and I took a lot of time to research how we could implement CSR. It’s not easy and it takes time.”
The results soon paid off, however, with the company able to save many thousands of dollars by taking such steps as not supplying bottled water at meetings, but reusable bottles instead.
“The myth is that CSR is costly, but it’s not,” Pfeifer says. “It was very emotional for me to see how we’d saved by doing the right thing. And, of course, CSR is not just about green meetings. I’m at the table at my company in regards to all sorts of CSR.”
Even companies that already have extensive CSR policies and practices in place may still need action on the part of planners to make sure these extend to meetings. Such was the case at Timberland, a Stratham, N.H.-based shoe manufacturer whose CSR practices include giving each employee 40 paid time-off hours a year to do volunteer work.
“When I joined Timberland a few years ago they had not yet integrated their CSR practices into meetings,” says Michelle Johnson, a former in-house planner for Timberland who is now a partner in a planning firm, Creative Community Communications, whose clients include Timberland.
She says the chief reason behind this is that Timberland did not have a centralized meetings policy, something she recommends to all corporate clients who want to implement CSR meetings practices.
“We had many different departments doing things, so we put together a meetings policy that reflected Timberland’s CSR focus,” she says.
“A centralized policy allows you to look at where you are spending the money. Then you can look at what should be asked for in every hotel contract in regards to CSR.”
Community Giving
One of the most visible ways that planners are implementing CSR is by scheduling a day or partial day devoted to a community project, endeavors that range from rebuilding hurricane-ravaged structures in New Orleans to assembling bicycles for needy children and other projects that can take place in a hotel ballroom.
Just as green practices can be good for a company’s bottom line, community volunteer efforts have type of locale also has its fair share of attractive, meetings-friendly sites with reasonable prices.
Oceanside Oases
While everyone appreciates a day at the beach, fewer and fewer companies are able to afford coastal prices and are now looking for alternative locales with affordable price tags that still provide a fun-in-the-sun atmosphere.
Enter Ventura, Calif. Located about 28 miles south of Santa Barbara, Ventura is an idyllically beautiful seaside community with a good deal of history, even housing one of California’s nine remaining missions: the San Buenaventura Mission.
“It is an old-fashioned California beach town,” says Kathleen Fitzgerald, director of sales for the Ventura CVB. “We have a self-contained little Main Street area that has some significant architecture and wonderful restaurants and boutique shops.”
Nature-loving groups can visit the breathtaking Channel Islands, just off the coast. They can also go whale watching or take a sunset cruise with companies such as the Island Packers.
“Another fun thing to do is have a meeting on the beach,” Fitzgerald says, adding that The Yellow Umbrella Company regularly sets up such gatherings.
Ventura also has plenty of places for groups to stay, Fitzgerald says, adding that its average daily rates during peak season (July-August) can hover around just $139-$149, and off-peak (December) at around $99 per night, and many accommodation offerings are situated close to the water.
“Every room has an ocean view” at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, she says, adding that the Ventura Beach Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor are also a popular group choices.
Jessica Wimer, vice president-president elect for the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, regularly rotates her group between high-end coastal destinations and recently decided to bring a group to Ventura, thoroughly enjoying the experience.
“It was excellent. There was something for everyone. Ventura is really quaint and has an adorable Main Street with shops and museums and easy access to the water,” she says, adding that the price point was spot-on. “Value-wise, the hotel was reasonably priced, so that was great.
Moving north up the coast into the Pacific Northwest is Astoria, Ore., located on the Columbia River and just a few miles from the ocean.
Not only is the destination close to water, offering fun group activities such as oyster shucking and fishing, Astoria is also a historic destination with a funky flair.
“Astoria isn’t cookie-cutter,” says Donna Quinn, director of sales and marketing for Astoria’s Cannery Pier Hotel, adding that Lewis and Clark wintered there and it is also the site of the first post office west of the Rockies. “There is definitely a sense of character here and groups can sense that, whether they are meeting in an old Victorian house or a renovated building on the coast.”
The town of less than 10,000 residents is a true value to planners, with a variety of unique meeting venues available at prices much less than larger beachside destinations.
Quinn says many visiting groups like to take a ride on the city’s Riverfront Trolley for just $1 per person. Groups can also reserve the trolley for events or even head over to the Columbia River Maritime Museum for a tour.
Although it may be small in size, Astoria is far from a sleepy coastal town, Quinn says that “in the last five years there has been a renaissance of energy and vitality” in the destination, starting with a surge of restaurants and new venues such as The Loft at the Red Building, a popular meetings site.
The Loft, which overlooks the Columbia River, offers on-site catering for banquets, receptions and awards banquets.
Just next door is the Cannery Pier Hotel, located on a pier over the river, offering several spaces for meetings and events.
Just down the road are two other convention hotels: the 32-room Hotel Elliott with more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space and the 78-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Astoria with 2,000 square feet of meeting space.
Mountain Tops
Groups looking for a beautiful yet thrifty location in the mountains needn’t look to high-end ski destinations, but can instead consider places such as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“I think we are kind of undiscovered at this point, and because of that hotel costs have remained consistently affordable,” says Dani Zibell-Wolfe, vice president of tourism for the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
Sitting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Coeur d’Alene not only offers 15 blocks of boutique shopping and a variety of group-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating in its downtown district, but the community is also located right on Lake Coeur d’Alene, offering a plethora of activities at reasonable prices.
“When you add the lake into the equation, it creates so much value,” Zibell-Wolfe says. “Not only dollar-wise–but the activities we have create a wonderful value.”
Available water activities range from parasailing on the lake to organizing a dinner cruise for visiting delegates with companies such as Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises.
Surrounded by mountains, groups are never far away from land-based adventures as well.
“You can walk out of your hotel and generally be within a half-mile of a paved, non-motorized bike trail,” Zibell-Wolfe says, adding that during the winter groups can also enjoy skiing nearby. “We have two ski resorts, Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Silver Mountain Resort, within an hour’s drive.”
With a vibe that Zibell-Wolfe calls “small town boutiquey,” she says oftentimes groups who visit the destination have an inkling to stay permanently.
“People come here for a convention or meeting and they end up buying homes,” she says. “It happens every year. We have a convention coming in June and one of the things they want to set up is a real estate tour.”
As far as meeting space goes, Zibell-Wolfe says the destination is known for the Coeur d’Alene Golf & Spa Resort, which while consistently rated a four-star property, is still affordable for groups.
Other meeting hot spots include the Best Western Coeur d’Alene Inn and the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Coeur d’Alene, both offering reasonable rates.
“Conventions and meetings are all about attendance and after awhile [of going to the same place], it becomes old and stale,” Zibell-Wolfe says. “If you can add some interest in a new destination with exciting activities for the same price, if not less, it is more exciting for attendees. When you come to a destination like Coeur d’Alene, there are so many activities that are at your fingertips, and that adds a lot of excitement.”
Driving about four hours east on I-90 will land groups in Butte, Mont., another affordable and unique meetings destination in the mountains.
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Butte was a boom town, known for its copper mining. At that time, mining was so profitable it attracted people from all over the world, giving the destination an ethnic flavor that is still felt today.
“Butte is authentic; it is the real deal,” says Sara Rowe, director of the Butte CVB. “It has this incredible history and people really haven’t discovered Butte yet, so we still have good rates on hotels and the food is phenomenal.”
Rowe explains that during the mining boom, Butte welcomed a good deal of Irish, Chinese, Cornish, Italian, and Serbian workers, whose influences have greatly affected the town’s culinary options.
“We don’t have a lot of chain restaurants, we have ones that have been here a long time and have a real ethnic flavor,” she says, highlighting group favorites such as Lydia’s Supper Club and Pekin Noodle Parlor.
Located “right at the top of the Rockies,” Rowe says there are plenty of ways groups can experience the beauty of the outdoors in Butte.
“We have incredible trails, both for vehicles and for hiking,” she says. “There is also a lot of climbing and within 15 minutes you can find some of the best trout fishing in the country.”
Although winter weather can prove chilly, summers “are gorgeous,” Rowe says. “In July, it will be in the 90s and at night it will be around 65-70.”
In addition, Butte is known for its festivals, such as Evel Knieval Days, this year scheduled for July 24-26.
“Butte is known as a festival city, and Evel Knieval was from here,” Rowe says, adding that the community also has a Chinese New Year’s celebration and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. This year’s National Folk Festival will run from July 11-13 in Butte.
When it is time to get to business, Butte has a variety of affordable meeting space options for groups, starting with the Butte Civic Center, which can seat 5,000 guests theater-style and 2,000 banquet-style.
The 131-room Butte War Bonnet Hotel is another popular group option, with more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space, as is the Copper King Hotel & Convention Center, complete with an 8,000-square-foot ballroom.
Desert Destinations
While Palm Springs’ gentle breezes and Scottsdale’s long stretches of green fairways may come to mind first when planners consider a desert destination, alternative locations such as Moab, Utah, can also quench groups’ thirst for the desert, but at greatly reduced prices.
“There is so much to do for very little cost,” says Marian DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, adding that hiking, camping and rafting on the Colorado River are all popular activities. “Golf is even cheap here. It is around $26 for 18 holes, or just $38 with a cart.”
The Moab Golf Course is one such place where groups can enjoy a day in the sun. The facility also often organizes tournaments, DeLay says.
Beyond its golf, Moab is within easy driving distance to many of the country’s national parks, lending itself nicely to groups looking for reasonably priced outdoor activities. For example, DeLay says groups can visit nearby Arches National Park for $7 a day.
Moab offers a variety of ways to experience the desert, one of them as a split activity between a Jeep and a jet boat.
“We have outfitters that take groups on a Jeep and jet boat combo,” DeLay says. “In the morning, half of the group will get in Jeeps and go up to the Canyonlands and the other half will go on a jet boat on the Colorado River. Half way through the day, the Jeeps end up at the boat docks and they switch.
“They absolutely love it,” she says. “All that is about $60 a person and it includes lunch.”
Groups can also enlist companies who specialize in leading guided ATV and dirt bike tours of “some of the most spectacular scenery you are ever going to see,” DeLay says.
Two of the most popular meetings hotels in Moab are The Red Cliffs Lodge and the Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, both of which offer a variety of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces for small- to-midsize groups.
DeLay says meeting planners can expect to pay around $200 a night at the two hotels during peak season (May-September), but prices can go as low as $140 during slower periods. Limited service hotels are also available for groups in Moab, with prices hovering around $60-$70 per night.
Traveling south to Arizona, the terrain is as much known for high-end meetings destinations as it is for long expanses of cactus-filled desert. Despite this, by heading a little more than 100 miles south of Phoenix to Tucson, planners will find that their dollars stretch pretty far.
In January, Preferred Meeting Management’s Cline brought a group of 700 delegates down to Tucson, staying at the JW Starr Pass Resort & Spa, and couldn’t be happier with her experience.
“It is absolutely a fabulous city to bring conferences to,” she says. “It has an intimate feel and all the advantages of being a smaller community, but it has everything you need. The price structure definitely had a little less impact on our budget [than other destinations].”
Although prices were reasonable, Cline says the quality was still there.
“They certainly could demand the same prices [as other destinations],” she says. “They have beautiful facilities, but their prices are not high-end.”
Graeme Hughes, director of convention sales for the Metropolitan Tucson CVB, says the city’s value not only stems from its attractive prices, but from its variety of venues.
“Value comes from having choices and options,” he says, adding that the city is host to several group-friendly resorts such as Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa and the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, as well as the Tucson Convention Center.
“So much of what we do is based in the desert,” Hughes says, adding that some groups like to head up to Cocoraque Ranch & Pavilion for a truly Wild West experience. “They can accommodate up to 30 people on horseback, and they will take you on a cattle drive. It is like City Slickers. Then the full day ends with a barbeque at the ranch house.”
Groups who would rather experience the desert from the indoors can visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the second-most-visited attraction in the state, according to Hughes, with a zoo, museum and botanical garden.
Yet regardless of what groups decide to do when in Tucson, they are in for a truly unique desert experience, Hughes says.
“Tucson still offers a little bit of mystery,” he says. “We like to think of it as authentic Arizona. We have the rugged terrain and the picturesque sunsets. In Tucson, you can literally walk out your door to hiking trails and nature preserves.”

Corporate team-building putting focus on good deeds

Corporate team building putting focus on good deeds – Building bikes for kids, prosthetic hands for landmine survivors.
Written by Darrell Smith for the Sacramento Beedvsmith@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, March 28, 2008
Story appeared in BUSINESS section, Page D1 of the Sacramento Bee

Xyratex employees assemble a bicycle during a team-building exercise this month at the Le Rivage hotel in Sacramento. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Chris Sharman did a couple of unexpected things at a team-building workshop with 44 of his co-workers from the data storage firm Xyratex. First, he built a prosthetic hand and placed it in a wooden gift box that he and his teammates decorated.
Then, after he saw a brief slide show about the land mine victims all around the world waiting to receive the device, he brushed away a tear.
Eschewing the rope climbs and trust falls that have long been the traditional exercises at such retreats, Xyratex, based in the United Kingdom, and other companies choose to cement team bonds by giving employees a project with a higher purpose.
“We figured out what it was for fairly early,” said Sharman, a Xyratex vice president, who had safely stowed the prosthesis he helped build under his chair. But that didn’t lessen the impact, he said. “It pales into insignificance, your problems.”
“Philanthropic team building” it’s called, and Xyratex sought out a Chico-based firm that has designed and facilitated team-building experiences like this one for the better part of two decades. Known as Odyssey, it helps employees and managers work better together while helping the larger community in a “mix of inspiration and practical philanthropy.”
The Xyratex employees who came to Sacramento’s Le Rivage hotel from around the world March 4, worked together to build not only prosthetic hands but also bikes that they donated on the spot to nine smiling children from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Sacramento. “We’ve tapped into the humanity of business,” said Lain Hensley, co-founder and chief operating officer of Odyssey. ” … You don’t have to quit your job and join the Peace Corps.”
Utilizing firms like teambonding, with its twin homes in Boston and San Diego, to Oakland’s Team Building Unlimited to Repario of Lake Tahoe, Nev., more companies in California are fusing corporate team building with good works.
“It’s not just the trick du jour anymore,” said Danika Davis, chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based Northern California Human Resources Association. ” … Anytime you add meaning, it’s going to have an impact and drive the message home.”
The emphasis on good works may even be part of a larger trend in corporate giving. Harold McGraw III, president and chief executive officer of The McGraw-Hill Cos. and chairman of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, discussed the evolution in the committee’s 2007 review.
McGraw said the New York-based forum of corporate leaders now spearheads “holistic philanthropy” which, in part, “taps into the tremendous desire of employees to participate through their volunteerism.”
Odyssey’s programs are a natural fit for Xyratex, which has focused on charitable giving to children who live near their sites in Malaysia, Europe and the United States throughout its 13-year history.
Todd Gresham, a Xyratex executive vice president, has seen the program’s effects on his people.
“The IT industry has a unique culture. Many came from venture-backed organizations, and this type of (exercise) tears down walls of intellectual prowess or macho success,” Gresham said. “You see people who are very powerful in the industry broken down to their rawest levels of emotion.”
It works on a number of levels, said Dwight Burlingame, associate executive director of the Indianapolis-based Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, a leading center on giving.
Many companies use this approach to increase morale, give employees a greater and clearer sense of purpose and develop a stronger understanding of the company’s mission, Burlingame said.
“Firms are focusing in on how they can use community involvement programs to increase pride within their companies and increase morale,” he said. “To be working for a company where you have that opportunity to build team pride in a business, that can provide another factor in the sense of engagement with the employer.”
Xyratex employees, including about 450 in West Sacramento, produce data storage technology that has been embedded in systems for machinery as diverse as the space shuttle and GE Healthcare’s mammography equipment, Gresham said.
“The person you’re building that for could be your wife or your daughter,” Gresham said. “It brings home that (the customer) is not just buying sheet metal and software.”
Company executives emphasize delivering quality products that meet customer needs, so it was no surprise that Xyratex employees were anxiously awaiting signs of approval when the door swung open for the nine children who had no idea what they’d be receiving.
“Do they look like new bikes?” Odyssey facilitator Todd Demorest asked. “Who’s No. 5? They built you a brand new bike!”
No. 5 was 10-year-old Alondra Tovar.
“I was really in shock,” Tovar said later, standing next to her bicycle. “It was amazing that they gave us (each) a bike.”
That’s the payoff for Odyssey’s Hensley.
“For the 99 percent who are skeptics, there’s the 1 percent who say, ‘I want to enjoy my work,’ ” Hensley said. “We want them to say, ‘When I created this hand, I could probably do that more often, and I can probably change the life of someone two cubicles away.’ They forget. That child, that hand, embodies that purpose.”

Xyratex employees Ed Prager, left, and Penny Gillhan put together one of the nine bikes destined as gifts for children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Sacramento. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com


Alondra Tovar, 10, gets her new helmet adjusted, which goes along with the bicycle she received from Xyratex. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Flying is the ultimate expression of technology and humanity

Everytime I take off in my Cirrus SR20 I feel like I am about to be lifted by the virtues of humanity. I can’t help but think of how many innovations came from so many people dreaming of so many possibilities to make it safer, faster, stronger, quieter. And how I enjoy these things is beyond words.
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How many unfortunate, unplanned ‘landings’ have inspired brilliant innovations allowing the profound dream of flight to prosper. That little cuff on the wing, the ballistic parachute that explodes out the back of my plane with the pull of a handle if all things start pointing ‘down’ without my approval . There is a sense of teamwork that transcends generations, companies, and countries. Human beings are such a powerful team. We get it right so much of the time that we forget how incredible we work together for the things that lift us up!
It is easy to forget about this when something doesn’t go as planned. For some reason, I end up losing the greater context and become a victim in the micro moment of misfortune losing sight of all that is fortunate on the greater clock in the sky. Things happen in airplanes all the time and pilots demonstrate their virtues of humanity through their application of knowledge on to the technology that is the expression of someone else’s knowledge. We figure stuff out. That’s what we all do.
Next time you take a trip across the country at 40,000 feet going 500 miles per hour after complaining about your 30 minute delay you might want to challenge the context of your view to include the miracle of our ability to rise above. I hope you can join me at that moment celebrating on the wings of humanity.
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Helping Hands, inspired by Odyssey’s Life Cycles bike building program focuses on prosthetic ‘hands’ and teamwork

Click here to go directly to the Helping Hands and Life Cycles-Bike building programs. Join us in pushing your team’s potential as Odyssey pushes the envelope of teambuilding with our new program Helping Hands™. The product of a magical meeting of the minds between Odyssey Owner Lain Hensley and Michael Mendonca, President of the LN-4 Project, Helping Hands will show your team how to step outside perceived limitations to the place of possibility. We’ll help you develop skills that go beyond the traditional definitions to authentic internal experiences of what it means to be successful.
In this program, we combine curriculum, activities and key note addresses with the cooperative problem-solving exercise of actually assembling brand new, highly functional prosthetic hands that will be distributed to disabled children in Developing Nations. This powerful combination leverages the hyperbolic speed of change and technology and resurrects the essence of community involvement. We call it believing beyond the evidence. It’s revolutionary, because it’s evolutionary. It takes who we are and helps us imagine, and in turn, manifest, who we could be. It’s a skill reserved for people, businesses and organizations who are driven to achieve their full potential. We think that’s you.
We’re excited and honored to be part of something as big and beautiful as Helping Hands™. If you are new to Odyssey or if your team has already been inspired by our Life Cycles™ bicycle building teambuilding or other workshops, we invite you to call and learn more about our brand new program. Together, we can change the world.