Category Archives: News

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The Barn Raising

When I was around 8 years old, my father purchased 644 acres of California land from my great uncle. It was located an hour drive from our house, and we made the trip every weekend. The land has since become a lifelong passion for my father—and rightly so, for it truly is an incredible piece of acreage. But as a kid, it looked a lot more like a ton of work. The parcel was utterly unfinished. With only a jeep road running through it, we had nothing but a blank canvas and some real family teambuilding ahead.

Over the course of the next 5 years, my father developed ten miles of roads with his D9 tractor as we spent countless hours following him with a chainsaw. My brother and I stacked brush to burn in the winter as he cut the fence line or developed and manicured cleared areas. One summer, my father decided that we needed a barn to store materials and protect the tractor. I can recall my mother, sister, big brother, and I pulling on a rope as we lifted the beams into position and stood the timbers that would act as the primary supports. To this day, I still do not understand how we managed it. The barn still stands after 40 years, and I remain amazed.

I was reminiscing with my father about all the things I learned through the work. I recalled the way that we came together as a family, a team, and a work crew to bring his vision to reality. I learned so many things as we raised that barn. As I hugged my father goodbye today, I realized that the biggest thing I learned from that barn was that I could do anything I put my mind to.  My father was a great leader and he firmly believed that we could do anything if we were willing to work hard and believed in ourselves. As we raised our barn, I could feel myself being raised right alongside.

We spent many years fishing in the pond that we constructed, innumerable hours working in the barn, and I even asked my wife of 20 years to marry me on the exact place where my parents’ house now stands. I have grown to love that land, that barn, the work. My kids are now fishing in the pond and extending the boundaries of their potential as they explore. Thanks Dad for making me work, for helping me face my childhood with a healthy balance of responsibility and play. But most of all, thanks for building that barn with only your wife and three small children. You showed me I can do anything and that the possibilities are endless with great leadership and enough trust, teamwork, and confidence.

-Lain Hensley

3 Tactics to Get Naysayers to Engage in Team Building

When notifying employees of the next team building event, the typical response is, “What? Do they really think I have time for this?”

Cynics come out from everywhere when the email is sent that the next team-building event is mandatory.

The most difficult task in producing a successful team building event or seminar is getting those naysayers to understand that team building leads to a more positive and productive working environment with less stress.

Here are three ways to get naysayers to engage in successful team building.


1. Create meaningful projects

Many companies that specialize in team building are finding success by adding meaningful activities for employees.

Philanthropic challenges can have impact and personal value. For example, employees can build prosthetic hands and learn that they’ll be donated to people who need them and can’t afford them.

Anytime you can add an emotional impact with the employee, the more helpful and fulfilling it will be.

It also helps to move the event somewhere offsite if available. Being outside at a park or in a rented meeting place like a hotel can be more exciting.

2. Reprogram employee behavior

We can assume that when the culture is suffering or when the culture is thriving, people can feel the difference. Results improve when culture is healthy. A healthy culture produces a happy (and productive!) employee.

They can do certain tasks for the team building event and relate it to their duties with the company. The key is to move the conversation past the activity and focus more on the productivity that is possible for the process.

Team building can help employees get back to the basics to better understand their role and how it helps the company. Clarity here can go a long way.

This is an excellent chance to find new rewards for employees that recognize their great work.

It will also present clear opportunities for leaders to emerge. If you have a new manager or supervisors on board, or one that has been waiting in the wings to emerge, team building creates opportunities for potential leaders to performa and prove they can be effective.

3. Document results

Many companies forget to keep track of the results from team building. Hiring a freelance photographer or getting someone on staff to take photos is essential for documentation.

Often times, team building motivates employees to give back more to the community in the future. If team building inspires employees to form a team to run in a local charity’s 5K, participate in a park or river cleanup or even plant a new tree in the company parking lot, make it known that you’re participating in a community aspect.

When you can document and publicize these instances, whether within the company or to the community, it can create a great sense of pride with the employee and garner a great reputation for the company.

Invite your social media coordinator to participate and encourage him or her to think of positive ways to showcase your team building event in the social space.

 

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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’s not the “public” that drives you nuts, it’s 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 singing up for speech class for the first, second, third, and fourth years of college. I met with an advisor 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 isn’t 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 I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 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, 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 is the president, CEO and co-founder of Odyssey Teams, a philanthropic team building organization that works with leading global corporations like American Express, Wells Fargo, Google and General Electric.

 

Cirrus SR 20 landing Oakland at night

Flying through clouds.

When I learned to fly an airplane there were two licenses I knew I had to acquire, VFR and IFR.

VFR means you are free to fly the skies except through certain airspaces and sky conditions. The most significant limitation, put simply, is to NEVER fly through a cloud, hence Visual Flight Rules (VFR). If you have ever driven into Tule fog in California’s San Joaquin Valley in the winter you can imagine the lack of visual references when flying. Nothing. No lane lines or a trucker’s tail lights to guide you along. If either of those ARE seen while flying, you will understand why many instructors tell VFR students “there are rocks in those clouds.” Add in some turbulence due to a change in temperature/condition and your mind/body begins throwing all kinds of inaccurate information where a climb feels like a descent, a right turn feels left and flying right-side-up feels downright upside-down.

VFR pilots are taught a few cursory hours of instrument flying in the event – which seems very difficult to avoid in a lifetime of VFR piloting – where you may have to rely on your instruments at some point. JFK Jr. found himself in perfectly legal VFR conditions but with absolutely no visual references due to a black, moonless night, over a black body of water with no lights on the horizon as a reference to keep him from spiraling down into Davey Jones locker. IFR certification and training is paramount in those times when VFR conditions begin to lose the visual flight references required for visual flight.

Learning to fly in IMC (instrument meteorologic conditions [clouds]) opens up a whole new sense of freedom and safety — especially because I live and fly in the San Francisco Bay Area — with its four months per year shrouded in the ubiquitous morning and afternoon marine layer.

In addition to flying to deliver Odyssey’s leadership and teambuilding programs and visit our Chico, CA office, flying has also been a powerful teacher and metaphor.

And so I offer:

Odyssey was almost grounded this past December after we lost two of four good employees who covered all things logistics. We have since been in a crash-course to bring our business into the future using the cloud in order to navigate our increasingly virtual reliance on logistics and planning.

We’ve been in the cloud a bit using CRM (Customer Relations Management System) for several years, but it’s taken a long time. We’ve had some frustrating failures of relying on the old-school techniques of paper files and logistical information held by individuals and stored in their own unique methods and locations which rapidly became inaccessible related to the extent we needed that information in virtual, separate geographical locations when those two people left in December.

Like flying under Visual Flight Rules where we could see the ground, it was easy to navigate the logistical process of managing hundreds of events we conducted all over the world every year because, for the most part, we were all connected “well-enough.” Because we had not been trained to enter the virtual cloud, it placed a significant strain on our processes – and relationships when two employees bailed out of the plane.

We have always trained companies on the three pillars of success: results, relationships and processes. So, it became glaringly obvious that an upgrade and training of new processes was long overdue and the strain we were feeling in the relationship pillar was in some parts due to living in a virtual world with non-virtual systems.

Thankfully, our clients didn’t realize that we had crash-landed a few times in pulling off the logistics for their events. They exclaimed that it felt perfectly glorious from their seat with the accolades they delivered upon a smooth touch-down. However, in the cockpit, we were a mess pulling out charts and paper flying around from literally all over the place to find the runway and land the thing.

Entering and embracing cloud technology was as important as the first time we bought laptops for Odyssey employees in the early 90’s. This was the beginning of a more transient way of getting work done. There are drawbacks to being so plugged in, so connected, so remote from each other in a physical sense. But so it must be — like the first time flying through clouds with my newly minted IFR rating — that we must trust the system and each other to use it so we can have a better time in the cockpit flying this plane called Odyssey all over the world.

Lain Railroad

Life is an Odyssey.

Today I delivered our Life Cycles program to a really great client. The CEO of their business, Barry, is perhaps the best leader I’ve seen in years. This makes them a great client because it’s so easy to bring his concepts to life because they are not complicated.

Barry’s approach is to develop his leaders by having them deliver the leadership modules. Usually, companies bring in subject matter experts, authors of the five traits, or 7 habits. Barry simply asks his leaders to talk about x,y,z, principles of leadership by having them share a personal story of how these show up.

I was humbled by the power and effectiveness of each of their stories as they brought up the concepts. Each of them had their Odyssey to share.

I felt over-classed by these genuine people, sharing their stories. I did not plan to talk about Lain when I started but it just came out – it’s one of the most personal things in my life right now.

If you’ve not been following Odyssey on Facebook, Lain, my business partner and best friend is a Cancer Survivor – cancer free we hope, as of two days ago after a radical removal of tumor, glands, lymph nodes and tonsils in his neck.

Sharing my story, and relating it to the leadership concept of ‘Being There’  (by the authors of FISH) engaged me on a whole new level.  The building of bicycles and having the children come in the room to the surprise of the participants was as powerful as I’ve ever seen – and delivered.

Barry’s ability to compel others to bring themselves fully to what they are doing got me. It got all of us. And I think it will make a difference for Lain, battling heroically to recover from his surgery.

Thank you Barry for inspiring us all.

Bill John

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Bike building for children is a good metaphor for teamwork, teambuilding.

Our Life Cycles – bike building program for increased teamwork is a huge hit with all of our clients. During this program participants build a bike. These bikes for kids are presented from the bike builders to the kids in the program. The metaphors of this and the other teambuilding activities involved in the program are rich and relevant to teams and leaders. Here’s one…

Tires need air. Everyone knows how to use a bicycle pump right? Simple. You secure the nozzle over the tire valve and inflate. In the past 15-20 years how pumps are secured to valves has done a complete 180-degree change.

It’s amazing to see people IGNORE the detailed description and photos of HOW TO USE THE TIRE PUMP. The result is frustration, rework, and often a broken piece of equipment. Not good if you’re building bikes for kids. Not good if you’re aiming to build your team and be a world-class business.

The lesson for me when I broke my bike tube for a child’s bike was to…. next time – Even if I think “I KNOW”, is to be humble enough (and not so much in a hurry) to pause and check to see if the ‘game’ has changed.

As fast as the world and business is changing, can you afford not to pause, confirm what’s truly needed and THEN act? So in business, when building a bike…bikes for kids…at least look at the pictures carefully.

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Building bikes for kids, building teamwork and your serotonin

Build a bike lately? Maybe you have. Christmas and the holidays were just a few weeks back. Kids love bikes. Giving bikes for kids is one of the simpler pleasures in life.

I’m blessed to be involved with our <a href=”http://odysseyteams.com”>Life Cycles – bike building program</a> where during part of the session bikes are built and then presented to children. The children’s faces light up when they realize they get to take home a brand new bike. The faces on the participants light up when they witness the expressions of their recipients.

The Serotonin (the ‘feel good’ chemical in the body) level of everyone in the session goes up dramatically. Even I, having delivered this program many times, feel a sense of pride, gratitude, and connection by this event.

Science now says that you don’t have to do the good deed or receive the good deed to have your Serotonin levels rise. You can simply watch a random act of kindness from a far and be touched. The result being your chin is up a bit more, eyes have a sparkle and your breath is easy.

So pay it forward. Build bikes for kids. Make eye contact and smile in the hallway. Say ‘Please or Thank you’. Pass along a compliment. Pick up some litter. Open the door for someone. You will have a different view of the world, your team, and your business.

Can building bikes for children bring your sales force to new levels of teamwork? New levels of sales?

I’ve got to admit that I am biased here being one of the co-inventors of  Life Cycles – the original build a bike teambuilding event. Being in the experiential learning industry for 15 years prior to the light bulb going on about the idea of combining philanthropy and experiential training, I had the opportunity to witness the power of experiential learning at it’s outdoor zenith. Through the use of ropes courses, and in particular, high ropes courses, we were able to provide a dramatic and emotional experience for people using heights and events outside of the normal context of work. These were powerful catalysts for learning and when combined with expert facilitation and curriculum were truly life-changing for participants. Yes, teamwork improved and sales often followed.

The trouble was that it often required burdensome logistics that prevented large-scale groups from attending. It was near impossible to bring the program indoors and out of the question for groups larger than 100.

The original bike building teamwork event, (Life Cycles), became the answer. It didn’t take long before we were averaging groups in the 400-700 range with some in excess of 1200 in two to four hour events. Most of these groups have been sales forces looking for new ways to connect their people to each other (teamwork) to their products (pride) and ultimately to their customers (an orientation towards THEIR experience). The quest for this trifecta of connection has been difficult for event planners and senior VP’s to find.

With so much good being done in one room at one time it didn’t take our biased opinion to point towards Life Cycles (the bike building event) as a top tier solution. It was being sold by word of mouth. Some of the descriptions of program value have been better than we could ever say…even with our bias.

Check out what our clients have said of their experience building bikes for kids and how it impacted their teamwork, customer-orientation and sales. Go to www.odysseyteams.com.

Life Cycles – The original teambuilding experience where every five participants build a bike for a child

Building bikes teambuilding is also called [Life Cycles (TM)] and is a trademarked process of combining philanthropy and team skill development. Invented and delivered by Odyssey Teams, Inc. this bicycle-building event has become the ubiquitous program in the industry.

Odyssey invented the process of building bikes as a teambuilding experience where children come into the venue to receive them. Odyssey’s first delivery was to Lucent Technologies, October 10, 2000. “We are very proud to have originated the idea of taking a Habitat for Humanity concept and overlaying a training context to it in a two to four-hour, on-premise event.” It is through the eyes of the children, who burst through the doors to receive their brand new bikes that participants are able to see the gaps in their customer awareness and commitment to quality. Over 10,000 bikes have been built for children around the world while companies have enjoyed increased teamwork, quality, and customer relations.

The program has also been described as the bike-building event for children or bikes for tikes, bikes for tykes, build a bike and the teambuilding bike event. All point towards the original Life Cycles event developed by Odyssey Teams, Inc. in October, 2000.

We invite you to learn more about the original at www.odysseyteams.com.

No Really.

Earlier in my career I spent 5 years consulting with one of the fastest most successful credit card companies in our country. Growth was staggering. They went from 1,800 employees to 20,000 in just over 5 years. Their stock had the same type of growth. Even though all this was going on there was and continues to be a large amount of suffering in their corporate structure. They are not alone.

One of the best leadership, managerial, employee tools to pull out of the toolbox is the ability (and we believe necessity) to say ‘no’. To decline is a powerful move that is often over looked while trying to navigate through a given day or to the next level. What we’ve found is that more often than not people create much of the stress and pressure they are living/working with each day. They do this by saying ‘yes’, ‘sure I can’, ‘I’d be happy to’, ‘you bet, ‘no problem’, and many other forms of…. YES – I will do it just as you asked and in the time you asked…and maybe hint or promise to have it done earlier.

Too often the YES is given out of fear. You see everyone around saying yes. If you’re the first/only one to say no then your job could be in jeopardy, you could lose the promotion, or be thought less than by the person making the request etc. etc. So you say YES and your 45-hour workweek turns to 60 and the stress/pressure shows up in areas only you may know.

If it was safe enough… you’d say No, Decline, Make a Counter Offer, Negotiate etc. but it’s not deemed safe enough by you and you say YES. While consulting with the credit card company I kept lobbying for the CEO to say “Ok everyone, starting on Monday you are all requested to say ‘no’ to at least one request each day. If not, it will be noted on your performance review.” Their business culture, quality, trust level, mood, and results would improve immensely. So would yours.

Too often when we say YES and then don’t fulfill on the promise, one or more of the following happen.
1. The work is done on time but not to the standards of the company – result = rework, injury, etc.
2. The work isn’t done by the time you promised (because you were in overwhelm from all of the other ‘YES’s” you agreed to) – result= you’re deemed unreliable, trust is lowered
3. The work is done to satisfaction – result= resentment from you towards the other person for them making such an ‘uninformed request’-don’t they know what your world is like?
4. The work is done to satisfaction – result= your mood, health, wellbeing is at risk, again.
5. You have perpetuated and ingrained saying ‘yes’ in your culture.
To say No, Decline, Make a Counter Offer, or Negotiate can be viewed as powerful.
• It shows that you are considering your other commitments to the company in your decision.
• It may highlight your commitment to safety and quality.
• Internal/external customers will be grateful that you are fulfilling your current promises to them.
• It will model for others a more accountable way of operating in the workplace.

Say yes to possibilities, opportunities, etc…and step outside your comfort zone and say ‘no’ …when you know you should.

Todd Demorest,
Lead Trainer, Odyssey Teams, Inc.