The Adventures of Alan: One of Those Days
We were taking part in a team builder. Outdoors. All day.
The thinking was that a change was as good as rest and that spending time away from the office environment, outside in the actual environment, might breath new life and fresh ideas into a fatigued team. Sound, logical and seemingly appealing thinking during a twenty eight degree heatwave which is why everyone put their names down anticipating fun, sun, adventure, activities and, perhaps, a half decent picnic all whilst embracing the vibrancy of the nature on our doorstep.
The ink had barely dried on the paper authorising our day out when the weather instantly turned, like a frown across the face of a baby for whom peekaboo had become thoroughly unimpressive.
Fast forward a week and the sound of light rain tapping delicately off of plastic hoods provided the soundtrack to a frustratingly futile activity in which my colleagues and I attempted to embrace our inner neanderthal whilst employing the modern concepts of dynamism and synergy (the lifeblood of every jargon loving office professional) by making fire. A tricky task for a novice survivalist let alone a group of individuals who took underfloor heating for granted and were best described as “indoor cats”.
To our credit, we were soldiering on, making the best of it. The weather was testing how water resistant our smiles were but in spite of that, as we trudged through the wood from one leadership exercise to the next, things had actually been going smoothly. We’d completed the bridge building activity using logs with little argument; the leader/follower dynamics within the group becoming clear immediately with Coach Karen taking charge. She’d turned up in her trademark pantsuit seemingly oblivious to the conditions looking like an Estate Agent with a wildcard entry into this year’s Hunger Games. Whatever else she was, she was a born leader, like John Terry but with eyeliner. Every now and again she’d place her hands on her hips and take huge, enthusiastic breaths inviting everyone to “smell that”. I hoped she was referring to the organics of our surroundings but I couldn’t be certain.
Afterwards, we paired off to construct cradles that could protect an egg from complete obliteration when hurled from a tree. Susan had never climbed before so she was particularly happy as she ascended the first branch despite then watching the integrity of her cradle fail and her egg slam disappointingly into the ground. That was followed by a meditation session, nestled in a small lavender patch with the sound of Ian’s incessant hay fever ushering us into a zen state like a used car with a lurching clutch problem.
Predictably however, when you’re literally outside of your comfort zone, moods can swing in seconds. Eventually, beneath the canopy of the wood, were fifteen or so tired, wet and hungry adults pretending that they weren’t gradually losing patience with each other whilst simultaneously fronting a false positivity for the sake of group unity and a secure livelihood. The epitome of humans in tune with their environment, at least in Britain.
Inevitably something, or someone, was bound to snap.
Perhaps it was Kevin’s last remaining chocolate bar melting in his pocket; maybe it was the fact that he’d lost a welly boot to a hungry patch of sucking mud and, in his effort to retrieve it, he’d hopped his way into a complete nightmare that ultimately resulted in him grounding his socked foot into the chilling moistness. Maybe a day at one with nature was just too much for a man that sits in a little grey cubicle for a living. But now, for whichever reason, he found himself giving Pleasant Carol, resident terrarium enthusiast, both barrels because he’d happened to be standing behind her as she doused herself in bug repellant.
In his craving for sustenance, he started dishing out hangry attacks in the form of sarcastic advice; the central theme of which was that Pleasant Carol should get herself a real garden and stop living in miniatures because moss covered pebbles grown in a jar impresses no one. A pettiness completely out of character induced by the unfortunate loss of his boot.
The woods and the rain had taken it’s toll on everyone and with Kevin’s outburst, it was close to being a complete write off. Kevin squelched off behind a bush and was calmed by one half of the group whilst the other consoled Pleasant Carol and reassured her that her desk full of terrariums wasn’t “a complete waste of life”.
Eventually, as the setting sun broke through the clouds (no, really) Kevin and Carol were coerced into reconciliation by the group and, oddly enough, the catharsis of the incident brought us closer together. A simple change of scenery; a rainy day out in the woods, actually turned out to be more valuable in building bonds within this group than the literal walk in Picnic Park that we expected. Getting the guys out of the office, reconnecting to the world outside in a real, tangible sense presented us with challenges beyond what we were used to, allowed us to share usable, practical experiences and in some cases, experiences to look back on and laugh.
“Guys, remember that time in the woods? That trust exercise where you allowed me to fall blindfolded into a thorn bush? Classic memories…”