When I first took on the role of CTO at Assembla, I researched Team Building and came upon the dreaded Corporate Retreat with a lava walk or lava flow exercise. It's a team building exercise, that quite frankly seems boring. Well I currently reside in Hawaii and we have a totally different take on the Lava Walk.
Here you see Ben Potts (DevOps extraordinaire), myself, and Nadia Romano (CX Engineer afficionado). These two along with another (Ramsey, not pictured, he snapped the photo) followed me into a lava field for a grueling 13 hour hike, it was meant to be only 2 hours. But once out in that field, the lava beckons you to continue on until you find it.
The Treacherous Road
The terrain was tough. Lava once hardened is not like walking along pavement, so much as walking along pavement with broken bottles littered across it after an earthquake. You have to be careful where you step to say the least. Everything around you is black lava. The air is full of smoke and sulphur smells at times. And of course, we had limited water supplies, flashlights, and mosty appropriate clothing for the terrain (good hiking shoes, long pants, and an additional layer).
Fortunately we also chose to walk on a nearly Full Moon - which allowed us to not use the flashlights (as the batteries on our smartphones (the flashlight apps are great) were dying) and walk in the pale light of the moon, it was fantastic.
We made it to the lava fountains after 4 hours or so of walking, it was sheer magnificence. To watch lava ooze down the side of a fountain is a treat to see.
The video does it no justice, smartphones just can't capture the actual image that is unfolding 3 feet (~1 meter) in front of your face.
An actual Lava Walk has many lessons to be learned hidden within it. Each person has a role to play:
- Leader, the one who sets the path and keeps the group moving
- Enthusiast, the one who remains positive and keeps the group motivated
- Stalwart, the one who continues on beyond all obstacles and triumphs
- Supporter, the one who helps others in their time of need
The role is not so much chosen as it is placed upon you. Sometimes the roles shift from person to person. I learned about these people while walking through this barren wasteland and I am sure they learned about me. Ben is always positive and moving forward. He wants to see things and make things happen. Nadia will accomplish any task no matter how hard. She is not afraid of an obstacle in her way. I learned that I am stubborn and when I should push people to move faster or harder and when I should allow them to move at their own pace.
All in all it was a great experience and I hope that I continue doing other Team Building exercises in the real world, maybe not so extreme next time. I do not encourage you to make a real Lava Walk as part of your corporate exercises. This time it ended well, only some bruised ankles and sore feet. I do have to apologize to Ben's wife for keeping him out so late and worrying her half to death:
Shannon - I sincerely apologize, it was all my fault that Ben did not come back until the morning. Sorry.
We did get to see a beautiful sunrise in the morning as we left the fields. It was a worthwhile adventure.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely, I would, however not all people want to trudge through lava fields, perhaps just a Magic the Gathering Session would be a good Team Building exercise next time.
People do love that game. He sure does.