Teams Beyond the Comfort Zone
By Felix Ludosan
October 28, 2021
As project professionals, we’re used to thinking about the plans, deadlines, deliverables.
We lead or be a team player as the situation requires. We experience and manage projects in the context of both our professional and personal lives.
But what happens when project thinking seeps into unfamiliar territory, to situations that extend beyond our normal comfort zone?
Beyond Comfort Means Learning New Skills and Adapting Quickly
As a former professional basketball player, I enjoy physical sports and a challenge every now and then. Sailing, a sport I have always wanted to try, was not exactly in my comfort zone.
When I was offered the chance to join a team sailing experience along the scenic Croatian coast, I jumped into the challenge. The prospect of learning new skills, and most of all, joining an exciting team, made me say yes. I’m about to set sail to Croatia’s largest marina in Sukošan, which some call a paradise for boaters!
Project professionals know this situation well: you get two or more opportunities to join new projects and something inside you says, “Stay in the comfort zone”. Other voices warn you to stay away of troubled waters, with a high probability to fail. But if you always listen to these voices, you will certainly miss important experiences in your life.
We flew to Zadar in Croatia and joined the sailing team in the country’s largest marina in Sukošan. The plan was to enter the sea the next morning, which meant there wasn’t really much time for team building.
We first went for dinner at the marina restaurant, surpassing Tuckman’s Five Stages of Group Development very quickly towards the Performing stage. Then we went back to the boat and clarified the roles and responsibilities for the next seven days.
Everyone was aware of the individual sailing skills of the others, making it easier to assign duties among the team members. Awareness about individual capabilities and the recognition that everyone can contribute in some way to the team’s goals are both key for team success.
My job was to help pull the sheets and lines at sea and to pick up the mooring line when docking in the marina, because that was the best I could do on the ship. To be successful in a project, it is important that specific tasks are carried out by the most skilled person, wherever possible. This is crucial, when sailing.
After being clear about our roles, we planned together the next sailing day, just as you would do in a projects, particulary some hybrid projects. On one hand, the final goal was clear—bring back the boat to Sukošan after one week; on the other hand, we kept the daily itinerary flexible, based on latest weather forecasts, personal mood, and physical condition of the team members.
Being a self-organizing team on a sailing trip, leadership is an important factor to success. Like in every relationship, consensus about decisions is not a given, but in crucial situations like on day four of our trip, there were no doubts. The dangerous Bora winds falling from the Dinaric Alps suddenly hit our ship as we were passing a strait between two islands. Our team member Mark immediately took the lead, and everyone followed his instructions without any discussion or blaming.
That reminded me of project situations—when quick decisions and actions are required, a strict hierarchy is very useful. After a two-hour-struggle with the sails and the waves, we managed to reach a calm bay. Afterwards, we tried to fix the damage to the ship. We cooked and ate together, while reviewing the situation and optimizing our approach for the future. We also exchanged our personal feelings and moods after this dramatic emergency. It reminded me again how beneficial it is for projects to have a team collocated to enhance information coordination and maximize resources.
The last days on the ship were smooth and, as we were handing over the boat to the charterer, we realized how fast a team can grow in just seven days, and how much we can accomplish together.
Because … we were on the same boat.
If you want to know what I learned about the power of teams during my basketball career, join my presentation at IIL’s International Project Management Day, which opens on November 4, 2021, and is available On-Demand until February 6, 2022.