Client Adventures

Whether its a retreat center near your home office or on a distant tropical island, I highly recommend going to an offsite location for our programs. Here’s a few memorable offsites…

Caribbean Island Adventure –  Annual Officer’s Retreat
Imagine you wanted to take your senior executives on an exciting adventure to show them your appreciation. Someplace warm and exotic, where life is simple, where you can kick back and relax…

When one of the senior executives of Applebee’s called looking for ideas, I told him about my island home on the Gulf Stream. The island of Bimini, in the Bahamas, sits just 50 miles from Miami, but it might as well be a world away. Once they saw pictures and heard what I’ve done with other executives there, they were hooked. A few months later they descended, all 22 of them.

We had four fun-filled days of adventure filled with a variety of land and sea adventures including swimming with wild dolphins and with sharks. Everyone took their turn at freediving, and they beat their collective team freediving record by over 50% in only 3 days! Before they left they unanimously voted this trip their all time favorite officer’s retreat.

Bankers Swim with Sharks!
There’s one client I’ve taken on lots of adventures – Webster Bank of Connecticut. Their Retail Banking leader, Candy Fitzek, has an insatiable appetite for adventure. Over the course of four years, as a part of their ongoing leadership development, I’ve taken her and her SVP’s whitewater rafting in Maine, canoeing in New Hampshire, cross country skiing in the Berkshires, snorkeling with manatees in Florida, and swimming alongside dolphins and sharks in the Bahamas.

On our Bahamas offsite, where we were fine-tuning their presentation skills for their many investor presentations, I surprised them with impromptu speeches at each of the island’s schools. They got first hand experience of inspirational speaking in front of the most discriminating audience in the world – teenagers! Despite their initial reservations, they loved it; speakers, teachers and students alike.

Named the ‘Limbic Leaders’, this group has grown stronger from every challenge they undertake. Every offsite includes individual leadership development, and they have become masters at clear and direct communication, setting a new standard for the rest of the organization.

Teambuilding Jamaican-style – Bayer Healthcare

The call was out of the blue – could I put together a teambuilding program for a group of senior executives running multi-billion dollar companies who were planning a retreat in Jamaica? And by the way, it was happening in a week.

Thanks to the concierge at the Ritz-Carlton and some local taxi drivers, I got the lay of the land. I brought equipment to build a climbing challenge, the ‘Vertical Centipede’, and hung it from the outstretched branches of a 100 year old Ficus tree that was growing over the ruins of one of Jamaica’s historic ‘Great Houses’. My clients, the Executive Committee of Bayer HealthCare, took turns belaying, coaching and cheering each other as they climbed this wobbling, twisting pole. The Chairman even climbed it blindfolded!

During our debrief over dinner, we discussed how the communication tools they’d used during the day might apply to their current business challenges. The chairman was thrilled, and many shared that the exercises from the morning had made significant progress in their evolution as a team.

A Tall Ship Adventure
We had a group of engineers from GE in charge of rebuilding a generator at a nuclear power plant. They had a tight timeline with overruns costing 2 million dollars a day. The project leader had an idea; what if we took the entire management team, i.e. from the utility, the contractor and the labor union, on a sailing trip together?

The construction job was to be run in two 12 hour shifts, so I paired everyone up with their soon-to-be shift mates. We boarded a 131′ double masted schooner, the Harvey Gamage, – the kind of sailing ship where you get everyone on deck to pull up the sails. I put them on a two watch schedule reading the charts, checking the engines, bow and stern lookouts, etc. We sailed out of Boston harbor on a starlit evening, headed for Cape Cod and sailed thru the night.

As each 10 person crew got off their shift, I put them thru a complex series of team exercises, debriefing them in the context of the shift they just completed and in their upcoming job. I did this with both teams over the next 24 hours. Based on their own experience, they then developed a list of meeting guidelines and best practices to be used on the upcoming job, which was starting in four days.

It was exciting to watch how these historically polarized groups (union & management) put aside their differences and had fun working together.

We went through the Cape Cod Canal the next day and anchored that night for some well deserved rest. In the morning, the last details of the contract (the sticking points) were ironed out in under two hours. How easy it is to negotiate with people you’ve sailed, hauled rope and navigated with. The best news came a month later – the manager told me it was the most collaborative rebuild he’d worked on, and they set a company-wide record within GE for the speed in which they finished it.

Life on the Ranch – Applebee’s
The goal; to create a new mission for the entire Applebee’s organization. It’s former mission, to become the nations’ largest family dining restaurant, had been fulfilled. The stock price had leveled off, the franchisees were restless, and the new CEO wanted to get things cooking.

The CFO found a 3500 acre ranch a few hours from the corporate office, and we rendezvous for a two and a half day retreat. Between teambuilding exercises, fishing, skeet shooting and 4 wheeling, (not to mention a true blue Midwest BBQ) we crafted a new mission, vision and values to lead them well into the next century.

It was a mission crafted by the entire executive team, a mission everyone had input into and took ownership of. And it’s a mission that helped the company grow so successfully that they’ve raised the bar throughout their industry.

From ‘On Notice’ to Blue Ribbon
The vendor called looking for a way to repair a broken relationship. Their client had ‘put them on notice’, ready to drop them because of unresolved issues. It was, literally, last call.

I took both vendor and client, along with their teams, to a retreat center for a two day offsite. The vendor had just waived a month’s worth of service fees, $350,000, as a goodwill gesture to the client. It bought a little time, but that was it. The tension in the room that first morning was palpable.

So I challenged them with a series of teambuilding exercises. Over the course of the day they lightened up, dropping their ‘us versus them’ attitudes. The zingers and barbs they were trading earlier faded. By evening they were thinking and acting as a single team.

The stage for clear communication was set, and the next morning the two leaders discuss their issues in front of the group. Following a specific feedback model, they had a completely candid conversation. What surfaced, among some surprising misunderstandings and miscommunications, was feelings of betrayal, which had never been expressed. Once expressed, it got addressed.

Through the willingness to speak and be heard, trust was strengthened. Specific action plans were created with the help of the entire team. The room was buzzing with excitement – they worked through outstanding issues just like they worked thru the challenges the day before; collaboratively and with great passion. Two months later the client called to declare that they were 1) renewing their contract,  and 2) they now considered their relationship a partnership.

Canoeing the Ipswich