I recently returned home after a weeklong business trip, although I am not sure that "business trip" is the best way to describe it. When I first got word that we would be having a midyear team meeting, I was really excited because I incorrectly assumed that it would be held in Los Angeles, where my employer is based. It's always a treat to get to visit Southern California, land of shopping and entertainment. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the meeting would take place in Arizona - at a Dude Ranch, no less.
My first thought is, "Why a dude ranch?" I work for a private college that specializes in fashion design, where 98 percent of our staff is female and we all have a similar love of anything related to the world of high fashion and glamour. Not exactly the kind of group that I imagine visits dude ranches. The purpose of our meeting is to go over the progress of the first half of the year, set goals for the rest of the year and to learn new information necessary for our jobs. Again, why does this need to take place in the desert?
I, along with my co-workers, found myself scratching my head over this location choice. As the trip got closer, I received cryptic instructions from my boss to pack cowboy boots and jeans for the week, not the customary dressy business wear that is synonymous with this group of ladies. This is literally unheard of for a group of style conscious fashion professionals. Cowboy boots - really? So five years ago.
I flew into Phoenix, Ariz., and had to take an hour and half car ride to get to my destination. Along the way, we passed miles and miles of isolated cactus infused land - we were heading into the middle of nowhere. The ranch was exactly like I had imagined, think of the movie "City Slickers" and you are on the right track. My roommate and I were met by what I can only describe as cowboys who showed us to our room (which was a little self standing cabin in the desert). As the cowboys chuckled, I pulled my hot pink luggage across the ranch and wondered if this was all a weird dream (it wasn't). We were surrounded by sand, cacti and open land, which while creepy and desolate was actually quite scenic. This was not a hotel or a resort to which I am accustomed, this was a legitimate horse ranch retreat, a place that people go to experience the rough and tumble world of real cowboys.
I kind of felt like I was at camp; meals were at a specific time in the communal dining hall, and our schedules were extremely regimented. There were no shops, no amenities other than the outdoorsy stuff, limited cell service and there was no Starbucks in sight. This was going to be a long week. As our group convened, we were told that the week at the Dude Ranch was designed to be a team building experience. I am no stranger to various team building corporate strategies, but sticking a group of fashionistas in the desert seemed like a stretch.
The idea behind team building getaways is to mix all different personality types together to compete in interesting activities like scavenger hunts, musical chairs and tug of war. The hope is that we will all work together to achieve a common goal of success while using our problem solving and planning skills collectively. These types of games are supposed to boost morale and help us to trust our co-workers in times of need while encouraging each other to do our best.
Since we were at a Dude Ranch, our bonding activity was to be done on horseback in a game called "Team Penning." We were divided into groups of five, put on horses and told to work together as a team to herd the cattle into their pens. Whichever group could pen three cows the fastest wins the competition. As the activity was being described to us, a collective look of horror and panic spread over the group. Not only were we going to be on a horse, but we had to chase cows and try to get them into a cage? Why can't we just play musical chairs?
Over the years, I had various sales and marketing positions where it is widely believed that in order to achieve great success - one must step outside of their comfort zone. Sales Managers have often encouraged their staff to take risks, in order to overcome a fear of failure by facing challenges head on. There is simply no room for big rewards while we are relaxing in our comfort zone. I honestly can't think of anything more outside of my comfort zone than trying to get a cow to go into a pen while on a horse. But, I am a team player and don't like to walk away from a challenge.
I will admit that it was actually kind of fun, although I never feel the need to do it again. My friend and co-worker Debbie said, "Now we can cross that off our bucket list," to which I replied, "It wasn't on my bucket list." Through no help from me whatsoever, the team I was on actually won the contest. My only objective was to not fall off of the horse. The rest of our week was spent actually working, with daily cowboy type activities peppered in for good measure. I am not sure that it made me feel any closer to my team, or that it will improve work productivity - but it was definitely a meeting I will never forget.