Take the path less traveled: why risks will help your team grow

The dune to the left

Jun 2014

It was the first time the three of us ventured out together; in the physical sense, that is. We'd been a team remotely—online and in chat—for almost a handful of months already. But this was the first time we were all together in the same space representing our growing agency.

We were on the second company retreat in two years, this time with a third team member and a brand new location just east of Lake Michigan. Nearby there happened to sit a small sand dune park right against the water. However, its banks were shrouded by dense forest greens and loud wildlife. It felt a bit like Costa Rica and even more like my old hometown in Virginia. Warm, humid, heavy air.

After paying the small daily admittance fee, we found our way to an empty parking lot loop and stumbled up to simply numbered trails that would ultimately lead to the same place.

Trail 3 and 4.

Trail 3 would take us right to the beach. Trail 4 would take us a roundabout way to the same place. The latter was decided upon and soon enough we were underneath the canopy, unsure of these dunes that we paid to experience. Perhaps Michigan "sand dunes" were actually a few small rolling hills of sand by the beach?

We'd walked under a quarter mile and approached an area with a little more sand, but still underneath thick canopy. Nothing was changing except for the dirt. Dark dirt became lighter dirt which became sand. Sand, and more sand.

Then, after almost passing it, we looked left.

Hidden by canopy to the forest floor there stretched an immense sand dune. It petered out so gently in the area we were standing that it seemed fake. Drawn into the landscape. We looked up, admiring both its height and sheer angle. We would no doubt head into the sky.

Finding our way through the dunes to the beach from there, off trail and carving our own path, somewhat symbolized what we were all doing there together. We were all willing to risk what was on the other side of the peak. We wanted the challenge of climbing a 40 degree sand slope. We knew it was something we'd never done, nor could pass up. We thought about our options—the well-weathered canopy trail, or the radical sand dune climb—and went for it.

The experience became an analogy for our company.

What started out as a rather unremarkable hike suddenly shifted into an experience none of us will soon forget. I've since realized that this is how we try to make space for our employees and our company as a whole each week.

What can we successfully achieve on the weathered path? What can we tackle that leads us to the next peak? Certainly we have to keep walking to find out.

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