Why a flash storm in Kenya is exactly what your company needs to thrive
Impact Kenya 2018:
It's the perfect day.
The sun is out over the tea plantations of East Africa.
The Rift Valley is stretching out in front of us in all its majestic glory.
Impact Runners & Kenyan athletes are running through a private tea estate with huge smiles and amazing energy completing either 10km, 21km or the full 42km. This is a route that is perfect for the first time trail runner, yet tests even the most seasoned runner as it climbs and winds through this private Kenyan tea estate.
We have the race under complete control.
5 minutes later, the Rift Valley is still bathed in sunshine, whilst the tea estate is being consumed by a dark grey cloud.
5 minutes later, the rains that make this one of the world's greatest tea growing regions have arrived.
5 minutes later, with wind so strong the rains are moving horizontally across the estate, we see a phenomenon we never anticipated and the tea-estate owners rarely see in East Africa: ice is falling from above. It may not quite be 'snow in Africa this Christmas' but this freak once in a generation storm has hit us right in the middle of our race and golf balls are falling from the sky.
This hail storm was so big that the tea crop was wiped out until it regrew weeks later. Vast ice blocks lined the roads for the next day and plantation structures were broken under the weight of the hail stones.
Some might deem it “a disaster”
However – we know this is exact the type of event we need to thrive. When we debriefed as a team, we could see how we came together and how our “prepare for anything” rule came into play.
Seeing more companies sending their employees to Impact Races in their CSR outreach we are also seeing a trend from corporate businesses understanding that these ostensibly difficult days and times are the perfect breeding ground for deep personal and collective development.
The points that came up in our debrief, matched those of the runners - and can form the cornerstone of developing the future leaders of your company:
1. Communication Through Preparation
Once the hail was truly coming down, we could not communicate. The noise of the rain rendered our voices pointless and – frankly - WhatsApp is out of the question whilst your fingers are frozen and you are dodging golf balls from the sky.
We have developed a strong 'Tabletop Exercise' where we sit as a team and talk through a series of random disasters sent over by former team members. When we review a course, we play the 'What If' game obsessively.
Do these exact events ever occur? Pretty much never.
But when unexpected events occur, we have a strong idea of exactly how each team member will react and we can choose our own course of action accordingly.
Preparation is key; once a team is adequately prepared, the need for unnecessary communication is minimal in order for your team to succeed. We couldn’t communicate at the time, but our level of preparation lead to a calm, smooth and co-ordinated response as we ensured the safety of each Impact Runner on course.
2. The Collective is only as Successful as its Individuals
Once we knew the emergency plan (one of 6 emergencies we planned for) was in play, the course of action was set: Mark was in the Pickup clearing the East side of the course, Megs had eyes on runners in the central section and it was my job to clear a 4km section on the West side – only accessible by foot. Halfway to my section, I got a big crack on the head, then another.
This is where a certain amount of self-preservation is key; If I had been knocked down by a hale stone I am now a burden to the team and absolutely no use to the runners. So I tucked under a tree and under my own emergency blanket and waited for lull to get back to the start line where our Race Director Gill had begun her headcount back in
A group - be it a company, a team, a family – is only as successful as the individuals within it. You are only useful to the world if you are in the right place mentally, physically and spiritually. Therefore it is important for businesses to ensure the wellbeing of the individual before planning the success of the collective.
3. Calmness Under Pressure
Despite the clear opportunity for chaos, there was never any fear within the team. We had it covered because we have learnt how to react to curveballs through experience.
You can't learn how to be calm under pressure from a book, or going on course. You can't learn presence and gravitas on a training day. It comes from experience. Each team member was able to draw from the challenges they have faced before in order to not appear calm to the runners, but to actually feel calm (albeit pretty cold) throughout the day.
By allowing your employees the autonomy to experience the good along with the bad, you will be providing them the experience they need to overcome a situation.
It goes further than this, however, as if staff are calm, customers will be calm in the face of adversity. Each of our runners trusted in us and patiently supported each other in making the whole process a powerful experience.
4. Clubbing Together
At the high point of the course we had a one asset and one liability: We had shelter, but we had freezing wind. The majority of our runners came to this point, sharing shelter, warmth & good energy in a human igloo under a piece of tarpaulin.
When you have sat in a human igloo, in the middle of rural Kenya, through a hail storm like nothing seen before…you are bonded together forever.
The importance of “team spirit” is heralded in every job interview or job advert ever, but the true power of team spirit can only be seen within your collective team. Building up camaraderie cannot happen simply in one day of team bonding, but through powerful and meaningful experiences shared by your team.
It's not to say that freak storms are what we want (or guarantee) at an Impact Race, but this is the energy of an Impact Week that means all of our participants return home with a deeper confidence, a presence and a new set of skills that are ready to be unleashed to impact their community, companies and families.