Team Building Retreat at Lake Langano
Early Sunday Morning, we embarked on a journey to Lake Langano for a much deserved and anticipated team building camping retreat. The objectives of the retreat were for everyone to get to know each other better, experience new things, enhance team work, and take a little break. Most of us had just finished our final exams and presentations, and had never been camping, so we were excited and nervous about the getaway, not knowing exactly what to expect. As we arrived at our meeting point, the EiABC, and greetings were warmly exchanged, a buzzing energy of excitement and enthusiasm began to build on the bus. Our awesome driver and the only male on the trip, Girma, put the bus in motion at around 9:00AM and off we went! The ride to Langano was about six hours long, including a stop for lunch. The sound of laughter, singing, clapping set a cheerful mood and made the time go by faster.
We arrived at our destination at around 3 PM. The sun was shining down on the light brown ripples of the lake, as small waves gently crashed onto the shore; we were all in awe of the beauty and serenity of our surroundings. Once the food- our simple menu for the retreat included eggs, pasta, noodles, corn, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches- tents, sleeping bags, and luggage was unloaded, it was time to pitch our tents and figure out sleeping arrangements. Tsion strategically placed us together in different tents so that those who may not necessarily know each other best can have the opportunity to learn about one another; it was neither the easiest nor the most popular decision, but it embodied the essence of the retreat and at the end of the day, proved to be effective in forging new connections.
For the next few hours, we radiated with carefree excitement, splashing around in the lake. For most of us this was the first time camping by a lake. There is such beauty and power in new experiences and the effect they have on those who are fortunate enough to have them; they open you up, expand your horizons and reveal new possibilities. When shared with others, these experiences bring people closer and become a shared memory, an unbreakable commonality. Although we were only a few hours into the retreat, we already beginning to see the effect it was having on everyone, and it become more and more obvious as time went on.
In the evening, as we sat around a campfire and had dinner, we took turns talking about ourselves, our lives, and what we believed were our most formative experiences. The overwhelming trust, openness, and honesty expressed were truly refreshing. There is a certain degree of vulnerability associated with revealing intimate about ourselves, a vulnerability that we were all willing to expose ourselves to by sharing our stories, hopes and struggles, trusting that the others will not betray or misuse that information. That night, emotional barriers were broken; certain perceptions we may have had were challenged; and if I’m not mistaken, most of us walked away moved by the stories we heard and feeling closer to one another.
The next day was busy and filled with a variety of leadership and team building activities. After breakfast, each of us was given a journal which would serve as a way to record and keep track of thoughts and experiences, not only during the retreat but also for the entire summer, as many of the SIMs are taking on exciting and challenging projects. Next, we engaged in the Match Tower activity. Two girls were asked to construct a tower with matchboxes, and they easily successful in doing so. They were then asked to repeat the task; this time they blindfolded and allowed to use only their non-dominant hand. Suddenly, it was no longer a simple endeavor and neither participant was able to successfully construct the tower. The objective of the game was to demonstrate that our expectations will not necessarily always be met, and that from time to time we will be thrown a ‘curveball’ to tackle.
The next activity was “What Am I”. A word (object, person, etc) was randomly given to each participant and placed on their forehead so as they are not able to see what it is. The goal was to successfully guess what the word is by asking a series of yes or no questions. The objective of the game was to build trust, encourage communication, strategic information gathering and creative thinking.
The third and final activity before lunch was “Magic Carpet”. Standing on one side of a relatively small piece of tarp, the girls were asked to flip it over completely without setting foot off of it. If any one person failed to keep both feet on the “carpet” the entire team was forced to start over. The objective of the game was to encourage leadership, communication, cooperation, and persistence. It was amazing to observe the process and the evolution of leadership and communication dynamics between the girls. After several tries, they succeeded!
After lunch, everyone was given time to relax followed by time to reflect on and write about what insights we have gained from the morning’s activities and how we believe we can apply them to our personal and professional lives as mentors and female leaders.
The fourth activity for the day was “Irrigation Ditch”. The goal was to successfully transfer a glass marble from one end of the line to other via pieces of plastic tubing, which each individual held independently. If at any point, the marble fell to the ground or was touched, we were forced to start over. The objective of the activity was to encourage team work, effective communication and creative problem solving.
At the end of the day, right before dinner, we debriefed and openly shared our thoughts about the different activities. We discussed themes such as cooperation and communication. Insights we shared during this session were clearly reflected in the shifts in dynamics between us as the day went on. At first, there was some hesitation, but as we transitioned into later activities, there was a sense of ease and normalcy in working together as a team. As we sat around the campfire that night, small groups of us formed to come up with games to relax after quite a challenging and busy day. As we began to unwind and prepare for our last night in our tents at Langano, we could hear talk of not wanting to leave the next day; being outside the comfort zone has become comfortable.
On Tuesday morning, after breakfast, there was time for just two more activities. The first activity, “Body Telephone” revealed the challenge of accurately transferring a message without the use of words and the nuances and easily misinterpreted nature of body language. The second, “Trust Fall” was the perfect closing activity for the retreat. After sharing a newfound, renewed, and/or reinforced commitment to social innovation, we each put full trust in one another as we let go and fell into the expecting and supporting arms of the group. It was a powerful symbolic gesture; the ultimate exercise of both trust and support.
We only spent a few short days at Langano, but the experiences we shared will last a lifetime. (Sara Abraham/Tsion)