The Performance Transformation team recently had the privilege of spending two weeks in Hawaii in support of one of our clients, the Palmarie Community Transformation Alliance, launch the inaugural Warriors in Transition program in the islands. Warriors in Transition is an Equine Experiential Learning workshop that supports combat veterans, their family members, and caregivers successfully navigate the transition from military to civilian life. The program also works with active duty military personnel and their families build emotional resiliency as they move through the various stages of the combat deployment cycle. The award-winning program was formally commended by General David Petraeus during his command of U.S. Central Command at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL.
As part of our engagement, we conducted a customized Team Building and Leadership Development workshop for the Palmarie and Equine808 (the islands’ first and only horse rescue organization) teams that will be hosting the military and veteran programs going forward. The team building objectives of the workshop were aimed at cultivating team cohesion and cooperation, positive communication, and creative thinking when facing adaptive challenges. The leadership development objectives addressed accountability, presence, and empathy; culminating with the experiential learning exercises designed to teach each individual how they can connect, engage, and motivate others without coercion or dominating behavior. The basis of our approach is to build emotional intelligence skills (self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management) by understanding how our Core Mammalian Emotional Systems are part of our ancient survival mechanisms. These new insights into our own and others’ behaviors help us understand how to succeed in the emotional landscape we move through every day. By getting off the dance floor and into the balcony, this heightened level of awareness enables us to see our world through a new lens, empowering professionals to choose how they wish to show up and interact with those around us.
As a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a sequence of one of the team building exercises conducted with a horse. As prey animals, horses are hyper-aware of their surroundings. Horses use emotions as information, helping them to survive in the wild. Horses 1.) Feel an Emotion; 2.) Get the Message Behind the Emotion; 3.) Take Appropriate Action; and 4.) Return to Grazing. Unlike humans, horses don’t take these emotional messages personally, judge the source of the emotion, or carry emotional resonance with them once they’ve acted accordingly. Horses are emotional savants; they mirror human emotions and provide immediate, immutable feedback to our presence and intention.
Herds of horses have evolved to be highly functional teams. They are continuously negotiating their personal boundaries with each other, while in motion, and while staying completely connected. In this way, they help humans model effective team work in constantly changing environments.
Here’s a sequence of a single, fifteen minute exercise in the round pen:
The team comes together to ground themselves in the present moment, create a shared vision of their goal, and create a plan to execute the goal.
The team greets their newest teammate with authenticity and positive intention, welcoming him to join up with them.
The team establishes a healthy, safe, and professional boundary as they establish relationship. This cultivates respect and trust, which will help sustain connection and cooperation even in emotionally challenging situations.
Working cooperatively, and without dominance or coercion, the team embarks on executing their shared vision with the horse. The team members learn how, through the modulation of their intention, presence, and energy, they can move the horse without the facility of speech or touch.
Faced with a novel challenge none of the team members have previously addressed, they learn how to work together to discover a cooperative approach to achieving their shared goal.
The team, which now includes the horse, achieves its shared goal through non-verbal presence and engagement (click on the picture to see Honolulu in the background).
Upon successful execution, the team acknowledges their joint achievement.
The team has experienced authentic engagement, without dominance or negative behavior, to achieve their adaptive goal.
The team quietly celebrates their victory. Note the horse’s tongue; this is a release for the horse, indicating comfort, trust, and engagement with his new herd members.
Unlike traditional approaches to team building, this is not an artificial game without real business context or a ropes course that favors younger, athletic people. It is a highly inclusive approach to creating fully engaged teams that can come together and discover innovative solutions to challenges they’ve yet to face. Engaging the horse inevitably reveals how human beings develop and maintain relationships with other people. Success requires authenticity, congruency, and creativity; positive attributes organizations require in today’s rapidly changing, highly diverse environments.
Photos courtesy of Precision Photography of Honolulu.
© 2011, Performance Transformation, LLC™.