How to Create a High-Functioning Team in the Outdoors

Posted by: Taylor Owens on 9/7/17 8:24 AM

You go on outdoor adventures to enjoy the group experience as much the scenery or any activity you'll do. Just like packing your gear, you can plan ways to keep everyone motivated and excited to be part of the team.

For first-time trip leaders or seasoned explorers, here are some tips to encourage a high-functioning team on your next excursion.

Choose a Goal

Choose a Goal

Photo by Reece Robinson

Choosing a desired location you would like to reach as a group, or completing a set number of miles, are the types of decisions you need to make before a trip. When you’re making these goals, have each member present and actively contribute to the process. Ask everyone to gather around the map and see the exact route. Take this time to check in and see if they have any physical considerations, like bad knees or ankles, and factor this in when deciding your route and mileage.

By doing this, each member will be aware of where exactly they plan to go, what’s expected of them on that given day, and help them avoid injury.

Capitalize on Teambuilding Opportunities

Capitalize on Team Building Opportunities

Photo by Bria Schurke

In the backcountry, you don’t know how your group will work together until you meet an obstacle you can’t overcome alone. River crossings, for example, take time out of your hike to focus on the obstacle in front of you. A large river is an obstacle that is easier to cross when members work as a group.

During exercises that require teamwork, observe who takes the lead, who works well together, and take this information and apply it to the goal you picked for the trip.

Communicate Clearly

Communicate Clearly

Photo by Jonah Raether

Having even one person in the group not be well-informed about the day’s plan can wreak havoc later. They may be unprepared physically if they did not bring enough food and water for the day’s mileage or frustrated when they start to wonder when the day will be over. A group needs effective communication to be cohesive.

So, for whoever is reading the map that day, or deciding where to camp, it’s their responsibility to clearly and thoughtfully express these goals to each member of the group.

Play Games

Play Games

Photo by Erin Phillips

Make sure you plan for time that’s just plain fun. You may use the time to catch up on reading your book, take a look at the local plants, or just bask in the sun. Utilizing these days to reconnect with your group through fun and playful games can revitalize energy and relationships with one another.

Having a good laugh together during group games, such as Ninja or Pterodactyl, will lift everyone’s spirits and bring your group together.

Find and Use Your Team’s Strengths

Find and Use Your Team's Strengths

Photo by Gonzalvo Marie

Taking the time out to listen to each group member’s ideas for the trip is a good way to understand each person’s strengths. You may notice some group members readily leading the group during the day, and you may notice some members standing quietly in the back and intently listening.

Recognize those who speak up with their ideas, but also call on those who are quietly listening and ask them their thoughts. This will encourage members who seem more like listeners to share their ideas, and those who naturally speak in front of the group develop their ability to listen. Plus, you may gain insight into solutions to a problem that would have otherwise not been shared.

Utilizing people for their strongest talents will build them up as being an essential member of the group, as well as build the strength of the group as a whole.

Celebrate Successes 

Celebrate Successes

Photo by Henry Stanton

When your group crosses that river without any hitches, when they reach the summit of that mountain, or when they make a delicious dinner that everyone enjoys, celebrate those moments. Building up the best moments of the trip will continue to stoke the fire of excitement in each group member.

Make sure that the group knows you appreciate their hard work. In turn, group members will put their best foot forward each day and make your job that much easier.

Bring leadership training to your team—explore customized expeditions with NOLS Custom Education.

Taylor was the alumni intern at NOLS World Headquarters for summer 2017. She can usually be spotted paddling a river, skiing the slopes, sipping coffee, or on the hunt for the best breakfast.