A good experience is guaranteed when you’re told to arrive wearing robust clothing suitable for outdoor activities and wet weather. A memorable one is certain when you’re told that suits and cocktail dresses will also be required.

After several months of classes and city life, heading out to Sandhurst for the Professional Development Programme was certainly a welcome change. The primary goals were to develop an understanding of leadership and followership and to advance our insight into team behaviour and individual contribution. Applying oneself and interacting with the cohort in a different setting, with a unique set of challenges and experiences, provided another forum for valuable experiences and insight.

img_3939I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors over the years, primarily sailing and camping, and was wondering how well prepared the team would be. Keep in mind that I’d only seen the rest of the cohort dressed for city life and networking events. However, when I showed up at Waterloo Station they were well prepared with outdoor gear and hiking boots. Most people had backpacks and small luggage, my bag was actually one of the largest, so I felt that we were off to a good start. We caught the train, dropped off our luggage at the hotel and headed directly to the campus to get started.

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is rich in history. You can feel it even before you arrive and all the more so once you pass through the gates, gaze at the buildings and explore the mix of forests and manicured grounds. The staff from The Inspirational Development Group introduced themselves and put us directly to work. Our first task was complex construction and problem solving, with specific parameters and time frames. My team managed to complete the task with only seconds to spare.

We would do many tasks over the next few days taking turns to both lead and follow. There is much to be said for taking on the responsibility of being in charge, but there is certainly a lot to be learned from taking a step back, being an effective team player and working for the benefit of the group. This is certainly a valuable lesson for a driven and accomplished group of young professionals to absorb, and it is guaranteed to last when learnt carrying a stretcher through a maze whilst blindfolded, building devices to transport water canisters or trusting others to pass you through netting. I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching one member of the class run up a hill with a heavy dummy on his back whilst surrounded by blue smoke.

img_3749Similarly, taking on purely verbal team based challenges can provide a great deal of insight into how one can be more convincing and informative. Meeting in a room lined with leather furniture, a marble fireplace and a myriad of donations from graduates, my team and I were tasked with rating the gear necessary to survive in the wilds of Canada. Growing up I spent most of my summers going on canoe trips in the parks of Ontario, Quebec and the boundary waters with the US. It gets cold at night even in August. In this challenge it was late fall. Who knew what a hard time I would have convincing others of the importance of fire and an axe? Many of them had been camping but not in such a remote or chilly setting. Then again, a great deal depends on how I say it. This was probably my key takeaway from the week, and one that I would reflect on with my team when discussing afterwards.

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The benefit of the programme was highly apparent on the train ride back to Waterloo. We had been fortunate enough to see an iconic site where few will go. Whilst worn out from the past few days, you could hear the cohort discussing plans for the next module. Stepping out of the typical academic zone and being forced to challenge one’s conceptions had already provided highly beneficial insight on how to lead a team. Over the course of the year, there is undoubtedly more to follow.