Investing in your staff through teambuilding - coastal rescue

Written by
Changeboard Team

07 Jun 2010

07 Jun 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Taking employees out of their comfort zones

Its cold and windy on the rescue boat which is winding its way along the stunning coastline. Each crew member is focused on the task ahead, concentrating on their own responsibilities.

Away from her regular job as admin assistant, 21-year-old Fiona, who is normally fairly shy in the workplace, has discovered that she has a flair for communication. In charge of the boats radio system, she is co-ordinating the rescue with the control room on shore.

Not a fan of open water, 58-year-old senior project manager, Robert, is out of his comfort zone as one of the swimmers who has to pull the inflatable stretcher from the boat to the rocks to rescue the injured man the companys 48-year-old chief executive

This is a flavour of a teambuilding exercise organised by the Maritime Rescue Institute (MRI) in Stonehaven in the north-east of Scotland.

Employees working together outside the norm

As an independent lifeboat charity and provider of the search and rescue (SAR) service in the area, we have the expertise, equipment and natural facilities to offer a highly effective and exciting team building portfolio to companies of all sizes.

Being part of a team is core to working in a lifeboat crew and we can use our experience to help develop this skill in others.

No one person can carry out a rescue on their own - we need to work together. We are all only human so its natural that we each have different strengths and weaknesses. Being part of a team means recognising this and allocating tasks to the most appropriate person.

What skills can be applied to the workplace?

During a real rescue, the pressure on the MRI team can be immense. With a crew of 20, we're all volunteers, we dont keep office hours and coastal incidents can happen at any time, from reports of upturned boats and dinghies which have floated too far out to sea, to anglers being washed off the rocks and climbers becoming stranded.

There will be a constant flow of updated information which needs to be properly processed and prioritised. The conditions may be difficult and, ultimately, we are all so aware that our actions could save someones life.

These are core skills which can be transferred into the workplace, regardless of the size or nature of an organisation.

Why is teambuilding important?

These challenging financial times mean that companies are having to make tough financial decisions and cut costs but teambuilding is a long-term investment for organisations.

It's a chance to bring colleagues closer together and give them the skills and confidence to work as part of a more cohesive unit. Its a simple formula - employees who work close together will be more productive.

Case study: Shell

When Steve Harris took over the reins of the communication department at Shell U.K. as Head of Communications Upstream in Aberdeen, he decided that a teambuilding event would be the catalyst for a refocus for the team.

As well as carrying out a restructure, he put together a new strategy for Shells sponsorship. Central to this was a three year partnership with the Maritime Rescue Institute, prompted by a shared commitment to safety and working in the local community, so when he was looking to organise a teambuilding event, the Stonehaven facility was ideal.

He decided to keep the details of the teambuilding from his staff so that they would come to the day with no pre-conceptions. 

After a warming cup of tea and a bacon roll, first on the agenda was a trip out into the bay on one of MRIs four lifeboats, two of which are used for training and teambuilding and two for real rescues. The 10 strong party were given a briefing on safety by Hamish McDonald in MRIs lecture room, located at Stonehaven Harbour, and clarification on the role of each individual.

Whole-team activities to stimulate thinking

Each person was supplied with full thermal and waterproof gear to protect them from the elements of the North Sea.

As well as a chance to see the stunning Mearns coastline, including a rare view of ruined Dunnottar Castle from the sea, and puffins and other wildlife in their natural habitats, it was an opportunity for the Shell staff to speak to crew members and find out what motivates them to volunteer for MRI.

Back on dry land and after another cup of tea, the group took part in a brainstorm session about the way forward for the team and its sponsorship and communications strategy.

The day culminated in a simulated rescue involving all the team. Steve took on the role of an injured person stranded on a rocky island. Other team members staffed the radio back at MRI, continually updating their colleagues in the boat. Three team members then swam across to the rocks pulling an inflatable stretcher. They then had to work together to get Steve safely back on to the boat and then return to shore.

Teambuilding - vital to improve communication

Steve believes the team building event at MRI played an important role in changing how the Shell communications department interact internally:

Steve Harris, head of communications upstream, Shell:

This was an exciting and challenging day for everyone involved. It really underlined the importance of working together as a team and recognising the strengths of individual members of staff.

The actual rescue pushed us both physically and mentally and we all came away having learned something about ourselves and how we interact with our colleagues. 

We were particularly pleased to be doing the team building at MRI because of Shells support for the organisation. We share core values about safety and community involvement and this similar ethos makes our partnership with them a natural fit.