Forget stale conference rooms and forced bonding exercises. Firewalking isn’t just a thrilling spectacle; it’s a revolution in the world of team building. Imagine stepping barefoot onto scorching embers, pushing past perceived limits, and emerging with a team forged in heat and trust. That’s the power of firewalking as a team-building experience.
But before we delve into the flames, let’s rewind and define team building: the intentional process of cultivating collaboration, communication, and cohesion within a group. It’s about transforming a collection of individuals into a high-performing unit that thrives on shared goals and mutual respect.
Traditionally, team building might conjure up images of awkward icebreakers or scavenger hunts. While these activities have their merits, they often fall short in truly igniting potential. Firewalking, on the other hand, throws down the gauntlet, challenging both individual courage and collective strength. It’s an immersive, transformative experience that leaves teams bonded by the shared fire they’ve conquered.
Team building activities are on the rise with companies small and large, to build trust and relationships. One activity that people are tempted and challenged by is firewalking.
In our latest Business Leaders episode, we delve into the fascinating world of firewalking with professional instructor and business owner Stephen Brown.
To learn more about this exciting career choice, check out our full interview with Stephen in the video below, or read on for the highlights.
Table of Contents
What is Firewalking?
Firewalking is exactly what it sounds like: walking on fire. For a corporate event, this may seem a little extravagant, but as Stephen puts it, “it serves as metaphors for learning. Our activities are unique, challenging, interactive and fun.”
Going into more detail, Stephen explains: “Firewalking is when you walk along a bed of embers. You will have a fire burning usually for around an hour, and when it burns down to just the embers, you rake it out into a bed. Most firewalks end up being around 12 feet long, which is about four steps.”
Walking across a fire bed of red hot burning coals is one of the toughest mind in matter challenges to ever endure. Yet, it is also one of the most rewarding, helping you to face your fears and realise your true potential.
“Firewalking is very interesting. I’ve worked with many firewalk instructors in many countries, and have led firewalks in countries all around the world.”
Not only is it physically dangerous, others believe it can also be spiritually dangerous. Stephen highlights that when it comes to firewalking, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions.
“In some countries where religion is such a big part of the community, firewalking is deemed like dealing with the devil. In the UK and Ireland, there’s a misconception that there’s a guarantee that you won’t have a burned foot afterwards – and of course there isn’t a guarantee.”
Stephen’s company, Firewalking International, delivers a range of services all related to intense activities such as firewalking. From charity firewalks, team building exercises, personal/team retreats, firewalk training as well as personal, leadership and professional development courses.
“The reasons people take part in firewalks varies. I do a lot of charity events, where people do it as a fundraiser. So it’s a bit of that, ‘get yourself out of your comfort zone, doing something challenging’ situation.
“Whenever it’s a corporate event, it usually catches people off guard. Once I start talking to them, I reassure them that they don’t have to do it as I work on a principle of challenge by choice.”
From Aspiring Lawyer to Firewalk Instructor: Stephen Brown’s Career Journey
Stephen, whose job title now is Firewalking International Master Instructor, outlines his professional journey, stating that he originally had a very different career path in mind.
“All the way through school I was adamant that I wanted to study law. It took a severe change of direction when it came to filling in my UCAS forms. I ended up not going to university and instead went to Newcastle, County Down, to train as an outdoor pursuits instructor.”
After 12 years of being an outdoor pursuits instructor for multiple organisations, Stephen decided to tap into another dream of his: working for himself.
“I set up my own adventure company, doing the usual activities such as kayaking, team building and that sort of thing. It then progressed to something more extreme such as cliff jumping.”
After experimenting with more extreme activities, Stephen’s interest had piqued. He then started researching new and inventive ways to advance his adventure company.
“When I started the business, there was a guy running a firewalk in Belfast aimed at entrepreneurs. So I went to it, and loved it. I clearly remember the three times I walked over the firewalk, so it was something that made sense to get into at a later stage.
“But that opportunity never came up, until the guy from the firewalk in Belfast got in touch saying he was moving to Dubai. He had some charity firewalks in the diary and he needed someone to go and get trained, to honour the bookings for these charities.”
This led to Stephen training in Sweden.
“When I came back from Sweden, I had my first firewalk booking complete just ten days later. And it has just developed from there.”
To find out more about Stephen, firewalking and how this can help with team building, check out our full Business Leaders interview. To learn more about Firewalking International other services they offer – visit the official website.
Why Team Building is the Secret Sauce to Success
Picture a symphony orchestra: each instrument brings its own unique melody, yet through coordination and collaboration, they weave together a masterpiece. That’s the essence of team building: turning a group of individuals into a harmonious, high-performing unit. But why is it so important? Let’s dive into the secret sauce that enhances cooperation, communication, and ultimately, success:
1. Fostering Cooperation and Communication:
Imagine two construction workers struggling to lift a heavy beam. Each might exert strength, but without coordinated effort, it’s a recipe for disaster. Team building activities break down silos, encouraging colleagues to work together towards a common goal. Whether navigating a scavenger hunt or building a precarious tower of marshmallows, these shared experiences hone communication skills and teach team members to rely on each other’s strengths.
2. Building Trust: The Bridge to Success
Trust is the cornerstone of any strong team. It’s the belief that your colleagues have your back, no matter what. Team building activities create opportunities for vulnerability and shared experiences that build trust. Think about the exhilarating moment when your entire team successfully crosses a firewalk, or the laughter echoing after a hilarious improv session. These shared moments forge bonds of trust that translate into a more supportive and productive work environment.
3. Boosting Morale and Engagement:
Let’s face it, even the most passionate individuals can experience dips in motivation. Enter team building! These activities are a breath of fresh air, injecting a dose of fun and excitement into the workday. Whether it’s solving a murder mystery or competing in a friendly sports tournament, team building activities remind everyone that work can be enjoyable, fostering a more positive and engaged workforce.
4. Sparking Creativity and Innovation:
Innovation thrives in environments where diverse perspectives come together. Team building activities encourage outside-the-box thinking and collaboration. Brainstorming during a game of escape the room or constructing a Rube Goldberg machine can spark ingenious ideas that might never have emerged in a traditional meeting room setting. Remember, great things rarely happen in silos!
Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone: A Spectrum of Team Building Activities
The beauty of team building lies in its versatility. There’s an activity out there for every team dynamic, preference, and budget. Let’s explore some popular types, each targeting different aspects of teamwork:
1. Communication Champs:
- Debates and discussions: Foster lively exchanges and hone persuasive skills.
- Improv games: Encourage quick thinking, collaboration, and adaptability.
- Virtual brainstorming sessions: Harness the power of diverse perspectives across locations.
- Murder mysteries and escape rooms: Demand effective communication and teamwork to solve puzzles and uncover clues.
2. Problem-Solving Powerhouses:
- Rube Goldberg challenges: Spark creativity and ingenuity in building chain reactions.
- Building competitions: Combine problem-solving with resource management and collaboration.
- Hackathons: Tackle real-world challenges with time pressure, promoting efficient brainstorming and decision-making.
- Case studies and simulations: Analyze complex scenarios and develop strategic solutions as a team.
3. Outdoor Adventurers:
- Rope courses and obstacle courses: Build trust and support while conquering physical challenges.
- Scavenger hunts and geocaching: Encourage exploration, teamwork, and strategic planning.
- Hiking and camping trips: Strengthen bonds through shared experiences in nature.
- Whitewater rafting or kayaking: Navigate rapids together, requiring excellent communication and adaptation.
4. Giving Back Together:
- Volunteer projects: Build team spirit while contributing to the community.
- Charity fundraisers: Foster collaboration and empathy while working towards a worthy goal.
- Mentorship programs: Share knowledge and empower others, benefiting both teams and community.
- Environmental clean-up drives: Combine physical activity with a positive environmental impact.
5. Fun and Games Galore:
- Game nights and tournaments: Build camaraderie and friendly competition in a relaxed setting.
- Cooking classes and competitions: Unleash creativity and collaboration in the kitchen.
- Team trivia or karaoke nights: Encourage participation, laughter, and a sense of belonging.
- Themed parties and outings: Celebrate achievements and build memories outside the office walls.
Unlocking Success: Keys to Effective Team Building
Team building can be a transformative experience, but like any journey, it needs the right map and provisions to reach its destination. Here are some crucial keys to unlock successful team building and ensure your investment yields lasting benefits:
1. Charting the Course: Clear Objectives and Targets
Before embarking on any team building adventure, ask yourself, “What do we want to achieve?” Is it improved communication, boosted morale, or enhanced problem-solving skills? Defining clear objectives and measurable targets provides a compass for choosing the right activities and tracking progress.
2. Alignment is Key: Matching Activities to Goals
It’s no use playing charades if your goal is to refine communication skills. Choose activities that directly address your identified objectives. For example, a collaborative escape room experience fosters communication, strategy, and teamwork, while a volunteering project builds team spirit and social responsibility.
3. Logistics: The Bridge Between Planning and Execution
Leaving nothing to chance is vital. Proper planning and logistics ensure a smooth experience. Consider transportation, meals, equipment, venue availability, and potential contingencies. Don’t forget pre-briefing participants and setting clear expectations for the activity.
4. Invitation, Not Imposition: Voluntary Participation Wins
Forced fun rarely produces lasting results. Encourage voluntary participation by promoting the benefits and addressing any concerns. Offer different activity options to cater to diverse preferences and ensure everyone feels comfortable joining in.
5. Wise Investments: Budgeting and Resource Allocation
Team building can range from budget-friendly potlucks to elaborate adventure outings. Allocate resources wisely based on your objectives and available budget. Explore cost-effective options like scavenger hunts within the office or free online team-building challenges.
Bonus Tip: Debriefing: The Bridge Back to Reality
Don’t let the experience end with the activity. Facilitate a debriefing session to discuss key takeaways, learnings, and how these can be applied back to the workplace. This reflection deepens the impact of the team building experience and sets the stage for lasting change.
Aligning Flames with Values: Integrating Team Building with Corporate Culture
Imagine your corporate culture as a vibrant tapestry, woven with unique values and aspirations. Now, picture the fiery experience of firewalking as a thread, strong and transformative. When seamlessly integrated, these elements can create a masterpiece of a team building experience that resonates deeply with your team and strengthens the fabric of your organization.
1. Culture Compass: How Values Guide Activity Choices
Before choosing the perfect team building activity, consider your company’s guiding principles. Does your culture prioritize innovation? A hackathon or design challenge might be ideal. Are collaboration and trust your cornerstones? Look into escape rooms or volunteering projects. Understanding your cultural landscape helps select activities that reinforce and celebrate your core values.
2. Embedding Values in the Flames: Weaving Activities with Meaning
Don’t just pick an activity and slap your company logo on it. Go deeper! Infuse your chosen activity with elements that explicitly reflect your values. For example, if integrity is key, design a competition based on fair play and ethical problem-solving. If communication is valued, incorporate storytelling elements into the firewalk experience itself, allowing participants to share their personal triumphs and challenges.
3. Beyond the Embers: Sustaining Cultural Integration
The impact of team building shouldn’t fade with the embers. Connect the learnings back to your daily work practices. Encourage teams to identify how the skills honed during the activity can be applied to their regular projects and interactions. Use the shared experience as a springboard for ongoing conversations about company values and their practical application.
4. Leading by Example: Embracing Values in Action
Leaders set the tone. Demonstrate your commitment to integrating values by actively participating in team building activities and embodying the desired behaviours. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and support during the experience. When leaders walk the talk, it sends a powerful message to the entire team.
5. Celebrating Diversity, Embracing Inclusivity
Remember, your team is a vibrant tapestry of unique individuals. Ensure your chosen activity is inclusive and caters to diverse abilities and preferences. Offer modifications or alternative options for those who may not be comfortable with firewalking or certain physical challenges. Celebrate individual strengths and contributions throughout the experience.
Team Dynamics and Stages of Development: Finding the Right Spark
Even the hottest fire starts with a single ember. Similarly, the success of any team, including those forged in the flames of a firewalk experience, lies in understanding their dynamics and stages of development. By harnessing the insights of the Tuckman model, you can tailor your team building activities to ignite their full potential at every stage.
Unveiling the Tuckman Model: A Map for Growth
Developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, the Tuckman model identifies five distinct stages that teams typically progress through:
- Forming: This initial stage is marked by uncertainty and cautious exploration. Team members get to know each other, establish roles, and define ground rules. Think of it as gathering kindling and setting the tinder alight.
- Storming: Inevitably, differences in personalities and work styles lead to conflict and disagreement. This stage can be messy, like sparks flying in all directions. But remember, these confrontations can also spark creativity and innovation.
- Norming: As challenges are addressed and compromises are made, the team begins to develop trust and cohesion. Shared goals and norms of behavior emerge, like building a sturdy structure to contain the flames.
- Performing: In this stage, the team operates with smoothness and efficiency. Communication is open, roles are well-defined, and they work together to achieve their goals, like a well-coordinated bonfire team tending to the fire.
- Adjourning: When the project or task is complete, the team prepares to disband or transition to a new stage. This can be bittersweet, but the shared experience and skills gained leave a lasting impact.
Matching the Flame to the Stage: Tailoring Activities
By recognizing the stage your team is in, you can choose activities that maximize their learning and growth:
- Forming: Icebreakers, team-building games, and shared meals can help break down barriers and build trust.
- Storming: Facilitate open communication, active listening workshops, and conflict resolution exercises to navigate disagreements constructively.
- Norming: Collaborative projects, brainstorming sessions, and team retreats can solidify roles, establish norms, and define shared goals.
- Performing: Challenge-based activities, simulations, and problem-solving tasks can hone teamwork and performance under pressure.
- Adjourning: Celebration events, debriefing sessions, and knowledge-sharing initiatives can provide closure, draw valuable lessons from the experience, and prepare individuals for future endeavors.
What if some employees resist team building?
- Address concerns individually, be open to feedback
- Clarify goals, modify activities if needed
How often should we run team building programs?
- Quarterly or every six months ideal
- Tie events to milestones or seasonal cycles
What results can we expect from team building?
- Improved communication and collaboration
- Higher engagement, morale, job satisfaction
- Increased innovation and productivity
How do we show ROI for team building events?
- Compare metrics before and after
- Employee surveys on impact
- Calculate savings from turnover reductions
In summary, implementing a thoughtful team building strategy with engaging activities tailored to your employees can pay dividends through increased collaboration, communication, and camaraderie. This not only boosts engagement and retention, but also enhances creativity, problem solving skills, and alignment with company goals.
Tracking participant feedback and related impact metrics allows you to showcase ROI and optimize future events. Investing in building a strong, cohesive team is a proven driver of organizational success.
Become a Part of Our Business Leaders Series
Interested in featuring on our Business Leaders series? In our acclaimed series, we share amazing advice, tips and stories from business owners, managers and senior leaders.
From growing your business to looking after your staff, new industry insights and innovative ideas – we cover everything to inspire professionals across all sectors. If you want to become a part of it, simply drop us a message.