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The Obstacle Course

Updated: May 17, 2021

Written by CultureCon Guest Blogger Shawn Gulyas, The Thought Catalyst at humanworks

obstacle course culturecon humanworks

What if we had all been training for the Business Tough Mudder during 2019?

You may be thinking – Does that really exist?

Then you may jump to – 2020 was a Tough Mudder.

And you may end up at – Could I have been better prepared as an individual or a business?

The answer – You could have and you should have. If you weren’t, start that business endurance training right now.

Did you have business resolutions and strategies for the start of 2021 and now with 2021 Q1 done are you looking back and still in survival mode?

I’m not one for resolutions. They feel good in the moment, but then they are lost on me. I prefer a clear and simple strategy. I prefer taking action and doing something – experiencing something. I began early in the pandemic to purposely stop saying to others that I was “hanging in there” or “surviving.” I did that because it started to sound to my ears like 2020 was happening to me without any effort on my part.

From a business perspective, I’ve heard this pandemic period described as chaotic…business culture being in chaos. From a human perspective, I’ve heard the words “scary” and “life-altering.”

Will you wake up from this nightmare or do you just need a hearty shake to stir the senses?

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel or do you need a flashlight or guide right now in the dark?

Are you surviving because you are the fittest and strongest or from being the luckiest while ducking and covering?

What if I challenged you and said this was all a warm-up? What if I challenged you and said this was all designed to remove your blinders?

In times of chaos or survival you must rely on the conditioning and effort you put in prior to the happening or event. If that preparation and structure were in place or being developed prior to a disruption you would be in a better position to meet the demands of the moment. If it wasn’t, you may find yourself floundering without a foundation to bring steadiness and confidence.

If you haven’t thought about your business’s Way prior to last year then it would be difficult to lead people, a product, a service. It would be difficult to navigate the obstacle course that lies ahead of us.

A Way is a unique framework of operating that is understood and applied, from the executive suite to a team member’s family dinner table. It is the glue as well as the gas that binds and propels the business forward.

When practiced regularly, it creates a culture of empathy and endurance. Meaning and momentum. Questions and answers. It allows your business to finish the Tough Mudder as a team committed to your Way.

Why do obstacle courses exist? To challenge – endurance, agility, speed, strength, and mental problem solving. Hasn’t it felt like you have climbed over, crawled under, balanced on, hung onto, and jumped across? What has been your puddle of muddy water, your ropes and nets, your trust jump? And haven’t we all had some “no touch” restrictions that have made the course more difficult?

So, what would have helped with a better outcome in The Low Crawl, The Tire Run, The Balance Walk, The Wall Scale, The Horizontal Ladder, The Rope Climb, The Unstable Bridge, The Power Leap and The Free Fall?

What conditioning is needed now? What will make your business fit? Here are the Top 10 Business-Muscle Building Actions you should be taking now.

  1. Create or elevate your values and beliefs – a foundation of shared values brings both your team members and your customers together in an aligned passion for who you are what you do. If not, you will fail any balance obstacle ahead.

  2. Understand and value the three parts of everyone’s mind at your business so you can get the best from everyone, avoid burnout, and appreciate what everyone brings to the course. If you do not, then you will never have the right person for the right obstacle. And remember the variety of business obstacles demands the same variety of individual strengths.

  3. Learn to navigate better – moving as one unit not a collection of individuals by having a documented Way of working that touches not only strategy and planning but provides a steady time clock to focus and prioritize in a shorter window with a simple operating system. Without a clear and unique way based on your business necessities and values, you will be starting obstacles from the wrong end and will not recover. Agility is key.

  4. Reset expectations of what it means to be a leader in your organization – a new leadership model will get at the heart of what it truly means to have the opportunity to lead others in your organization. And believe it or not – not everyone is built for a people first role. Without role models in people-facing roles, you will be caught in the net of turnover.

  5. Communication is the oxygenated blood flow. Any failure, mistake, loss can be tied back to a communication misstep. Start making communication a priority versus letting it happen on its own. Create a single point of truth and then shout it from office to office, team to team, person to person. A clear message provides a clear path to the next obstacle.

  6. No participation awards. Build a culture of “in it to win it” by creating a performance management approach that is simple and owned by each individual. You will discover those who want to rise to the next level. You will discover those who know what the organization needs next. You will discover those who are weighing down the team and not adding the effort necessary for business growth and tackling the next big challenge.

  7. Stop the team building activities and instead build your culture around creating many opportunities for employees to connect, interact and share – both professionally and personally. If you have not started a gratitude practice as a standard business practice, then the mud pool awaits.

  8. Care and support each individual’s needs in order to thrive in your workplace. Well-being is a baseline for success and there are many elements to it. Allow for this personalized approach by offering many ways to build strength and learn new techniques. The four key elements are needed for the toughest of courses – Purpose, Balance, Movement and Nutrition.

  9. Action is required for creating a belonging environment – not a committee or job description. And action occurs in very small ways and moments at work, with each word, each policy, each recognition. No belonging = no true celebration. No cheering at the end of a truly difficult obstacle.

  10. Measure success by not only surviving but finishing – as a team. With obstacles overcome by clarity in purpose, values, and outcomes.

Is this a bit daunting? Scary? Use that adrenaline to power your thinking and action moving forward. Courage is a part of all of us, but we must call upon it for success. Train now. Learn now. Plan now. Elevate practices now. Because we don’t know the exact layout of the obstacle course ahead, but we do know what it takes to make it to the next finish line.


About the Author

humanworks was born out of a belief that people matter. Period. Shawn exists to design and facilitate creative experiences that challenge one’s thinking and action – helping individuals and companies find their authenticity, breathe into their well-being, and elevate their people touchpoints. 

After a career filled with growth and learning with La Macchia Enterprises/ The Mark Travel Corporation as Vice President of Human Resources, Shawn decided to venture out and get his hands dirty with other organizations in need of bringing their work to life through championing people. Shawn and his team have guided organizations in discovering what is at the core of their reason for being, developing unique performance management practices, enlivening their talent discovery process, establishing clarity in strategic planning and helping individuals add their greatest value through understanding their natural instincts and unique abilities.

Think of Shawn as a “jump-starter” of energy and ideas around the belief that everyone matters and as a leader who creates cultures and communities where values, natural instincts and well-being are the essence of success. Other things Shawn believes in: Peace, Wonder and Yoda.


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