Lessons from off the road


One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the sport of off road driving is teamwork. I have seen many examples of how people working together can accomplish so much more than people competing.

I did not see much if any teamwork in the sport of autocross racing. I guess there is a very good reason why SCCA calls their series Solo racing. It was very much a every man for himself sport. My competitors were very secretive about what tire pressures worked for them and I even heard them give false and misleading information to beginners.

Road rally taught me a little more about team work. There was the interrelationship between the driver and co driver that was critical to the success of a rally team. My navigator, Jeff Ballinger was fantastic at dong the math and complex mental gymnastics necessary to keep us on time and recover from my inevitable mistakes. We worked very well together as evidenced by the trophies in my collection.

Where the teamwork concept failed in Road rally was in the cut throat competition between teams. Often Jeff and I would win a rally on the road and then loose the rally in claims after the event. I saw many teams use complex arguments that were not beneficial to the sport just to win a single event. They caused complex rules to be written and pushed a lot of fun out of the sport for Jeff and me. I suspect the drop in participation in the sport overall may be the result of this win at all cost mentality.

RallyCross and Rally racing taught me a bit more about team work. There seemed to be more a spirit of friendly competition in the events I attended. In the service areas, competing teams shared tools and parts with one another. They swapped driving and navigation tips openly. There was still a spirit of fierce competition, but the winners really only wanted to beat the people who were running at their best. Beating a team with a broken car did not mean as much as winning when the competitor was at his best too.

The sport of off road driving has been a very different experience for me. First of all, it is not competitive. There are no points or trophies, just bragging rights for who got over the rocks. There is a group spirit that wants every one to succeed.

The first thing I observed when I met the group that I go with on the side of a trail at Windrock was the way every one pitched in to help someone fix an electrical problem with his Jeep. Every one there offered tools, advice and spare parts to assist in getting him back on the trail.

Later that day when some one rolled his Jeep, again the group worked together to quickly and safely recover his Jeep from a precarious situation. Back at camp the mood was the same as every one pitched in to make the dinner and campfire circle as pleasant as possible for every one. Including me who they had just met.

On one trail in Ky, there was no real safe way for us to enter the trail. Maybe one or two of our vehicles were capable of climbing the big rock at the entrance, but most were not. Working together we developed a plan to use straps to stabilize the vehicles on an off camber bypass. Each driver had to trust the group and his spotter to keep his truck balanced on the tricky maneuver. Thanks to excellent teamwork, everyone made it onto the trail safely and got to enjoy the trip.

Sadly not everyone who has attended these trips has been a team player. However, when a disruptive element has been introduced, the group leaders have taken action to ensure that those who do not play well with others are not invited back. Such action protects the integrity of the group and makes it more fun for every one.

While the group I normally wheel with has become very close through the years I have observed that compete strangers often work together for the good of all when off road. On one recent trip we met some people who were entering the woods at the same time as us. We banded together. As the day progressed our group grew from four trucks to six or eight as we exited the woods in the dark. We all worked together to tug, winch, spot and guide each other through the challenging conditions.

I have learned far more about teamwork and building a strong working relationship with others from off roading than I ever have in any of the corporate teamwork classes I have attended. Off road, people quickly adapt to the challenge of getting every one through the obstacles. They share resources and skills to make sure every one is successful. Business could learn a lot by taking their work teams off road.

If your business or volunteer organization could benefit by working better together, let me talk to them. I will be happy to share what I have learned off the road to help you improve your organization.

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