One of my favorite things I have ever done is build and run a ropes course. I learned so much about myself and how to encourage and manage and lead at The Woods Retreat and Training Center. I discovered myself there and learned to identify strengths that contribute to my unique abilities.
A lesson that comes to mind today is the power of the weak one in a group.
We had an event that we called “The Wall.” It was a 12-foot wall in the middle of the woods that we used to challenge a team’s ability to work together to accomplish a task. There was a platform on the back of the wall where individuals could stand and a ladder for safe and easy descent. It was a favorite activity of mine but we reserved it for the higher functioning groups/teams and for the strong teams that really needed a challenge. We could make it more or less difficult by altering the details of the rules.
The group I am remembering today was a very high functioning team of college-aged adults. They were full of energy (and youth) and had flown through other challenges with apparent ease. One member, though, was somewhat accommodated by everyone in that she tended to question every approach. They were pretty patient with her, but kept pushing so they could get to The Wall.
Once there, the energy was high. The group was mixed in gender, but with no real weak link, physically, so I anticipated it would take about 30 minutes to complete. I gave them clear and specific “rules” to follow, then stepped aside to let them figure out how they would approach the task.
“All right!” “We can do this!” “Let’s go!” There was general enthusiasm and optimism. I had done this event hundreds of times and knew they were easily capable of the task.
Then, the questions began…..from the one weakest link. “What if….?” “But why…..?” “Let’s talk about it first.” “I don’t think that will work.” Her objections became more negative and impossible the longer they allowed her to control the conversation.
Before long, she got the entire group to agree to sit down and to talk about the task and to listen to her conviction that there was no safe way to approach the challenge.
And time ran out. They had to leave. Without finishing a task that would have been very possible for them to complete…. if they had ever agreed to start or try something.
We had a great discussion after walking down the hill and out of the woods to their cars. Before they left, most of the group realized that their disappointment (deep disappointment of some) had been completely avoidable. They allowed one fearful member of their group to get everyone to sit down (literally) and to passively (aggressively) stonewall the entire task.
It happens often.
The weakest can take control because the stronger are able to make adjustments to accommodate and to exhibit patience. It can be detrimental to the whole….especially when time runs out and unnecessary failure is the result.