I have served as a Scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop, the Ramblers, for several years. A dozen scouts in the troop have earned their hiking merit badge over the last year, completing most of the merit badge requirements and hikes while working together at troop meetings and on camping trips.
As they worked on the hiking merit badge requirements, there are lessons that the scouts learned that when I look at them, they can be applied to business and useful lessons to business owners and managers.
The hiking lessons for business:
Have a plan– Going on a hike requires a hike plan. A hike plan has starting point and time, a destination and the route to reach the destination, along with a return or end time. It also includes the local weather report, a list of hikers and all the gear they are bringing with them.
This plan is distributed among the hikers, with a copy left behind with someone at home or the ranger station for emergencies. The hike plan is distributed to all of the hikers for information and as a reference.
Hike plans are good plans. All good plans need to contain a goal and the action steps or routes to reach the goal. Good plans contain other information the team needs to know. All plans are written, a reference point and distributed to the team, disseminating the information to everyone involved. Having a document, a hard copy of the plan for everyone gets the information and tasks out to the team members, and is a reference to the responsibilities and tasks for each team member. Having a document provides a reference point, and a status gauge of where the team is on the route to their goal.
Pack what you need and what you don’t need–
Scouts learn to develop a hike packing list that contains the essentials: map, compass, water, food, and 1st aid kit. Additionally, the scouts pack items they may not need on the hike, but would be helpful if any problems arise. Scouts pack extra socks, foul weather gear, a poncho and liner, flashlight, and matches. The scout contingency plan is that it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
Businesses need to have a contingency plan too. No plan survives contact with reality (See #2 in 10 Management Rules), and plans will need to be adjusted, adapted and revised. Business should have extra resources and alternative plans to deal with the unexpected or unforeseen. Always pack and plan for best case and worst-case scenarios.
Never step on what you can step over, never step over what you can step around-
Scouts are taught to hike on marked trails, and when they come to an obstacle on the trail, a downed tree, or a large rock, to avoid stepping on it. The scout wants to avoid the chance that they turn or sprain their ankle, or trip or fall on the obstacle. Injuries on a hike increase the danger for all of the hikers. So scouts are taught to step over obstacles, or if possible, step around obstacles.
Businesses should avoid problems as much as possible too. All problems cannot be avoided, but before stepping on a problem, a business should determine if they can step over or step around the problem as a preferred alternative.
Working as a team, we can travel farther than working alone–
Scouts are taught to never hike alone, to always have a buddy, or to buddy up. Hiking as a team, the scouts can travel farther. The load the scouts are carrying can be shared across backpacks. Scouts can work on individual tasks that collectively help the group; one scout reads the map, another working the compass, while a third scout keeps the pace count on how far they have hiked. Working together as a team, the scouts will hike farther, faster and safer than the individual hiker could.
Businesses all know the importance of good teams and teamwork. But how well do they develop and manage teams? A company with a good team, individually working on collective tasks to reach group goals will get there faster and more efficiently than a group of individuals.
Finally, like the hiking scout, managers should get out of the office and take a short hike, go for walk. Hiking and walking does a body good, but it also does the mind some good too. A hike is a chance to see something different, to think about things with our any interference, a chance to refresh for the next challenge.