Some colleagues go out for lunches together, some attend cricket matches, and then there are those who trek to a height of 5,380m, just to get to know each other better.

A tall order? Yet, that is exactly what employees of Dutch paint maker AkzoNobel did—12 of them, from around the world, trekked to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) in late April.

“In my postings to various countries in South-East Asia, and, now, Gurugram, I found that while the awareness of the need for sustainable work-life balance is there, the actual steps taken by my colleagues to reduce work stress are low," says David Teng, director, decorative paints, India & South Asia, AkzoNobel India. He decided to set an example of how regular exercise, and maintaining a work-life balance, could make a difference.

David Teng, a director with the firm, says trekking started as a work-life balance activity
David Teng, a director with the firm, says trekking started as a work-life balance activity

Four employees from India joined the team which would train to climb to the EBC. The trek was not funded by AkzoNobel, though the organization was key in bringing the team together. “What started out as an extension of love for nature, work-life balance motivation, morphed into a team-building activity that included non-trekkers in the office as well. We had many joiners in our daily staircase climbs during around three months of preparation," says Teng.

“I have done trekking but not in a very professional way. So, when I realized that I would be accompanied by people (from AkzoNobel Vietnam and Singapore) who have done more, I knew I could get a lot of guidance," says Prerna Arun, communications head at AkzoNobel. Arun was one of the four Indians who went on the trek with Teng. In the months leading up to it, she went on regular morning walks, did pranayaam, and started using trekking shoes to get used to their weight.

The teamwork aspect came into play while coordinating planning, logistics and training for the 12-day trek. AkzoNobel’s intranet was used to reach out to interested climbers and keep the organization updated. Core team members motivated each other, doing research and talking to others who had done the trek previously.

“I trekked to EBC with colleagues I had not really met, including the other trekkers from India. I knew them by their name, and had spoken to them for the preparation. But after the 12-13 days of our trek, we have bonded well and are already planning our next trek, which might be to Tapovan in Uttarakhand," says Arun.

Arun recalls how team members stood together when one of them slowed down, helped each other with equipment they were not familiar with, and even launched a search mission when she herself got lost in a snowstorm. “You have to understand, it is all together or none. That’s how we behaved on the trek," she adds.

They made it to the base camp. “For many members of our team, it was their first experience trekking during snowfall, and at high altitudes. It was the toughest physical challenge of our lives," Teng says, adding that there were several key takeaways. “We learnt that it’s important to be flexible in order to tackle challenges along the way, celebrate the small wins, to persevere and work together as a team to achieve big, audacious goals," he says.

Out of the Box is a series that looks at how leaders and employees go beyond regular desk work to build a team.

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