“No skirts and no heels next time!” they reminded me on my way out the door after my first day here at Explore Austin. Why? My second day on the job would be my first challenge. The challenge? Simple. Climb a mountain.
Once a month the Explore Austin staff has a Wednesday morning staff excursion. Some sort of team building activity that gets everybody outside, working together (or competing against each other), and engaged in the activities that the Explorers and Mentors enjoy.
The day started off with a rather intense discussion about the end of the year leading up to the Summer Wilderness Trips. Everyone cheered. Everyone laughed. And some came close to tears. During the discussion I was first introduced to the foundations’ underlying leadership framework. Someone pointed to the words posted above the entry- Action oriented, Courageous, Excellent teammate, Strong communicator : ACES. I looked up, read them, and made a mental note of them, but eventually got distracted back into the conversation at hand.
We soon ventured on to the main event of the day- climbing at the Seismic Wall on Austin’s Greenbelt. We loaded up the gear, waded across the river, and, in our varied states of preparedness — some in aqua socks and running shoes; the others with rope and climbing shoes– began to set up. Throughout the day, I watched leaders emerge in the ACES framework. I realized ACES is not just something Explore Austin looks for in the Explorers, but it is a part of the lives of all those involved.
Not everyone led in each moment, but it came in ebbs and flows. The regular climbers in our group led the climb, literally — allowing those of us with less experience to follow in their path. Others took the time to “refresh” everyone in their belaying skills, re-teaching the practice rather than just doing it for them. Some took on a more social leadership role, talking to everyone, creating conversation, and telling stories.
As I reached the top for the first time, after years of quitting halfway there, I heard the staff exchanging stories on the ground– intermingled with cheers for me– about their first weeks in the office. Although unintentionally, almost everyone had a story of being thrown straight into the thick of it. RJ, our Marketing Director, showed up for team building on her first day with tennis shoes and a sack lunch, and was quickly informed “… you’re going to need a backpack.” On our Development Director, Shelley’s, first day, she hopped a plane to Colorado to meet a group of explorers on their weeklong Summer Wilderness trip. Everyone had a story of pushing their boundaries from the get go– and it is obvious that doing so had made a strong, cohesive team.
Though the trend may be coincidental, it is without a doubt a theme that should continue. Tossing the newbie right into the middle of a teambuilding experience knocks down barriers and creates an openness that may take a month in a typical office setting. It gives someone an immediate glimpse at understanding what Explore Austin is about and the value that runs through the entire foundation.
Author: Lauren Mays
Lauren is the Marketing and Communications Intern at Explore Austin and is currently a senior, Architecture Major, at the University of Texas at Austin