Business Lesson Learned Whitewater Rafting

Posted on Posted in Online Marketing Tips

Last week, my husband and I went whitewater rafting on the New River with some friends and I was surprised to come away from it with a business lesson.  The lesson is:

No matter the personality, culture, age or experience of your team, a good leader is able to mold the team to reach a common goal effectively.

Here’s the story:  My friend, Jim and his wife, Jeani were on a whirl-wind tour of the Eastern portion of the United States with three foreign exchange students and one of their Burlington, Wisconsin classmates. Jim and his daughter visited us here at Summersville Lake Retreat in West Virginia last summer and we did a whitewater rafting trip. We had a ton of fun but the water was quite low at the time. Jim thought the foreign exchange students would like to experience this too and we were on their route back from Washington DC.

Rafting on the lower New River
Image credit: nps.gov

We had a great time together – all eight of us and were really looking forward to the rafting trip, especially since the water level was 10 feet higher than usual. A waiter at the restaurant the night before was showing the kids video of a hydraulic that was throwing water 20′ into the air.  Giddiness ensued, at Ace Adventure Resort where our trip was to originate, while we were waiting for our instructions. After we signed the waivers, listened to the trip leader explain what was going to happen and grabbed our safety equipment and paddles, we boarded a bus for the ride from hell to the rivers edge. Once at the river, the trip leader went over more safety items like “this is a participation sport”, “if you fall out of the raft, try to get back to it as quickly as possible or the guide will throw this 30′ bag of rope at you”, and, my favorite – “there are ‘under-cut’ rocks on the river that are actually caves. They take water in but nothing comes out the other side! If you happen near one of these and get sucked down, we will never see you again.”  Ok, the mood is getting a little bit more serious now.

Our trip leader introduced us to our guide, Steve, who at first appeared a little bit concerned about our groups’ demeanor. He began by going over the safety talk again and then we put the raft into what they call a flat pool on the river – calm water with very little current near the edge of the river bank.

Rafting buddies
Mike – Belgium, Kit – Wisconsin, Louise – Switzerland, Jorge – Paraguay

We decided to challenge Louise from Switzerland and Kit from Wisconsin with being the “steering committee” and sitting in the front of the raft. Steve began testing our listening and comprehension skills by shouting out orders: “forward!” “all back!” “left-back, right-forward!” It was clear to him that we had no clue and there may have been a problem with translation regarding the high schoolers. He stopped and explained again how important it was that we worked together as a team because every time we hit a rapid, we were going to have to paddle hard one way or another.

We set off downstream and came across some little ripples that got larger and larger. I think Steve pretended these were larger rapids than they were because he began shouting orders!  We all tried our best and once through the ripples, Steve stopped us and told us “great job, team. That’s exactly the way we need to do it through the big ones.” Steve kept up his “paddling exercise” with us through all of the smaller rapids – Class II and III so that by the time we hit the first Class IV rapid, we were more than ready!

Every time we approached a rapid, Steve would stop us, explain how we were going to get through it – be it the middle, right side or left – then, he would tell us where the hazards were, (undercut rocks) and explain what to do if we fell out of the raft. It was quite intense and I am very proud to say that not one of us fell out of the raft on purpose. (We did get two chances to jump in and float over some rapids that were safe to do so.)

Can you relate this experience to your business? You are the rafting guide, (leader), and everyone who works with you or is on your team can be guided to work towards a common goal for your business – that is if they “own” it. Steve made us “own” the goal of staying alive AND having fun. If you can sell your goal to your team, explain the road to get to the end result, you too can have a successful “rafting trip”.


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