Team building in Bhutan

The crazy idea:

In January of this year, I took nine colleagues to Bhutan.

I am still amazed that this diverse group of freelancers and small agency account directors so readily agreed to dedicate a week of their time to a team building adventure in a small Himalayan kingdom. On top of that, the journey involved two stopovers in Kolkata, a plane landing navigated without radar and a whole lot of chili peppers.

The people:

The group includes seasoned professionals with expertise in event management, guest services, graphic design/styling, photography and videography, drive experiences, and technical/scenic production. We work out of Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Zurich, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We collaborate in different constellations to support the projects of our automotive clients around the world, but this was the first time for all ten of us to be together. We are three women, seven men, four lefties, six parents and five dual citizens. Our median age is 44.

The intent:

In an industry ever more focused on globalization and the implementation of global standards in local markets, I wanted us to collectively experience a country that strongly values its own cultural traditions and pauses to contemplate the “middle road” before taking on global trends and influences. And as Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu is not exactly a hectic place – we would be far from the stresses of the urban everyday to examine how our individual expertise together can best support the big picture goals of our clients.

The work ethic:

When I write of seasoned professionals, I refer to individuals who have 15+ years of experience in their line of expertise. These are people who are perfectionists; they do not accept mediocrity. They work with focused dedication, they plan in detail and present thought-through solutions, often before I am aware of a problem. They also do not bring their egos to the table. This team hears me speak a lot about our common goal of nothingness. When nothing is out of place, too loud, too bright, too angular, too hot, too complicated….when media guests can easily access product experiences, information, visuals and people and nothing stands in the way… we achieve nothingness.

The trip:

We were kindly outfitted with team socks, sunglasses, notepads and retractable pens by various teammates. One teammate put together a detailed packing list, which a few followed, some had anxiety about and others plain ignored. Another teammate got enough shots to protect the ten of us from illness (I did lose my voice). Everyone brought gifts for adults and children we might meet along the way.We had working sessions on topics such as cross-disciplinary collaboration, simplicity in creativity, new technology and materials, and how to be global but stay local for several hours each morning. We visited the giant Buddha Dordenma and Tashichho Dzong. We ate lunch from wooden bowls in an old village farmhouse and had ema datse (chilies in cheese) at every meal. We visited a paper-making workshop and a traditional boot-making shop.  When we decided to make a movie at the boot shop, we instantly had three cameramen, a producer, a director, a talent manager, a stylist and a shooter of stills on hand.  We had our afternoon cappuccinos in sunny Clocktower Square not far from the roundabout where Bhutan’s only traffic light was briefly installed, found too impersonal and soon replaced with a live traffic person once more. We had a great discussion with Dawa Penjor, the director of the Bhutan Media Foundation and on another day with several officers of the Ministry of Information and Communications. We met the Minister of Agriculture at dinner one night at our hotel, who thanked me for coming back to Bhutan for a fourth time with nine colleagues in tow. We missed the Textile Museum because our visit coincided with the first snowfall of the year and the day was quickly declared a public holiday. So we, too, paused and celebrated the power and auspiciousness of nature at that moment. And on the penultimate day, we hiked towards the sacred Tiger’s Nest monastery, which, nestled into a cliff at 3140m, is the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan. While we didn’t all make it to the very top, we were there for the journey, not the destination, and I don’t think anyone will forget the beauty of this clear and sunny day.

What is a team?:

Our team building journey affirmed that our team structure is more a mandala of inter-reliant realms than a hierarchical form. We need each other to do our own job best. By virtue of being more knowledgable and mindful of what each person contributes to a project, we found more ways to collaborate earlier on in the process and provide the best solutions for our clients. So while on paper, yes, we represent five different agencies, in person we are one holistic team.

The result:

As a result of this unique team building, I think each person on our team learned to value that we are very good at what we do. We have skills, resources and experiences that the professionals we met in Thimphu acknowledged and appreciated. We saw an eagerness for us to share our knowledge and mentor younger professionals. In Bhutan, we learned to slow down and value what we have but also reflect on what we can do without. We are another step closer to nothingness.

Photo credits: Thorsten Weigl and Silke Säger-Wippenbeck


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