I’m sitting at the top of a hill, overlooking the action below with a pair of binoculars. The accounting crew, including one of my old friends Jim and four of his co-workers, all agreed to wear work-clothes to this event – collared vests and flat front slacks, patent leather shoes buffed to a chrome shine. Each is also wearing an outrageously patterned tie as an added touch. Their bright starched shirts are juxtaposed against a small but well equipped team decked out in military paraphernalia from SWAT attire to Marine fatigues.
Eric, the accountant with the reindeer tie, is pinned behind a barrier, being fired at from all sides. Jim and the rest huddle to coordinate. Then it happens. One unit advances signaling each other, making covering fire and dashing from barricades to shelter. Foot by foot they advance on Eric until they are upon him…and realize they have been duped.
Soon they’re flanked and tagged out. The next two hours are more of the same as they are outgunned and untrained. The once-white shirts are soaked in sweat and caked in dirt and grime. Caleb has his Tabasco bottle tie wrapped around his forehead, Rambo style. They’re laughing and swapping stories of being shot and trying to make a hit. Ironic to think that before they were sniping and shooting insults at each other at the office instead of shooting and sniping as a team.
Unlike a few of my buddies, I am fortunate to work in a great office at Airsplat, where we sell airsoft guns during the week and “kill” each other on the weekends. I didn’t realize how unusual my almost family-like atmosphere was until one of my friend’s skirmishes at work got the best of him a couple Fridays back and he let it all out for an hour about the inane squabbles and petty competition.
Seeing his frustration, I reflected, and came up with a proposition. I suggested my friend invite the three people in his office he found most difficult, to play airsoft for an afternoon, and I would foot the bill. Anticipating his resistance I posed it as a favor because I was promoting a new leadership course (in truth, my desire was to see the results of them interacting outside the office in a situation where their interdependence would actually mean the difference between “life” or “death!”)
One of my favorite books of all time is The Art of War. Though it is full of countless battle tactics that translate easily life strategies, one in particular stands out to me. Sun Tzu said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.” My whole philosophy was riding on this.
The slight twist in my situation was that the enemy was intangible, but equally threatening – discord. The challenge was to show these fellow office mates the benefits of communication and teamwork in a less formal environment where they could see the tangible results more readily.
When I caught up with Jim afterward he told me: “You know, we’re still not all buddy-buddy, but we’re talking with each other more, getting our priorities right and turning in projects on time. It feels…I don’t know, smoother.”
What this reinforced for me was that several key strategies that develop on the field also thrive in the workplace.
Building The Best Team
Airsoft is well suited for building cohesion. Everyone wins as a team and loses as a team. A sense of immediacy develops on the field, as adrenaline rushes with only the goal in mind. This urgency means trust and support are mandatory. (Suppressive fire also tends to be an effective motivation as well.)
It’s also beneficial to see co-workers outside of work, as people with fuller lives and traits that may rarely be exposed. In the woods, vying for survival, it is critical to be functioning effectively as an individual and as a team. This may mean one person manages navigation, while another is the shooter and another sets up camp. To each, his skill is honed and the task is at the least cost to the team.
In the office this translates seamlessly. It makes no sense to invoke discord over who researches for a presentation and who delivers it if one co-worker is especially skilled at their job. It’s not only a waste of time, but it potentially sacrifices the quality of the final product.
Just as having the navigational expert put on the spot to make the most difficult shot possible could result in the entire team being destroyed, the same concept applies in the office. The subtlety may be more pronounced in the workplace masked by button-down shirts and smiles, but it’s hard to be discreet about being shot with an airsoft rifle!!
Keep The Goal In Mind
I don’t know if it has ever happened to you, but I know that I have often found myself so consumed with “how” to work with someone that I forget “why” I am working with them. Sometimes the dynamics of making a relationship at work function overshadows the entire rationale for having the partnership.
A nice example may be spending so long formatting something for someone’s taste that you lose sight of what you are delivering. In a military simulation adventure where you are evading the enemy to capture building “A,” it is more challenging to forget. The goal drives every action and reaction and is a beautiful reminder of the benefits and rewards of focus.
Making And Implementing A Strategy
Planning the navigation, the weapon choices and the tactical strategy are critical for success in an airsoft game. If you don’t know where you are going and how you are getting there, or if you don’t know how to defend yourself and your “plan b,” you will be taken out quickly.
At work, this is just as important. Whether it is choosing a firm deadline and delivering something in time to be reviewed, or having the proper material on hand for a presentation to the board, without a strategy and a little planning, chaos will likely ensue. This typically later conveys into office disharmony.
Strategies are necessary, but as everyone knows, life is fast-paced and evolving. In airsoft, the weather may change (meaning your team could be more easily tracked if it is raining), which could necessitate an entirely different route or even backtracking. In the game, the situation, destination and obstacles are clear, but the necessity to make revisions to the plan based on circumstances means thinking on your feet and being ready for anything
This is another great lesson for the workplace where it is often critical to improvise. Frequently the members of the team have a mission to represent their company to a client and it is essential that a flawless image is presented. Without the ability to adapt to the inevitable hurdles that will arise, the success of the team is small, the cover will likely be blown, the battle will most certainly be lost.
From the way things turned out, I’m a firm believer that airsoft is a rather unique but incredibly effective means to hash out conflict and build cooperation. After all, Sun Tzu also said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
I called Jim again to see if they would be up for another get together in a few weeks. He said accounting was ready to go, they bought even more horrid ties for the event. Just before I hung up, Jim added, “Actually, the guys in marketing want to go too.”
If you are interested in trying it out, Airsplat has a comprehensive listing of US Airsoft Fields, all perfect for arranging a shooting get together with your most or least favorite friends!
Photo by Brandt Kurowski