Note: Spoiler Alert
I recently participated in a team-building exercise with a lesson which has stuck with me since. They blindfolded our group and helped us shuffle our way hand-to-shoulder to a maze of ropes. It’s unnerving to be an independent type among a group of peers, given a task to do while severely disabled. The facilitators deposited us at the entrance, telling us that given our vulnerable state, they would remain nearby and to just call out if we needed help.
We stumbled forward as an awkward human chain, following the rope with one hand, resting the other on the shoulder of the colleague in front of us. It was eerie. In the background, the facilitators were stationed at close intervals, calling out periodically to let them know if we needed help. Their voices were reassuring, but only partially. Time slowed. We began to talk amongst ourselves, speculating on what the maze pattern might be, what strategy may lead to success, all while slowly picking our way along the rope to the occasional “just let us know if you need any help”.
About two minutes in, it hit me: I was being offered help as I blindly shuffled through the course, and I’d be foolish not to accept it. Since I didn’t know exactly what to ask for, I simply said “I could use some help.” An abrupt arm on my shoulder pulled me away from the safety of the rope, and a hand gently lifted up my blindfold. While I stood there speechless trying to understand what was happening, the facilitator put his finger to his lips to signal me not to speak. As I digested the sight of two smiling colleagues looking at me and the rest still blindly following the rope as a human chain, I suddenly understood. The point of this “maze” was never about getting to the end; it was always about how our pride prevents us from asking for help.
It took five more minutes for the rest of my colleagues, one by one, to go through the same realization. I learned a lot about them as individuals watching in those few moments. The most striking comment in the debrief was hearing my chain mates just in front of and behind me describe how discomforting it was for them when I was suddenly not there. Though they quickly relinked the chain, their experience was changed from that moment. We all know that feeling of shocking loss, unexpected and unsettling.
I’ve had a lot of leadership training classes over the years, with few of them leaving a mark. This simple exercise did. I know I’ll be saying more often “I could use some help.”
“A little boy was having some trouble lifting a heavy stone.
His father came along just then.
Noting his failure, he asked ‘Are you using all your strength?’
‘Yes, I am.’ the little boy said impatiently.
‘No, you are not.’ the father answered.
‘I am right here waiting, and you haven’t asked me to help you.”