Book review: Teams on the Edge by Shawn Stratton

Book review: Teams on the Edge by Shawn Stratton

Survival of the fittest

Part adventure travel, part memoir and part management theory: Shawn Stratton packs a lot into these 180 slim pages. Fifteen years as an adventure-seeking outdoor wilderness guide and instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has brought Stratton to many farflung, remote locations.

Those experiences taught him that having strong teams is essential to survival; building strong teams from disparate individuals under stressful and often dangerous circumstances sometimes proves more difficult than frostbite, altitude or swiftly moving water. Overcoming interpersonal barriers and learning the limits of the fitness of the group are as essential as good equipment and preparation.

Over six chapters, Stratton carries us from the Himalayas, to Baja, the Yukon River and up Mt. Logan, documenting his expeditions as team leader and instructor to groups of college-aged students. Although each chapter is a different expedition, all share a common theme: unexpected challenges and dangers that must be overcome for the expedition to succeed. Be they a compound fracture at 12,000 feet in the Himalayas or an infected blister 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, this is the story of how effective leadership can help team members come together to persevere in the face of adversity.

Stratton uses each chapter to focus on one aspect of team building and then poses a question at the end. How can you encourage good judgement when it comes to decision-making? Do the members of your team know their roles? What distractions are hindering your team? He doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all, silver-bullet solution to troublesome team dynamics: instead, he demonstrates the importance of planning, preparation, experience, communication and patience.

This book is not the latest iteration of the four essential rules of successful business or the six annoying habits of some successful schmuck – I enjoyed it for that reason. Stratton isn’t going to win the Booker prize with this book, but he does deliver a quick and informative read that can rightfully boast of its clear prose and great pace.

My only point of contention was his excessive fondness for the exclamation mark! But, when you take his hair-raising adventures into account, as well as the thrillingly remote, beautifully dangerous places he has been, you can easily make allowances for the scattered shriek of punctuation.

Will this book change your business? I guess that depends on what you, the reader, learn from it. At the very least, it may help you ask some of the questions he poses.

I think that Stratton probably gives a wicked PowerPoint presentation with some of the great pictures scattered throughout the book. Even better would be a small group retreat led by the author in some rustic setting. It just so happens that Stratton is now running his own consulting business where he divides his time between public speaking and facilitating team building and leadership workshops.

Bottom line? This book is definitely worth the read. And who knows? In addition to valuable (and practical) leadership tips, you may also find the inspiration for your next team-building exercise.

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