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November 2015

Twenty-two people make a choice to engage in the same experience – the Kokoda Trail. They range in age from 15 years to 64, are from Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. Some live in rural areas and some in the cities.

Some know each other well before the start of the trek but most don’t.

It takes less than half a day to find that the team has formed. There is no storming, that step has been skipped and it moves immediately into norming.

Each person has their own individual goal – that is to reach the village of Kokoda with body, mind and soul intact, and each has to exercise extreme concentration throughout their own journey.

It becomes evident very early on, however, that each person in the team has committed to doing what it takes to ensure that everyone achieves the goal. This clear in the encouragement received from those who reach a ridge first as the rest of us struggle up (well done, good climb, you’re doing well, keep it up), the positive talk at the end of day, the readiness to laugh with and at each other as well as ourselves, the honesty in talking about how people are feeling, the willingness to ask for help and the respect given to each person without question.

The Kokoda experience is special, very special. The attributes of a strong team, however, are not unique to a Kokoda trek team. When you undertake an experience such as Kokoda you can’t hide your personality – you are walking on your own but together, sleeping in tents on mats in close proximity to everyone else, eating together, snoring together, sharing jungle toilets and showers and sharing medical supplies as needed. Some people will be loud, some quiet, some funny, some serious. And you can’t hide your emotions when you are confronted with the enormity of challenge faced by the young Australian soldiers in fighting along Kokoda 63 years ago.

As with Kokoda, however, we can’t hide or pretend to be anything other than authentic in our organisational team. We don’t take long to show our strengths and weaknesses even if we think we are disguising them. If we don’t accept that we all have strengths and weaknesses then we won’t be as positive in our encouragement of our peers as we possibly should be. We might think we have to be serious all the time rather than finding a commonality in laughter. We might think we have to shoulder the burden of responsibility on our own rather than being accountable for our unique role in working towards the goal and accountable for contributing our strengths to the team. We may hold back our respect of others thinking that they have to earn it rather than giving it willingly and seeing where it takes us. And if we are not clear about what we want to achieve over the long term – the ultimate goal – and we are not clear on our strategy to achieve that goal then we are likely to get caught up in the hubbub of the day to day (reaching false ridges) and not plan and deploy our resources effectively.

Leadership and operational acumen are critical to harnessing the team and enabling the team and its constituent individuals to realise their potential.

And celebrate – every day in little ways AND when the goal is reached – it is worth the celebration. We did it. Wow. Sensational. Fantastic. Okay now on with the next challenge. That is life and work after all.

If you want to build and lead a more cohesive team consider our ‘Cues and Clues for Effective Managers’ – a five day Master Class Series designed specifically for the new and the not so new manager. Click here for information and bookings.

Bernadette O’Connor is Executive Director of Management Governance Australia Pty Ltd – a consultancy training company operating in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Her experience includes Chief Executive Officer positions for three companies and an extensive background in business change management and leading teams to diversify and innovate for growth. She works with leaders and managers to achieve success.

Bernadette undertook the eight day Kokoda Trek in March 2015 as a personal challenge and journey and to gain insight into what her late Great uncle experienced as a soldier while serving in Papua New Guinea during World War II.