Goodbye Comfort Zone, Hello Learning – Day Five at the Lake District

Learning outside of your comfort zone

It’s been a long and intense week, and as it finally draws to a close there are a lot of mixed emotions emerging for both me and the apprentices.  It’s a bittersweet ending; there’s definitely a sense of relief as people look forward to going to their own homes, seeing their families and enjoying a well-earned rest over the weekend.  But there’s also a real sadness in the air as the groups prepare to go their separate ways, fully aware that they may never see some of their peers again, or at least not for a long time, and considering how close the individual teams have become, this is likely to be quite a blow.  As one individual said; ‘I trusted these guys with my life’ and being separated from that level of support will undoubtedly be tough.

But ultimately, no matter how far a distance emerges between these individuals, the experiences they shared and the lessons they learnt from one another will never be forgotten.  It’s been a physically and mentally demanding time for everyone, but based on the feedback from all of the apprentices, this hasn’t been a bad thing.  Each group and every individual has at some point commented on how they’ve pushed past their comfort zone at least once during the week, and how ultimately it was this push, and the support they received during it, that helped them learn their most profound lessons.  Individuals who were terrified of heights pushed themselves to face their fear, and were amazed that they could.  Quieter members of the group pushed themselves to speak up and learnt for themselves the value of what they had to offer.  Those who never imagined themselves as leaders pushed themselves to try, and found they had the ability within them all along.  I pushed myself to try many new things and learnt about skills and a tenacity that I never knew I possessed.  I also learnt just how inspiring the right people in the right environment can be.

But what’s really important in this process is the support; the apprentices wanted to push themselves and chose this environment to do it because they knew they had the support and could trust those around them, not just their peers but also the trainers and staff at Outward Bound.  Ultimately this is why the programme has been so successful; the apprentices are energetic, engaged and determined, and the trainers are knowledgeable and supportive, it’s a perfect storm coming together to create the ideal environment for huge growth and development.  The apprentices couldn’t achieve this without the input of the staff, but equally the staff couldn’t foster this growth without the full-bodied input of the apprentices.

What’s next?

The skills and personal development that I (and many other people present during the week) have witnessed has been staggering, but the problem the apprentices now face is how to translate this back in to the workplace.  It’s all very well building trust and forming bond with your team here, but as one apprentice highlighted; ‘everyone here is equal’ which makes it easier to respect one another’s ideas and be open, but that is unlikely to be the case when they return to work on Monday morning.  The chances are they won’t be viewed as equal in most cases, so the question becomes; how do they use the valuable skills they’ve learnt during the week to ensure they are treated as equals, and are respected for the valuable insights they can offer? 

There’s no easy answer, and it will ultimately require input at all levels; it will require the apprentices to continue to push past their comfort zones, to speak up, share their ideas and push for change.  But it will also require effort from line managers, colleagues and senior management to work towards a culture where the input of apprentices (and all staff) is as valuable as those of senior managers.  It’s an issue that many organisations are facing, but one that needs addressing fast, otherwise there’s a risk that all of the learning and growth, and the energy and enthusiasm of these inspiring individuals will be stifled and lost before it can have the positive impact it has the potential to produce.

The view from the top

Fortunately the huge potential of the apprentices who attended this week hasn’t gone unnoticed.  During the week a number of line managers, senior managers and even the CEO of Thales UK have come to observe the events of the session, and they’ve all reported the same thing; how impressed they are, not only with the programme offered by The Outward Bound Trust, but also the apprentices themselves.  Seeing their drive and determination to progress and achieve more has hit many of these senior leaders like a lightning bolt.  Witnessing the efforts of their young employees has helped them reconnect with the potential they present for the future.  Highly skilled, knowledgeable and senior people have reported repeatedly how inspired they have been by the group, with one manager commenting that they feel ‘reinvigorated’ by the attitude of the apprentices.  It seems having the chance to witness the process in action has done wonders for both the apprentices and their managers, so with this new found connection between them, there is renewed belief in the potential for the future from all parties.  As Victor Chavez (CEO) stated in his closing speech: ‘it’s really important to the future of Thales that you succeed…because you are absolutely a key part of our future’, and it seems that the apprentices are starting to see that in themselves too.

If you’d like to learn more about the Outward Bound Trust, read our interview in the second edition of Enhance L&D magazine.