Thursday, March 5, 2009 by Dave Blum

So there I am on a Balinese beach, sitting in the sand, my feet full of sea urchin spines.   (How’s that for a lead sentence!)

Sprinting off towards the nearest hotel, my girlfriend, Yumiko, can be seen from a distance, negotiating animatedly with the local t-shirt vendors.  Half an hour later, she has returned – triumphant – with a retinue of sarong-clad Balinese locals, all of whom seem vaguely amused that another tourist has experienced the wrath of the “bulu babi” — Indonesian for sea urchin.  Eventually, an older woman approaches me with the agreed-upon verdict:

“We are going to hit your feet with rocks.”
“Come again?”
“We are going to hit your feet with rocks.”
“And this is going to help how?”
“We do this, you live.”

Okay, so now she’s got my attention.  Up until this point, I figured this whole predicament was merely about a little discomfort…I had no idea that I was in a life-threatening situation.  Fine, fine, bring on the rocks. Pound away.  Just as long as you save my life.

After that, time sped up a bit , or so it seemed.  Three or four women gathered around me and did exactly as promised — working together to smack the soles of my fee with blunt stones.  It was certainly one of the more striking team building activities I’e experienced. After the procedure was done (and my feet were sufficiently tenderized), a boy was sent off for some “medicine”; this turned out to be a bundle of branches which, when squeezed, yielded a milky-white sap that apparently is a natural anti-biotic.

“You are okay now.  Goodbye and good luck,” said the older Balinese woman.

“Thank you so much!  I will definitely come back, when I’m able, and buy some t-shirts from you,” I assured her as I struggled to my feet and limped away.

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And so…as we leaders of team building exercises are wont to ask…what did I learn from this, my summer of pounded feet, and how might it apply to management?  How about this:

  • Always balance risk (seeing new things on the reef) with security (should I really be walking on sharp objects?)
  • Maximize your on-the-spot resources
  • Delegate appropriately
  • Trust the process
  • And finally, always remember to say thank you.

Got any team building ideas inspired from your travel stories?  I’d love to hear them.

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