Women’s Wednesday – Constructive Relationships at Work

  • Great team members have an unconditional positive regard for their teammates
  • Team members take the time to mentor one another
  • Teamwork is a must in great relationships

In a past life, I was a ski bum. 

The great ski cinematographer, Warren Miller, used to say at the end of his movies, “if you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you start.”  So, off I went to experience the “Champagne Powder of the Colorado Rockies.”  I got a job at a ski resort in Summit County, Colorado, starting at the bottom and worked my way up through supervision and management.

The ski school, in addition to the regular daily offerings of group and private lessons, ran a series of programs designed to cater to certain special interest groups: Racers, freestyle skiers and intensive mountain clinics for higher level skiers.  Our resort had pioneered the “Over the Hill Gang” for skiers over 50.  And then there was Women’s Wednesday, where I first learned the value of Relationships as a critical component of culture.

We competed for business with three other highly regarded resorts, all within 40 minutes of each other.  Local business was a small, but important part of the overall marketing picture.  In the late ‘70’s, the industry tended to be male-dominated and the marketing folks thought that it would be a winner if we were to sell an eight-week, Women’s Only skiing immersion experience for locals.  They assigned a couple of fully certified female instructors from the ski school to act as guides and launched the program with fanfare.

For unknown reasons, the empowerment angle never seemed to catch fire.  Response for the first two seasons had been tepid at best.  The third year’s group complained after the first two meetings in December and management began to question the viability of the program.  This was the last chance, they said: Either we proved its profitability, or it was gone.

Instead of the original approach, management decided to save money, replacing the regular instructors with supervisors who were already on salary to handle the workshop.  Without having to pay for instructors, they tasked me and my buddy, who ran the race crew, to “get out there and make it work.”

The culture within the group of women was stilted when we took over.  There was a definite pecking order. Members included several spouses of senior ski corp. management: Mrs. VP of Operations, Mrs. VP of Marketing and so on.  Then came some of the ladies who ran area businesses, then homemakers and local wage earners, 18 in all.  The internal energy was limited; there was little, if any, interaction among the ladies as a group, just among twosomes and threesomes

When we took them up on the mountain to gauge their levels of ability, we observed a broad spectrum.  We faced an obvious dilemma.  If we took the group to more challenging areas, we risked creating difficult, possibly dangerous conditions for some of the participants.  The last thing we needed was to cart one of these ladies off the mountain in a ski patrol toboggan.  If we lowered the difficulty, we risked killing the entire program because of customer dissatisfaction from members who wanted something more robust for their money.

The team dynamics at the outset were chilly at best.  Those higher on the ability scale, especially if they were spouses of ski corp. executives, had been through a host of ski school classes and clinics and were not particularly open to known approaches to learning improved skiing technique.  They were originally stand-offish, sarcastic and occasionally hostile toward us as we presented ways to help them improve.  Still, a great opportunity presented itself when we proposed to split them into two groups based on ability level.  The group pushed back immediately and said they wanted to remain together.  That meant that they didn’t have an Us vs Them mindset and were willing to spend the time together.  That was something we could build on.

The team achieved a breakthrough on our third week.  We had been skiing the group hard and they were spread out in a long line as we moved from a lower mountain lift to an upper one.  One of the more technically capable members was frustrated that although she was going straight down the hill toward the lift, my buddy and I were going faster than her even though we were making long sweeping turns.  It was our first opening to share knowledge that they were eager to employ.  A brief technique session followed and when they discovered a better way to negotiate the mountain, faster and in better control over more challenging terrain, the team began to form naturally.

Once they absorbed the new information, it was interesting to watch them help each other to get better and enjoy the day more.  Each week, we took them to different spots within the resort that they hadn’t skied.  And we ramped up the technical challenges, too.  We thought we were on the right track when we took them out on a stormy, snowy powder day and they crashed repeatedly and came up smiling every time.

Several times, we offered to put them into two separate groups, but they would hear none of it.  Instead, you could see them helping each other learn.  They helped us learn, too, giving us critical insights into their behaviors when we misinterpreted or misunderstood some of the feedback signals we received.  Through them, we became better leaders.

They bonded more fully as a team, too.  The workshop days were originally conceived as separate morning and afternoon sessions.  They started extending the day by creating group lunch breaks where everyone shared a meal and conversation, deepened their relationships with each other, celebrated each other’s successes and laughed together as they strove to achieve their potential.

This team, stiff and distant at the outset, transformed itself into one that valued their differences, helped each other to learn and grow, took the time to understand one another and valued ideas that were different than their own.  The pecking order became irrelevant. They got better and had a wonderful time doing it.  And they paid for the privilege. 

Organizations that promote this kind of atmosphere can expect to sustainably thrive.

Even more interesting, at the end of the workshop, they all showed up in the marketing office, with checks in hand, demanding to go another eight-weeks. 

Ready, Mindset, Grow!

Ready, Mindset, Grow!: Nuggets Mined from the Leadership Journeys – June 13, 2021

Business leadership books abound today. What makes this one worth the read? Actionable insights! Ready, Mindset, Grow, delivers to today’s leaders entertaining stories of the transformative power of culture. Backed by solid research, these brief tales, and the lessons they convey, can be put into practice for short-term wins and long-term growth. Entertaining and insightful, the author has filled the pages with cultural nuggets and jewels from his 30+ years of experience in leadership coaching and consulting. Smart leaders will appreciate the candor, catch glimpses into their own circumstances and gain the conviction needed to accomplish positive cultural change.


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