Last week, I went on a kayaking trip with my family and some of my wife’s extended family. We rented kayaks and SUP’s (Stand Up Paddleboards for the newbies reading this) 🙂 at a local marina in the town where we were staying.

We went on a 2-hour jaunt on a lake outside of Breckenridge, Colorado. The water was a bit chilly but it was a fun trip. Here are some team building observations and lessons I gathered from our adventure.

You can’t paddle for everyone.

When you are in separate boats, it is impossible to paddle for other people.  You have to do the work yourself in order to make your boat move.  You are in control of what is directly around you and can’t control other people’s boats.

In business, leaders often try to tell people what to do and how to do their jobs. It’s frustrating for employees when their bosses micromanage every detail of their work. In short, it’s an issue of trust and control.

What if I jumped on someone else’s paddle board because they weren’t paddling the exact way that I would? The results would be disastrous, potentially ending with both of us getting soaked.

Freedom + coaching = great excitement.

My son is 7. He started out on a paddle board but we quickly realized that wasn’t the best option for him, so we switched him to a kayak. He wasn’t thrilled with getting off the SUP, but he finally agreed.

He started out tethered to another boat, but quickly wanted to be more independent. Since I have been before and am a strong paddler, I decided to stick by him and let him go on his own. He did a great job, and was super excited to be free and “flying solo”. I continued to coach here and there, but also tried to give him lots of encouragement.  [I was rather impressed since this was the first time he had ever been kayaking.]

When we’re working with teams, we need to give people freedom to do their jobs, while also standing by them and being willing to coach as necessary (with lots of encouragement as well).  According to, one of the top things employees desire is autonomy.

What would have happened if I had not let my son boat on his own?  More than likely, no one would have had a lot of fun.  What was the worst that could have happened by letting him boat on his own?  He could have fallen out (doubtful, though, but he was also wearing a life jacket), and I would have had to go rescue him.  It was the best decision at the time, and one in which he excelled.

What would be the worst that would happen by allowing your employees more autonomy?

Set a vision for the end result.

On our adventure, no one was designated as the leader, but we got to our destination anyway. We didn’t have an agenda and weren’t really concerned with going too far, so no agenda or direction was no big deal.

However, with a team of people, it is necessary to set a direction and vision, and keep it in front of your team. The likelihood of not giving direction and an end result and everyone ending up at the same destination is virtually impossible.

Communicate roles and expectations.

Alongside of a clear vision, everyone needs to know their roles and expectations.  I knew my role was to stay by my son and assist if he needed help.  With the items we rented, we had to share and switch off so everyone would have the opportunity to try different things.  Our expectations were also to have fun and be back within 2 hours (since this is the amount of time we rented our boats for).

In the world of work, communication is critical.  People need to know what their role is in the team, along with the expectations that accompany their specific role.  When these things break down, people are left feeling as if they’re in the dark and unimportant.

When roles and expectations are defined clearly, people can excel at their specific function and also know when things need to be adjusted.  When leaders set specific objectives and boundaries for those, they also have a way to determine when people are not meeting goals and have leverage for those not meeting expectations.

What roles and expectations do you need to set or clarify with your team?  How will you evaluate and adjust those?

Have you ever been kayaking or boating with a group?  What leadership principles can you learn from such an adventure?