*This story was originally published in "Chew on This: Fifty-Two Inspirational Points to Ponder", a book of inspirational short stories by Gary Brock and Kelly Tuck, and is available for purchase here!
*Words of wisdom for inspirational thought are at the end of the story!
Camping retreats had become a new wrinkle in the corporate team-building phenomena. Purportedly, plucking a bunch of “starched shirts” out of their narrowly defined and controlled business environment and dropping them in the middle of nature for a weekend was designed to build comradery, group decision making, and trust – all necessary skills for successfully managing large corporations and their employees.
The five executives of Rule the World Company, guinea pigs in the “Wilderness Survival” pilot program, were dropped off around 5:30 Friday afternoon at the entrance of the Who Knows What’s Out There? Camping Grounds and Park. The executives shuffled around as they waited for the retreat to begin, making small talk, surveying the camp ground, and spending their last few precious minutes of freedom with their electronic devices, frantically responding to voicemails, emails, and text messages, before giving them up for the weekend.
Soon, the retreat facilitator, Sarge, a gruff but very fit middle age man, strode up to the group and welcomed them to the camp before tossing each person a black duffel bag. He instructed them to head to the camp bath house and change into the identical t shirts and shorts provided in the bags, and then to pack all their clothes and belongings inside of it.
As the executives trudged to the bath house, he called out, “Remember, no electronic devices whatsoever! No jewelry, no watches, no nothing! Just come back in your new clothes and bring the bags. I’ll hang on to them until Sunday afternoon for safe keeping.”
Upon returning to the appointed rendezvous spot, Sarge instructed the executives to set up camp. They were confused since there were several cabins clustered around the bath house. As they stared down at the mess of a large tent Sarge was pointing to, he laughed.
“What, did you all think you’d come out here for a luxurious weekend? No! Teamwork and collaborative problem solving every step of the way, starting with this tent."
“Directions?” one of the executives inquired timidly.
“Do you mean instructions?” Sarge asked. Before anyone could reply, he continued, “Nah, figure it out for yourself. Now, everyone hop to it! No tent, no shelter to sleep under tonight.”
Two of the executives inspected the materials in a heap at their feet while the rest turned questioningly to Sarge as if still expecting some initial guidance. Sarge only nodded, crossed his arms, and leaned against a nearby tree, watching as half-hearted attempts transformed into a determined group effort. Sarge noticed quite readily that there were no engineers or outdoorsmen in the bunch, but kept his mouth shut and clapped when they finally managed to rig up a stable tent.
After setting up camp and kindling a scorching fire, everyone began eating franks and beans while Sarge led a discussion on the purpose of the retreat, goals for their company, and how each person’s individual success must be in sync with the corporate mission to ensure corporate success. They discussed how each and every individual makes a difference and how each executive must understand that fact or they were doing the company, their fellow employees, and shareholders a disservice.
He reminded them, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Sarge encouraged each executive to take that same message to their respective direct reports explaining that everyone, more specifically anyone, could make a difference.
On and on Sarge pontificated, driving his point home, and soon the executives’ eyes glazed over as they slumped down in front of the fire. “Hey!” barked Sarge, adding volume to his already boisterous voice, intentionally causing the executives to jerk back into the present. “That’s enough corporate psychobabble for one night. Who wants to hear some good old fashioned ‘deep in the woods’ killer animal stories?”
As the fire was stoked and blazed higher, stories filled the smoky air. Tales of psychotic and bloodthirsty bears, wolves, and coyotes. Of wild boars, rabid raccoons, opossums, and bats. Of killer owls, snakes, and lizards. The more fantastical the stories flowed, the stiller the air and trees seemed to become. Eyes widened, jaws clinched, and some of the executives were perched on the edge of their logs while others shrank into themselves.
Suddenly, the fire popped and they all jumped as a yelp pierced the air. Amused at their skittishness, Sarge heaved up a pail full of water. “Lights out. Rest up. You’ve got many challenges to complete tomorrow. See you bright and early.” He tossed the water on the fire, leaving the executives with only star light to guide them to the tent.
They settled into their sleeping bags, murmuring various comments of the first task, what trials they may have to face in the morning, and impressions of their facilitator, and soon tried to drift to sleep. Just as breaths were turning rhythmic and even, a tiny buzz sounded. A few swatted at the air, others smashed pillows against their ears, but the buzzing persisted. Off and on through the night there was a grumble, a sigh, a slap against skin. Buzz, buzz, buzz was all they heard. As soon as they began to drift to sleep, back the buzzing came. Not one of the executives could locate the source of annoyance. All they could do was pray it would cease long enough for them to get some sleep.
A bullhorn sounded loud and clear directly in front of the tent, and all the executives moaned in protest. It couldn’t be morning. No way! They hadn’t slept at all.
“Rise and shine!” Sarge barked exuberantly. As the executives stumbled out of the tent, they were greeted by Sarge’s enthusiastic orders to circle around the ashes of the previous night’s fire. He passed around protein bars and noticed their drawn and weary facial expressions.
“So,” he began, chewing his breakfast slowly, “how was everyone’s sleep last night? I slept great!” The air was soon filled with a myriad of complaints as each of the executives grumbled. Sarge leaned forward. “What? Was someone snoring? Did those beans get the best of one of you? Were you cold? Hot? Were those animal stories before bedtime just too much for you? Did you hear some growling, howling, or slithering? Was it the – ”
“No!” one of the executives finally interrupted. “It was that incessant buzzing that kept us up all night!”
Sarge’s eyes narrowed. “Buzzing? What do you mean buzzing?”
“It was a buzzing noise that would not stop! None of us could find it and it would not stop!”
“So, it was tiny buzzing that kept you all up last night. Is that correct?”
“Absolutely!” two of the executives answered in unison.
“Without a doubt.”
“It was unbearable!”
“Just the worst.”
Sarge nodded slowly. He finished his protein bar, slapped his knee, and stood up casually. “Well, suits, your retreat is over. You’ve already learned the most important truth that this entire weekend was designed for. A truth that will make your company as successful as it
can possibly be. A truth that you should add to your mission statement and, more importantly, impress on each of your employees.”
He searched each one of their confused faces before crossing his arms in front of his chest. A grin stretched wide across his face, and he said...
* * * * * * *
If you ever think you are too small
to make a difference,
try sleeping with a mosquito.
* * * * * * *
*Chew On This: Fifty-Two Inspirational Points to Ponder is available for purchase here!