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Teambuilding Exercise: Learning to Walk on Fire

You’ve heard of those trust exercises some companies have their teams do, where one member of the team falls back and must trust that the rest of the group will catch him. Tony Simons takes that a step further. Actually, he takes it a good 10 steps further … across fire!

Source: Integrity Dividend

Simons, who is an associate professor at Cornell University and author of the book “Integrity Dividend,” teaches workshops and corporate training exercises in firewalking.

That’s right. He’ll take your team out back and put their feet to the fire ... literally!

Not only does it build confidence, it offers lifelong bragging rights.

Think your team is better than mine? My team has WALKED ON FIRE!

Simons made his first firewalk during a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) class at the Wright Institute in Chicago. He showed up and, unbeknownst to him and the other students, their BHAG would be walking on fire.

“The next day, our lives were profoundly changed, knowing that we could walk on fire!” Simons said.

“That’s sort of the whole message of firewalking," he said. "We’re all more courageous and powerful than we realize.”

That not only helps people with confidence in personal relationships, but their own career goals — and career performance.

Now, just because he’s opening up firewalking beyond a Hawaiian luau to the general public (and Jim and Pamat the office) doesn't mean it’s easy, where you just show up, sign a waiver, and poof! You're walking on fire. The workshops are typically three-and-a-half hours, and Simons actually has a series of several exercises he goes through leading up to the firewalk.

First, everyone takes part in lighting the fire. The fire has to burn down for a few hours before it’s safe to walk on, so the group does several other exercises: Snapping a wood block with their bare hand (to symbolize breaking through some challenge or hang-up); the infamous “falling” exercise (to build trust in the group); and finally, snapping an arrow that sticks out of a wall with the point in the direction of their necks — by stepping forward and pushing into it.

Oh, it’s on — you vs. your confidence!

“Each exercise symbolized one of my life challenges,” said Jerry S., an energy analyst who took the workshop. “Facing a loved one’s anger and negativity with calm, loving courage and not ducking away from it feels easier after breaking an arrow with the soft part of my throat,” he said.

(You might say everything is easier after breaking an arrow with the soft part of your throat. Suddenly that 300-point drop in the Dow doesn’t seem so scary!)

“My heart was racing the whole entire time!” one young man said after the arrow exercise. “I don’t know if it was the fear of being hurt or mine might be the only one that doesn’t break — I don’t know, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I was just going to tackle it.”

Wouldn’t you just love to hear that from your employees — instead of hemming, hawing, and complaining — when you ask them to do difficult tasks?!

And of course, for the big finish, you learn to walk on fire.

The firewalk is about eight feet long and no one is forced to walk the plank like a pirate. You go up when you’re ready. But c’mon! You just snapped an arrow with your throat, chances are you’re ready to walk on fire!

Now, you don’t just go across willy nilly yelling “HOT! HOT! HOT! HOT!” — there is a technique, Simons said.

“It comes down to relaxing into your fear. If you are tense, you’ll concentrate your weight on a few points on your feet — that’s how people get hurt,” he said. “You have to relax and put each foot down evenly and smoothly. Walk just as you would walk down the street.”

(Except, of course, the street is on fire!)

Simons said the outcome is universally that people feel charged up and empowered. “It’s worth easily half a dozen therapy sessions!” he quipped.

Testimonials on the website are peppered with phrases like “powerful” and “life-changing.” One young woman who took the workshop to help her get through a major life transition even said she wants to get a "firewalk" tattoo to remind her of what she’s accomplished.

When was the last time one of your employees came away from a company function wanting to get a tattoo to immortalize the event?!

(I’m thinking back on the company Christmas party, the pizza party in the conference room for Sally’s birthday, and that time we all got free tote bags ... that’s nope, nope, and, uh, nope.)

One man, a director of sales, called it a “powerful experience” and said it helped him learn to push through instead of giving in to the urge to quit when things get tough.

“Challenging my physical limits is something I do quite often, but this made me realize that I can get my work done and get over my insecurities just as I can jump across buildings or walk across fire,” one college student said.

Companies tend to cut their training budgets when economic times get tough, but Simons said he thinks that’s when their employees could use a good firewalk the most! When sales are down, when staffing — and morale — are low, you have to hustle a lot more to bring in new business.

Not only does Simons teach corporate workshops, he has taught workshops for challenging life situations, such as unemployment , divorce, and dieting.

Firewalking isn’t one-size-fits-all — sometimes Simons teaches general workshops to help a team get motivated to step up. Other times his workshops are incorporated into some specific training exercise a company is doing, in order to “punctuate and accelerate” the mission, he said.

I’d say fire might accelerate whatever training you want me to learn!

Simons said firewalking helps build the confidence of each individual team member, to conquer their fears and get out there and sell more or whatever it is they’re tasked with doing. It also builds confidence in each other — after you’ve walked on fire and seen your whole team walk on fire — HIGH FIVE! This team can do anything.

After taking the workshop, one man said, “Next time I hear either myself or somebody else say, ‘Are you sure you can do that?’ or ‘I don’t think you can do that,’ ” he responds: “Dude, I walked on fire!”

Forget the confidence boost, the sales boost, the whatever boost, dude, you’ve got bragging rights forever! And if you’re the boss, and someone on your team is struggling with something all you have to say is, “Dude, you walked on fire! Now have that sales report on my desk by Monday.”

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