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Black Diamonds – Life is an adventure, push your limits.

Joe Tate | HR Consulting
Dec 13 2017

With this entry, we continue our teamwork blog series exploring four levels of teamwork.  We return again to Little Cottonwood Canyon, a place of beauty, challenges and life lessons.

My little team of explorers has left the safety of the blue squares and suddenly the mountain opens up to us. Jake, Annalessa, and Alice are excited to explore new runs. The black runs are difficult and the stakes are higher. We enter into areas where more experience is needed, where caution is required.  It is here that teams truly bond, new freedom is realized, and memories are forged.

When teams are forming and storming they are acquiring skills.  On the mountain, difficulty and danger increase significantly as blue turns to black. Once regulated to a small part of the mountain, my little crew was ready to be introduced to a new world: the upper extremes of the mountain.  When the mountains are steep, the black diamonds on the map keep the faint-of-heart relegated to a small portion of the mountain. This is certainly the case in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Few areas have a larger percentage of their mountain dedicated to black runs.  A new, challenging world awaits. At this point on the mountain, mileage is important, and celebrating accomplishments, every small milestone matters.  Especially with the I-generation and Millennials.  As the manager, coach or teacher, identify and call out the milestones, seek to celebrate each attempt and each accomplishment.

Mileage is important on the mountain and in the workplace. Your employees are growing daily and accomplishments abound.  Their first sale, the first day on the operational floor, new licensure, training milestones, completing a project, meeting a deadline, helping a client, solving a problem, or conducting a meeting or presentation.  Your employees are venturing into territory where they have never been.  Many of them are the sons and daughters of ‘helicopter parents’ and they are now in a situation without direct parental guidance or positive feedback.  More than ever, the younger generation expects communication and recognition of accomplishments. You may feel more like a parent than a manager – so be it.  As leaders, our job is not to award red ribbons; our job is to communicate, to illustrate the progress, accomplishments and mistakes. Remember segment II of this blog? Mistakes are often attempts to push the envelope. Thankfully, the human race is driven by brave mistakes. Are your employees ready for harsh, critical feedback? They are not. Know your audience and develop trust through teaching moments. There was a time when it was all new to you as well. Remember those times and reach out as a true mentor and coach.

On the mountain, the milestones abound.  Putting on your boots and skis for the first time, sliding, starting, and stopping.  Turn left, turn right, gliding, stepping, moving, a wedge.  Absorbing, standing tall, looking, following, jumping. Ski lifts, watching, moving, preparing, sitting, riding, standing, off-loading and gliding after your first chair. Skidding, edging, weight-transfer, tricks, powder, ice, crud, moguls, ledges…. the list goes on and on.  All of these events can be celebrated by young and old alike.  Raise your awareness in the workplace.  MBWA.  Manage your team By Walking Around.  Catch employees doing things right and seek to overcommunicate.

Few milestones are bigger than your first black diamond run.  For me, there loomed a black diamond run that I must ski.  It loomed in my mind as I watched my older brothers make the terrifying decent. Long before Park City Mountain Resort swallowed up ‘The Canyons’ (Note: The name ‘The Canyons’ was NEVER a good idea.  Locals refer to the canyons in a directional and general sense.  Having a ski area named ‘The Canyons’ brought only confusion and headshaking). I digress; back in the day, a small ski area stood in Summit County.  Friendly to cowboys and tourists alike, ParkWest had the charm, feel, and irreverence of the wild west.  ParkWest used a common-sense approach in the naming of their ski runs.  Why not attach a name to the run as a warning?  So it was with this black diamond run. After taking the Tomahawk lift from the base area it was a short traverse and a large sign with an arrow pointing north. A one word sign on that wind-swept ridge told you everything you needed to know:

You didn’t venture into your first attempt at a run named Slaughterhouse without hesitation.  I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday; slowly making it over moguls, across the run, and finally to the safety of the bottom.

For Annalessa, her first black run was off the tram.  Just making the trip to 11,000 feet can be intimidating. I rode with my three little team members and we talked during our ride.  The tram operator gave us preference and a perfect window spot at the front of the tram.  Such an intimidating ride; gliding over huge outcroppings of rock and above world-famous fall lines like Silver Fox, Dalton’s Draw, and Great Scott. As we approached the top, Annalessa was on edge. I called my team together.  Before leaving the tram, I had each of them pick a hoofed animal.  You see, when you exit the tram all the hard boots sound like a heard.  A heard of … something. My little band of warriors exited the tram filling the cold mountain air with mooing, neighing, baaahing, and from me, oinks. Another quick activity to bring unity to my team and to bring joy to all 125 riders on the tram.  Looking down, Annalessa was visibly more relaxed.

To calm her even more, we walked around The Summit Restaurant and enjoyed the beauty around us, truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Looking at the landscape below we talked about where we would ski, where we would stop, and how we would navigate the steeper terrain.  Through this communication, Annalessa arrived at a place of mental confidence. Taking the Chips run, we navigated down the mountain, winding our way in safety.  Halfway down we ventured forward to Anderson’s Hill a steep and wide, ‘U’ shaped run.  Annalessa was the first to recognize the black diamond at the top of the run.

“Are we going this way?” she asked.  Yes, I cheered.  As a team we huddled up on the ridge and looked at the snow and terrain below.  We used visualization and imagined our turns across the manicured terrain.  I taught my young group how to see the terrain and pick a location to turn, long before arriving on that part of the slope.  The listened, they had prepared and they were ready!.


“Annalessa, come on over”, I encouraged.  “I want you to be first, I want you to follow me. “  She gingerly made her way over.  I coached her and encouraged her to follow behind me.  In doing so, I was giving her a visual example.  I encouraged her to watch my feet, my legs, my skis.  She followed in line and courageously executed each turn.  Vocally, I stayed connected with her as one turn became 10 and 10 became 50.  The rest of the class followed in and we navigated Anderson’s Hill. The sun lit up and we chased our shadows down the mountain.  I came to a stop as the terrain opened up and the hill flattened.  We gathered together and my little crew turned and looked back up the hill.  “Let’s hear it for Annalessa!” I shouted.  They all smiled and shouted for their team mate.  They clicked their ski poles together and we came together for a rowdy, “Hip hip, horray!  Hip hip, horray!, Hip hip, horray!”

It was a crowning achievement for the day!  It was an unforgettable moment in an unforgettable place – a sacred place.  It was a memory burned into the smallest crevices of the mind to remain forever.  It was her first black diamond run, indelible and triumphant – – – Victorious.  Annalessa had prevailed, and as her coach, I prevailed too.  The individual triumph was also a team triumph.

-Joe Tate

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