Epic and scary lessons from the sea: Despark team building

It was magical watching the group sail off into the horizon, like a formation of swallows, wind zipping them faster and faster, hair streaming out behind.

Actually, that only happened for a few brief spells during our day of windsurfing lessons on last weekend’s epic team building event on the Black Sea. (Yes, it was truly epic. It taught us lots of lessons about our team, and shook us up a little too. Read on to find out more.)


In the sheltered shallow basin of the bay, the wind stayed largely away. Yet we had planned a whole day of lessons for those who wanted to join in. In the morning, the breeze played along, and we watched as the first group, from project manager to developer to producer, learned to master the stance, the mast and boom. Those of us on the shore were in awe.

Later as the day grew hotter and the breeze lazier, the sailing began to resemble drifting, more a pond than a sea, but still huge fun, and each team member returned from the water a little more sunburnt and a lot more exhilarated.

At the very end of the afternoon the water was like a mirror and the last and smallest group set out. The instructors were apologetic about the lack of wind, saying they weren’t sure how much we’d learn in these conditions. We pressed on, finding joy in getting the hang of climbing onto the board, learning how to stand and hoist the heavy sail to the right position.

But no matter what we did, how we stepped around the board and drew the sail this way and that, we mostly drifted. And it struck me then how valuable it would have been to have that push, or pull, or some sort of feedback from the wind to give us momentum. Because it’s only at that point that we could tell what, if any, direction we were travelling in.

‘Don’t look over your shoulder,’ said the instructor to me. ‘Look where you want to go.’

And while I was bobbing around like a plastic duck in a fairground game, I thought that there must be a lesson in this experience.

Because in some ways, moving the boom until you catch the wind in your sail is like finding that first interaction in a new platform you want to develop. It propels you along, gives you feedback, and gives you the momentum to start to experiment with your direction.

But if you keep that boom rigid and don’t look where you’re going, you might end up in Odessa when you were aiming for Istanbul. That’s not how you sail, or drive a car, or move in general. You continually adjust and listen for feedback.

Oh, and what do you do when there’s no wind?

Find a different way of moving. The stand-up paddle boards were wonderful on the still water too, as they come with an oar. You adapt, and keep going.

Which brings us back to the very last hours of our trip, which had been so full of joy, good food, excellent company and relaxation. On the way back to Sofia, one of our group was involved in a road accident. It was terrifying, and the car came off badly. Luckily everyone inside, although shaken, was fine. Within 20 minutes, three other cars full of Desparkers had made u-turns to come and help. Eventually, with the right combination of hugs, rental cars, tow trucks and late night drives through wild storms, everyone made it home safe.

We adapt, and keep going, reminded all the time how lucky we are to work in a company that feels more like a family, where everyone looks out for each other.

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