What the Kokoda Challenge Can Teach Us About Team Building
Every July thousands of enthusiastic and determined Australians head out into the rugged Gold Coast hinterland on a grueling 96-kilometer cross country course, walking along fire trails, crossing 12 creeks, and climbing (and descending) 5,000m of vertical elevation – all within 39 hours.
While far from your typical team building scavenger hunt, the Kokoda Challenge — considered Australia’s premier cross-country team event – does have a few similarities, requiring the right combination of skills, planning, and cooperation that makes any corporate team building activity a success.
The goal? For teams of four to finish the course within the designated time of 39 hours. This year more than 2,700 people participated in the event and roughly 26% did not complete it.
That’s because getting to the finish line of this ultimate character-building experience isn’t easy. Initiated during the Pacific War of World War II, in what was then the Australian territory of Papua, New Guinea, the Kokoda Track campaign was a series of battles fought between Japanese and primarily Australian forces. So the numbers have a special significance: 96 km is the original Kokoda Track length and the time limit represents the 39th Battalion, one of the Australian Army infantry units which fought in the campaign.
Today, the Challenge is organized by the Kokoda Challenge Association, a registered charity that provides funds for Youth Programs espousing the “Spirit of Kokoda.” Through a variety of team building activities and programs, young people – Kokoda Kids – are taught that their achievements in life are directly related to the effort they contribute.
In much the same way as corporate team building events are designed to engender cooperation, respect, and understanding in order to build team spirit, so too the Kokoda Challenge promotes the following values:
Endurance: Testing endurance to promote personal growth.
Courage: Supporting and encouraging participants to stay the course, even when times are tough.
Sacrifice: An organization that is built on the sacrifice of volunteers and the community spirit this inspires.
“Mateship” – Camaraderie: The importance of teamwork and providing support for each other.
Environment: Valuing the natural environment and achieving minimal environmental impact.
Youth: Belief in the potential of those involved to create a positive future.
Often described as the toughest team endurance event in Australia, the Kokoda Challenge is, for many, a “bucket list” item to tick off. But unlike the similarly physically challenging Ironman Triathalon, the focus isn’t making it first across the finish line, but to finish as an intact four-person team.
A set of training programs on the Kokoda website suggests up to 20 weeks of rigorous training and preparation to help participants get through the event. Participants must also prove their team spirit by working to collectively raise a minimum amount of $1,600.00 to take the Challenge – funds that go to the Kokoda Youth Foundation. Teams are encouraged to work together to ensure they reach the minimum amount. No team-based fundraising means no participation!
Apart from providing funding for their youth programs, this additional “prerequisite” further qualifies participants and reinforces the importance of planning and team work to achieve results. The team that raises the highest amount for the year wins a trip to Papua New Guinea to walk the original Kokoda Track.
The lessons provided by the Kokoda Challenge can certainly be transferred to and adopted within corporate team building events. Their site issues a challenge to would-be participants: “It’s time to prove to yourself that you can go above and beyond what you think your limits are and do something truly extraordinary.”
Isn’t that what team building is all about?