From the EAHAE eBook “The Art Of Leadership. Equine AHA! Experience”.
By Christine Schöneberg.
It was only in July when a large German car manufacturer approached Gerhard with an idea: could it be possible to integrate something with horses into an already scheduled management workshop? The audience was described as managers and team leaders from one functional area, facing the challenge of implementing a huge IT project and the corresponding process changes.
The target of the two-day workshop was to discuss the necessary management structure and effective ways of collaboration within the organisation – some very clear down-to-earth operational issues. The lady in charge of organising the meeting was thinking about
something special, eye-opening and intense; something the people would be talking about way beyond the workshop and reminding them about basic leadership and communication principles. There were only three minor details to consider: First, there would just be five hours time for the “horse part”. Second, the group was something around 95 people. Third, none of the participants was supposed to have the faintest idea what would happen. It was to be organised as a “surprise”.
During August, a dedicated telephone line between Gerhard, the customer and Verena, who was appointed to be in charge of heading the event, would have been appropriate. Many changes to the agenda had to be taken care of, terms and conditions had to be negotiated, numerous concerns had to be clear – the most important one for the customer: “How big is the risk? What, if it doesn’t work?”
The location was booked, a beautiful farmstead with two riding arenas and some Icelandic horses that were available as trainers. Additionally, Anja brought her two horses along. There was a professional caterer on-site, but it was the first time such an event took place here. On the HorseDream side, ten trainers with very different backgrounds and experiences were taking part. They met the evening before, some for the first time, and discussed the details of the logistics, which had to be planned by the minute and needed to be carefully coordinated: in total, there were 10 groups, five which had to work in parallel in the arena while the other five groups were doing the debriefing of the first exercises. Thanks to the common HorseDream background, the focus was on the flow of the event. The content never needed to be discussed.
Then the big day came. A few minutes before nine o’clock, the participants approached the premises, some in disbelief, most of them having a big question mark in their faces. They did not have any clue about what they could expect. Yes, there was some preparation
material distributed upfront, but without any hint towards the equine nature of the event. After a brief speech from the upper management and Verena as the HorseDream representative-in-charge, the participants were divided into ten groups, and each trainer gave them an introduction before they were led to the first encounter with their future trainers: the “Watching and Assessing”-exercise. Next followed the “Face-to-Face”, and while five groups went to debrief the first two exercises, the second half continued with leading the horses around poles, which required quite some coordination, as there was one group at each of the poles. The participants were anxious, sceptical, concentrated and very alert about what happened around them; a whole world of emotions showed up in this group of rational, grounded people that surprisingly allowed themselves to get involved into a “great unknown” and also reflected upon themselves.
In the end, participants were asked to take a few minutes time to note down their insights. It was very quiet during these 15 minutes, when people gathered in the shade (yes, it was a warm and sunny summer day), and took their time individually. No doubt, there had been an impact.
PS: Two weeks later: the internal facilitator, who led the participants through the rest of their 2-day-program, confirmed that a lot of thinking and discussing had been initiated within every single person – and within the whole group. Yes, there definitely was an impact!