By Colonel Ben Higginbotham
Over the President’s Day Weekend, Mountain Tactical Institute (MTI) hosted its second Scrum in Jackson. Like the first Scrum, it was no “normal” conference.
A normal conference typically involves speakers, courses, trade shows, and artificial “mingling” times. Shallowness and superficiality mark group sessions and personal interactions alike. Speakers tend to hold back or seek political correctness and their presentations often lack practical applicability. The circumstances generally compel attendees to posture and preen. As a result, “normal” conference takeaways frequently disappoint.
An MTI Scrum, by contrast, brings together a select group of mountain and tactical athletes, outdoor educators, and industry professionals in an intimate setting for two and a half days of deep thinking, problem identification, question storming, and turbo-powered networking. Attendance is limited, with a tough cut from a pool of highly-qualified applicants. Attendees get their hands dirty, participating and presenting, and live in close, austere quarters. They leave, it is hoped, physically and mentally drained, but also invigorated, with new personal relationships across the MTI community.
This Scrum focused on two deep topics – Quiet Professionalism and Resilience.
I led the discussions on Resilience, but over the course of the weekend, I also took pages of notes based on what our peers in this community had to say. Looking back at my notes, five key takeaways stand out.
1. MTI’s “community” is broad and deep.
MTI’s Scrums continue to draw participants who reflect the broadness and depth of a real community that has emerged under the MTI “umbrella.” Doing quick “napkin math” showed that this Scrum’s nine participants brought more than 120 years of collective experience in “the community.” The participants included two Army officers, two Marines, a foreign Army officer, a former Navy Sailor, another former Soldier, a Sheriff’s Deputy, a Fire Captain and a fireman, a former outdoor educator, and a nutritionist from a major sports nutrition company. Their numbers were augmented at one time or another by a long-serving mountain guide and a former Army officer. This breadth of experience gives a wealth of experiences from which to draw while tackling tough issues – and the potential for deep, meaningful networking outside one’s immediate organization.
2. There are many parallels across the MTI “community.”
It is clear that there are some unique parallels across the MTI community, even given the differences between some of the “tribes” in the MTI community. The professional day-to-day experiences of a Sheriff’s Deputy from northern Washington state differ significantly from those of a Fire Captain from Houston, and even more so from an Australian Army officer. However, what each has to say about the resilience challenges they face, or about the values that quiet professionals display in their organization or community presents striking similarities. As a result, there’s a lot these participants from disparate backgrounds learn from how each other’s organization faces those challenges, or how particular values are rewarded and promoted.
3. The Scrum isn’t a walk in the park.
There is no passive participation at a Scrum. Participants completed assigned reading and responded to deep, reflective questions before ever showing up in Jackson. Each day started with a run in the snow and included a gym session that was equal parts training and instruction. The group shared meals – which served as additional discussion sessions – and slept in a common space on cots. To kick the event off, each participant spent time on the hot seat for a deep interview, led by Rob, that included deep questions from their peers. Facilitators immediately challenged superficial answers, both during the interviews and during the subsequent workshop sessions. Participants and facilitators alike raised hard, deep questions, and – ideally – left with new questions and perspectives that shaped their thinking and action after the Scrum.
4. Quiet professionalism
One of our areas of focus for this Scrum – is a trait that is shared across the MTI community. Values that proved to underpin participants’ quiet professionalism included honor, discipline, the pursuit of continuous improvement, courage, and service. What’s more, participants expressed similar motivations behind their day to day actions, including a desire for good health, wanting happy families and relationships, a common need for work they loved, longing for financial security, and the desire to live in a place they love (in terms of both geography and community).
Our other focus area for this Scrum – proved to be a topic with deep relevance across the community. As participants talked candidly about challenges to personal resilience that they’d faced, it became obvious that the members of MTI’s community share about a dozen and a half challenges that are guaranteed. Those challenges include injury, illness, the loss/death of friends and colleagues, financial challenges, failure to achieve personal or professional goals, and unpredictability or the unknown (to name a few) – challenges that are guaranteed regardless of profession. It also became obvious that – regardless of which “tribe” a participant came from – the long-serving and resilient members of the different tribes shared the same qualities and attributes (something we called “silverback traits”). By capturing these, we were able to develop a menu of resilience practices with application across our community – something we’ll polish and look to publish in coming weeks. We also developed the framework for a basic personal assessment tool that our community’s members can use to spot-check their own resilience – something we’ll also look to refine and publish as it matures.
These takeaways might give the impression that the Scrum is a magical “mountaintop” experience. That would be a step too far. Participants from the two Scrums have provided candid feedback on content and processes alike, and there’s ample room to improve. While genuine insight emerges as a result of the Scrum construct, we are – admittedly – still learning how to leverage those insights, how to sustain and deepen the relationships that form during the Scrums, and how to get the best bang for the buck. Rob has some tough decisions ahead about whether to continue and how to evolve the Scrums. I’ll recommend that he does continue and that we continue to work to optimize the Scrum as a unique forum for the MTI community. Moreover, I’ll continue to recommend that deep-thinking MTI community members fight to get to a future Scrum and join the growing community that the Scrums have built.
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