Impactful Offsite Series
Jim Hughes, Untamed
Outdoors-enthusiast, business-coach who asks the big questions
Quick biography:

I run a coaching business called Untamed, which has been going for five and a half years now. I work with individuals and teams, helping them become more aligned, helping them deepen their self-awareness with the ultimate outcome of helping them be more at peace and more fulfilled and have more fun. And I do that online, but also with face-to-face events, which is the part of the business that lights me up the most.

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How it started

Wonderful. And how long have you been running your business for?
In its current form, five and a half years. So my wife and I were living in Australia and we, we packed our stuff up, both started our own businesses and started nomadic living on the same day, pretty much. So March, 2017, we set sail to Japan and and then for the next three years we lived nomadically and the business built from there.

That's excellent. So what is it about the in person stuff that you get a real kick out of?
Well, I've very selfishly designed these experiences and these events around the stuff that I like the most, which is being outside, being in nature. So in a rural quiet setting, but blending that with adrenaline inducing activities. I love as sedated as walking or hiking, but right up to canyoning and white water rafting. I also love doing that with like-minded people and I love helping them. I love helping myself and them grow. So basically the events around those, those four pillars: you’ve got the coaching, the experience, the setting, and then the people and if you combine those four things, the outcome can be massively impactful.

Brilliant. How do you perceive the role and value of offsites changing pre and post pandemic?
I think they are critical in general, just getting people outside. And I think they've always been important, but what COVID has done, as COVID has done with loads of other things, is just highlight needs or challenges that were already there. People have always longed for connection. That's not a new thing. That's tens of thousands of years old. That's how we've survived as a species and thrived as a species. We're not wired to live in cities, we are wired to be out in nature. We're not wired to be individualistic. We're wired to collaborate. And we're not wired to sit down at a chair all day, we're wired to move. When we do all of those things, that's when we are at our best self, and we feel most natural. And I've heard so many times from people when they're out these offsite, when they're outdoors and doing those things, they feel more at ease. All the pandemic did when, when it cooped people up inside their houses or their, their spare bedrooms, it made people realize the value of space. That's why so many people moved out from big cities. That's why so many people started to go more on holidays, go on walks more. So they are just as valuable pre and post pandemic. It's just, now that people have, I say people, employers and employees have finally realized just quite how beneficial they can be.

Fantastic. Have you noticed a shift with your own business, which is very aligned with that concept of appreciation of space and needing to connect? Are people now more intuitively understanding the concept that underpins your business or the demand for kind of getting involved in that way?
Yeah, definitely. There’s always like when you start any business, you, you should only really spend your energy going after the seven to 10% of people who fully get what you do anyway, the early adopters. So it's hard to fully tell because I've always been surrounded by people and attracted people through my brand and have been attracted to people who get what I do anyway. They love the outdoors adventure. They want to do it more. They already do it. But the difference now is those, those early majority or the, even the late majority are starting to catch on. The sort of the general employer, HR person that you speak to now about it. You don't need to convince them anymore. COVID did that along with a few other things, whereas prior to that, they may have needed more of a, more of a reason, more of a catalyst to say, well, why am I gonna take my whole team or just one of my teams out of the office for one day, two days, three days, like, give me gimme a justification for that.

Preparing for the offsite

When you speak with companies and teams, what are the main drivers behind their organising an offsite? Who decides what the goals are and what is your role in assisting with this process and nudging them into areas which might be more high value in terms of the impact they're going to experience?
Well, this is relevant. Because I was having a conversation with someone on Tuesday, in terms of who drives or what's the main reasons for offsite. There's many, many different reasons and only a few of which are relevant to, to me. You know, people want to get them outside just for the hell of it to get them out.
They want to reward the team just to have fun. Some of the times they think there's a lack of team cohesion. They want to try and connect people more sometimes it's to do a, a planning or strategy session, but just away from the office, and sometimes it's with a proper learning and development thing in mind. For example, we are going to learn communication on this offsite or we are going to learn conflict resolution.
So there's myriad reasons why people organize them. Usually people are in a conversation with me because there's some sort of desire for the team to connect more. They're maybe not reaching their potential. There's maybe a lack of harmony or there's a bit of disconnect between them. And they feel like, you know, they could benefit from, from having a greater sense of self-awareness and belonging. So where I try and steer it, is we need to slow things down. This is not about achieving more. There's already pressure on everybody in the organization self-imposed and organization-wide to achieve more. They don't need that. What I want to do is slow things down and create a space for them to have conversations or introspection about themselves. And about each other, just to slow down this isn't about work. It's not about performance. It's not about metrics. It's about you connecting with your true self. So that's where I try and steer the conversation. And that's the same with my individual clients as well. Because most people are attracted to work with me because they are highly driven. They're never satisfied. They're always on the go and they don't really have much of an off switch and they find slowing down very uncomfortable. So my, my role is often to try and, and I resonate with them because I feel that myself, is to try and slow them down a little bit and create that space for a little bit more reflection and connection.

I'm sure lots of people reading this will connect with that idea. Are there any obvious mistakes that people continue to make when planning offsites?
It's the don't try and do too much. And I've made that mistake myself, every, every event or offsite I've ever run, I've taken away each time. So if I was to look at my itinerary that I set for the very first event we ran, I think early 2018, it, I was like, how on earth was I ever going to achieve all of that? And of course I didn't, but I tried, we tried two activities per day. It was a coaching session. It was a morning routine with stretching and breakfast. Then it was an evening dinner. Then it was something after that. And then when we were waiting for the, for this thing, we were gonna organize purposeful questions said never gonna happen. That was my own fear. That was my fear of like right for people to get the value from this experience, I need to give them a lot.
I believe there's also a feeling or a, a fear that organizers of these offsite have themselves. It's like right. For, for us to get our money's worth. We need to cram loads of stuff in because it only happens twice a year. So we need them to do the team building stuff. We need to do the planning and the strategy stuff. We need to get a board meeting tacked on to this as well. And we need to make sure they get outside more. Oh, don't forget this time for us. Maybe a quick run in the morning. Oh, what about some really cool dinner and beers in the evening with a fire pit? It's just like slow down.

Yes, I think almost, maybe that's symptomatic of the old world where offsites were like a once a year treat. Whereas now they could become a more of a habitual part of the world of work, where each one is a bit more themed?
Yeah. A hundred percent. I talked so much about to my clients about flow states as one of the things I, I love to help uncover in people, what is their flow state? And by that, I mean the tasks or activity that they, they just get consumed by world. The time, time flies by they're energized, they're stimulated, they're challenged just the right amount. And they're massively energized as a result. And what I say to most people, the mistake I make myself and most people make with flow states is that those times is they treat them as an indulgence. I have to do my work first. Then I can treat myself to what puts me into a state of flow, whether that's playing the guitar or go for a run or writing a poem or whatever my belief is, you put that first at the center. That's when you add the most value, that's when you're having the most fun. And that's when you can reach your potential and feel authentic. And it's exactly the same with these experiences. If the, if the teams are at their most cohesive, energized, authentic, natural state, when they're on the, on these offsite, why make them a treat?
Why not flip that round?

Yeah, exactly. And then actually in that more energized state, you get loads more done, in less time. Do you have a couple of preferred offsite destinations or either in the UK or internationally?
I really wanna go to Madeira. We had an event due to be in Madeira to cancel it because of COVID unfortunately, but I've got a couple of clients actually that live out there now and it looks like an epic island full of like every adventure you can think of. They've got canyoning out there, surfing, mountain biking, paragliding, boat trips, that kind of stuff.

I think Madeira used to be a bit of an old, funny, retirement-types, but they've, they've done a lot of work to attract digital nomads. They've got younger, more cultural out there. So there's one.

And then I, I always have a sweet spot for it's just south of the Canigó. Our first, I think four events that we ran were in this place. And we ran from there because we had a contact, they're called Ben and George, and they run the canyoning company, which I think is now one of the largest canyoning companies in the UK, if not the largest. And they're a couple of epic blokes and they have a a bunk house and they organize all the activities themselves. So they either run them or they connected with us and they always looked after us. And yeah, so I always have a sweet spot for them.

Brilliant. Love it. Is there a way to best prepare people mentally for going into an offsite?
Yeah. Preframing is, is essential. Preframing - setting the context and managing people's expectations beforehand - is really important. So I try to have people maybe set some intentions before they come as to what they want to get out of it. Maybe identify a couple of areas they want to dig into. But also just try and get people to, to arrive at whatever it is we're doing at a, at a slower pace, easier said than done most people don't and understandable, but all I can do is set the context and, and try and preframe it. And, and I say that, so when I'm fitting in to maybe a workshop, let's say the company is organizing it themselves, and I'm just sort of parachuted in for one section - I would always try and have it book ended with space. So they're not just running from a big planning meeting right into what we do right into what I do, where it's all about co introspection and, and the coaching, the personal side of it, and then rushing straight from doing what I'm doing to then into the next thing.

How do you embed that when people get back to their desk, whether that's in an office or remotely as well?
Even if it's just leaving an hour of space to go and let people go for a walk or sit and journal about it or have a conversation about it, you know, that's, most people don't ever get that time in their working day. They don't allow themselves to have that time in their working day and the employer doesn't necessarily push for it. So, if there's space there, let's use it.

At the offsite

So I suppose we talked a little bit about gearing up to the offsite. So then when you finally have those amazing people in front of you, how have you tackled the varying needs of onsite and offsite attendees?
I would usually separate that. Yeah. and just, just be really purposeful about it and say, right when you're in the room, you're in the room, whoever's there at this offsite, that is the main focus and the people who aren't there that's create another thing for them or whether it's online or another offsite rather than trying to be all things to all people and, and you kind of neither to, to either of them, if that makes sense.

How do you cater for diverse team needs and varying levels of adventurousness?
That's a good question. From the adventurous side, that's a different question to the physical ability side. So if there's a group of people with mobility challenges, then we would cater for that. We would make it a much more you know, less intense experience. Maybe, maybe it's more about walking or strolling or just being out in nature. But if it's about adventure in some of these risk tolerance, I'm, I'm a bit more, I'm going to use the word ruthless, but I don't mean that sound too dramatic, because basically it's an opportunity for people to face their fears and it's an opportunity for their team members to experience that alongside them. And we learn so much about ourselves and each other when we are faced with situations outside of our comfort zone. So I, if somebody, if a group of people come up and go, yeah, well a few of us just really don't wanna go because we don't like heights, I'll go. Right. Okay. Let's explore that further. I won't either throw it out and make them do it and I won't necessarily just say, okay, we don't have to do it, but there's a conversation to be had. Okay, well what is it about this? You're already ruling it out, even though you don't necessarily know what's involved. And you know, we've had groups where, and I use canyoning a lot because it's a great example because there's different levels.

You can throw yourself off the top cliff, if you want, you can backflip off if you want, or you can kind of walk around there's different levels and encouraging people to face their fears alongside their teammates is so beneficial. And you'll see that at the end of the day, when you say to a group, like what was the highlight of the day? It's always something like, "Oh, just seeing John, you know, jump off that 10 foot cliff at the end of the day, knowing how much he hated it, but doing it at the end of the day, that made me feel so alive and so connected."

I can totally see how that relates to conflict resolution earlier as well. People seek to sort of minimise those uncomfortable conversations because they're scared of the conflict coming out, but actually the offsite provides a chance for people to have those in, in-person difficult conversations.

So true. And there's, there's a couple of like buzz words or, or kind of very Vogue conversation points now, which I, which I have a bit of a problem with one is, is throwing the phrase around toxic masculinity and like stick with me and how this relates. And another one is the idea of having a safe space. I think the idea of having a safe space is, is misconstrued. And I see them both linked because there is room for dealing with how you are feeling, sharing it and, and moving through it. A lot of people now they hear any kind of aggression or conflict or disagreement and they immediately wanna remove themselves from that situation. They wanna shut it down cause they're not comfortable with it. And that all that does is internalize things and never works. But the same reason if you're afraid of heights, no, I don't wanna know.

I don't have to go. And if nobody sort of encourages you to go, you never face that fear. You just carry it with you and it, and it probably grows and grows and grows and grows. So I see them as I see them as, as linked because what we're doing is we're creating a safe space. And by that, I mean a place where you can air these things in a purposeful, connected, loving way, even though it may not sound it and trust the fact that you're in that space and it's not going to be thrown back at you, you're not really judged for it, but it's the other, person's gonna take it, how you meant it. And you're gonna be able to communicate through it. It's the same with your fears. You can trust that you, when you stand on the top of a, of a, a white water rapid, or whatever, little waterfall and you are really nervous, you can trust the fact that people with you, aren't gonna judge you and criticize you for it. They're gonna be there for you. And if you decide not to do it, that's okay. And if you do do it, then you can trust the fact that you are capable of doing that in the end.

So what have been your favorite breakthrough offsite moments? So any kind of memorable moments over the last years where you were like, wow, this really validates why I'm doing what I'm doing as well.
Yeah. The one that springs to mind is it was the last event. We're sat around this table, outdoors, the weather thankfully had been amazing. And one of the attendees - a woman - she was talking about how she felt more at ease, more at peace with slowing down, not being, not feeling she needs to be such a high performer. And she was like, yeah, yeah, no, I'm comfortable with that. And she was, as she was saying it, you could see her shoulders were kind of all tightened up around her neck. And she was like, you know, arms kind of curved inwards. I was like, okay, it's funny because you're saying you're kind of relaxed but I'm seeing something very different here.

So, and I just basically encourage you to kind of breathe, breathe into it. Okay. Well just, okay. What is that? What does that feel like? Right. Let's just relax a bit. And then I thought, well actually let's just go with everybody, close your eyes. I gave people outs. Okay. So if you, if you want to come out of this, if you wanna just like go for a walk, whatever you can and nobody did, everyone kept their eyes goes, ended up being like 30 minutes where the space was created.

Cause it's so essential where people could just sit with what was coming up for them. And then you could see different people fighting it. They were like they were going into their head and then they were going back into it and then some people were resisting it. And then some people went really quickly and were in a very deep emotional state, but long story short, like three of the people there just completely broke down in a, in a positive way. Like it was a release of pressure of tension. Like one of them had been carrying guilt. They didn't realize that you know, the last 15, 20 years. And that was just, it was such a such a beautiful moment because it was you, you just knew that in left to their own devices, most people never allow themselves to have that kind of connection. And that's that space because it's life is so full of distractions and work is ever-present. It was a combination of the, the outdoors, the connectedness with each other. They felt safe doing that in front of each. And then it's only, it's only on the second day, ...

<Laugh>. Yeah. That's quite, that's quite a, quite a connection on the second day. And then do you keep in touch with these people as well?
Yes, I try to. Yeah. Yeah. We have U usually there's a WhatsApp group for, for each of them. And so they can share wins or, or challenges or videos or what have you afterwards.

Your clients, the people that you work with do they, is there any sort of similarities in terms of industry or their types of you know, the types of teams that come along? Could you tell us a little bit about your customers as well?
Yeah. From a team's perspective, they're, they're usually from more purpose-driven industries, the types that are out to do good in the world who are, and the people who work for them are, you know, are, are in some way bought into or aligned with that vision or mission that they're on. They're usually a younger, a younger demographic. And I, when I say younger, I don't mean like the twenties, I'm talking, I suppose I'm sure my age by saying younger, when I say <laugh> thirties and forties, probably not younger anymore. But because they're, driven, which is part of the reason why we need to do the work because that drive is, is a blessing and the curse.

Are there any favorite venues, coaches, facilitators, speakers, or experiences you want to give a shout out to?
Yeah, there is actually, there's a coach that I've been working with for first engagement within was 2018 and again, in 2019 and then consistently for the love past probably year and a half, his name is Philip, he's an Irish guy. He describes himself as an enlightened hooligan, which I absolutely love and yeah, he used to live in north America. He lives in back in Ireland now and I'm in a group coaching program with him and most coaching programs that I've been in a couple of coaching programs prior, and most of them it's all about how you grow your coaching practice, how you can market more, how you can charge more. And for him he is all about, about authenticity, how you can be connected with your true self, how you can create space, create and hold space for other people and how you can trust your instincts more. So he's unbelievable at what he does. Take a look at him on YouTube. He's just done amazing work. He runs events in Ireland a couple of times a year as well.

Are there any projects, podcast books, or resources that have shaped your thinking ?
The recent one that has, that has been really impactful was lost connections by Johan Hari. That was, that went into my top five books straight away. He talks about how he was on antidepressants for X number of years, and they kept upping the dose because he kept not having any effect. He talks about how we have become as a species disconnected from various elements in our lives and how we can reconnect with those things. And I only read that a few weeks ago, but, or a couple months ago and it's been, I highly recommend. It's fantastic.

After the offsite

Yeah, that sounds fascinating. How do you measure the impact of offsite as well?
Yeah. I, I'm not a big data person. I'm not, I'm not into metrics specifically. I don't collect surveys before or after, but the, the biggest thing that stands out for me is, is long term impact. I've been at events and I've run events in the past where you get a very, it's hard not to get a, an instant reaction because it is so different because it is so unique. You get this warm, fuzzy feeling where everyone's best mates and there's tonnes of high fives. Yeah, I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna get up at 6:00 AM. I'm gonna meditate for an hour every day. I'm gonna do that. And lots of times it, it fades it fizzles out which is understandable and it's going to happen to a degree, but seeing a lot, a long-term impact, even if it's just one thing that each person takes away that they're gonna bring into their lives. So whether it is getting up earlier in the morning, whether it's being more communicative with their teammates, whether it is being more connected to nature or being, you know, tapping into their more emotional empathetic side, something, one thing that kind of, that sticks with them that they can actually act on versus taking 20 things away, trying them all. And then after two months or one month not doing any of them and then feeling guilty and having the regret and need to do the whole thing again.

Amazing. and then, so just finally, if people are interested they're reading this or listen to this and they wanna find out about your work, what's the best way for them to know what's coming up and how to connect as well?
Well, the website's always a good start becomeuntamed.com. There are videos of past events on there, on the events page. There's more, blurb about who I am and why I do what I do. Also pretty pictures. Not of me, of landscape, obviously. But then LinkedIn, I'm fairly active on. And that's just an hour where I'll present maybe 10 minutes of, of, of something at the beginning and then open the floor basically to people's opportunity to dig into something they're currently struggling with. Or maybe just play a watching brief and just learn about, you know, see other people go through a transformation, hear other people, ask the questions that they've been wanting to ask themselves. And just experience something a little bit different for an hour.
Brilliant. Well, thanks very much, Jim. And yeah, I look forward to sharing this as well.
You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Thank you, Jim

Go and check out Jim's work at
https://www.becomeuntamed.com/

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