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Nestled in the Ozark hills just a stone’s throw from Greers Ferry Lake, some of the nation’s best team-building and leadership courses take place in a tiny Arkansas community. Team Trek has called Tumbling Shoals home for nearly 30 years, and while the training center might be hidden among the Ozark foothills and forest, the leadership and life lessons Team Trek provides are eye-opening and life-changing.
In 1994, Gary Gore was a successful businessman. He had built several high-performing sales teams in the grain marketing and transportation industries in Memphis, but Gore’s passion centered on leadership and his love of the outdoors. So, he decided it was time to put his passions together and bought 650 acres in Tumbling Shoals. He founded Team Trek to focus on experiential leadership training conducted outdoors on the vast Team Trek campus.
In the beginning, Gore used his Memphis connections to bring in teams from Memphis-area businesses. Gore walked the teams through leadership principles he’d learned from his years in business and allowed them to work through difficult outdoor challenges together to practice the skills they were learning. When Conrad Lehfedlt joined Team Trek in 2005, the Arkansas-based business really started to diversify its client base and grow in its mission as well. “We went from delivering leadership programs to produce leaders to actively engaging entire teams,” Lehfedlt says. “I’ve seen leaders, teams, and companies transform to become places where people are valued and do their best and do great things for their customers.”
Gore’s vision for those who come through the Team Trek leadership training was twofold: building people and connecting teams. Through a Team Trek experience, participants learn how to become “actively engaged people” who are excited to bring their best to their workplace and to their lives. Gore found experiential learning to be the best way to get people out of the workplace so they could learn hands-on. Most of the leadership experiences take place on the now 800-acre campus. Teams arrive on Monday and stay at the center all week. They eat meals together and attend classroom-based seminars. However, 85% of leadership training takes place outside.
Roger Smithson experienced Team Trek firsthand. He was in the first group his company sent to the Arkansas training center, and has now been involved with Team Trek for over 20 years. His company decided to send every manager through Team Trek training, and Smithson would take them in groups of 8 to 14 to the Tumbling Shoals campus. The personal changes he saw the teams encounter were both remarkable and remarkably similar. “Never do we hear anyone leave and say, ‘I learned something about business but nothing personal.’ They’re thinking in a very personal way about the person they want to be,” Smithson says of the Team Trek experience. “We ask for one commitment: to live a life of 100% responsibility.”
This commitment tracks directly back to Gary Gore’s foundational vision for engaged people. In his book, “Character and Culture: A Field Guide To Culture Change,” Gore outlines his main theme as “I am 100% responsible for how I choose to respond to everything in my life.” Once participants have grasped that, they go on to learn aspects of trust, communication, conflict resolution and accountability. Except all of it happens outdoors in carefully-designed physical challenges.
“These events are very challenging,” Smithson says of the outdoor experiences. “Not everything goes smoothly. They don’t always complete it on time. It requires a lot of teamwork and communication, but a lot of laughter, too. What can appear to be extremely complicated is actually simple.” After each outdoor challenge, teams go through a debrief to talk about successes and failures and think through how these events relate to their own lives, professionally and personally.
One year ago, Smithson took the leap from regularly bringing teams to training to becoming part of the Team Trek team. He’s now a Master Coach with Team Trek, and in his first year, he has also focused on bringing more Arkansas-based companies through the leadership program. Team Trek has worked with a variety of companies, from small family businesses with four to five employees all the way up to international corporations. The types of groups are diverse as well. “We’ve done school boards, teachers, manufacturing, a dry cleaner, sports teams: anywhere you need a team to come together,” Smithson says.
Before a team arrives, a master coach conducts virtual workshops to teach the foundational principles ahead of time. After a week of training, Smithson will also do follow-up coaching for those who attended, and for the person in charge of that team, “coaching the coach” to make them an even better manager for their team. After nearly 30 years of existence, Team Trek has refined the process of experiential leadership training well. When founder Gary Gore died in February of 2022, he had already laid a strong and steady foundation not just for Team Trek, but for countless people and leadership teams around the world. Team Trek continues to train leaders using Gore’s experiential training style and core values, and the training center in Tumbling Shoals is as vibrant as ever.
All photos are courtesy of Team Trek and used with permission.
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