Albert Einstein said, “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”

Our experiences tend to simplify crucial life lessons and record them in our memory banks in a relatively indelible manner.

Perhaps, this is why experiential learning continues to be one of the more favored instructional tools in the training and development space.

The Coca-Cola India Operations Team underwent one such experiential learning intervention on leadership and team building during their recent offsite review meeting. And to ensure that the exercise remained relevant to the larger audience, it was themed around a passion they all shared – cricket.

At the core of the intervention was a 5-over-a-side cricket tournament, but with a twist. The attendees, who were clueless as to what the evening had in store for them, were eased into the activity in line with the stages of team formation. In the ‘forming’ stage, the larger group was divided into four teams of 8-10 players each. They were handed over their team names and jerseys, further adding to their curiosity.

Thereafter, the details of prize the four teams were to compete for – winning the cricket tournament – was shared with them. This was the ‘norming’ stage where the teams got together to plan their strategies and approach for achieving the common purpose. But just as the business environment is ever-dynamic and riddled with its fair share of uncertainties, an unexpected twist awaited the teams in the ‘storming’ stage of the intervention.   

The unexpected ingredient was: four members of the Indian Women’s Cricket Team being invited, one following the other, to join each of the internal teams. As Harmanpreet Kaur, captain of the Indian WT20I team stepped inside the room, she was greeted with surprised gasps which quickly turned into a standing ovation. The applause continued as the other players, Sushma Verma, Harleen Deol and Ekta Bisht, entered the enclosure wearing their respective team jerseys to join their team huddles.

The first task of the day was for the teams to identify their captains and the playing seven. This is where the learning journey for the group began. All the four teams opted for Coca-Cola associates as their captains and not the international players in their midst. On being probed about the reason behind this selection, the group admitted that they wanted a captain who knew the players and understood their strengths and weaknesses better. Thus, leading to the conclusion that as a leader you would enjoy the confidence and trust of your team members only if you know and understand them.

A leader’s ability to connect with the team is a more defining success factor than the skills or competencies that he or she brings to the table in individual capacity.

The intervention then moved to its last leg – ‘performing’ – where the teams were expected to compete against each other to emerge victorious. This proved to be an exciting opportunity for the Coca-Cola India Operations Team members to rub shoulders with the best and to learn by joining them in action.

A common characteristic observed among all the teams through the course of the three matches was the tendency to put the team’s purpose above individual aspirations. Not only did the teams identify their playing seven with ease, there were no disagreements with respect to each member’s role during the course of the tournament. One of the team captains was even seen bowling an over to one of his team members who didn’t get a chance to play to make sure that she didn’t feel left out. 

The international players too were seen making allowances for other team members, keeping the overarching objective of winning the tournament at the back of their mind. All four of them were happy to step back and allow the Coca-Cola associates to lead the team’s charge till such time that it did not impact the team’s chances of winning.

And when it came to crunch phases, they were all too happy to pick up the baton and lead the way. The important lesson in this was that successful teams comprise of members who have got each other’s back and are willing to pick up additional burden when the team needs them to.

Overall, the experience proved to be a memorable one, integrating the right amount of fun and learning for the participants. “We get to watch these international players play or hear them speak in many forums, but to be able to play alongside them was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will never forget the high-fives we exchanged, or the shared disappointment we experienced during the course of the game,” one of them mentioned.

Mr. Shehnaz Gill, Sr. VP – India Operations, thanked the players for their sporting presence and identified their humility as a key leadership trait that could be learnt from them.

Responding to a question by one of the attendees, Harmanpreet said, “This was a very different experience for us as compared to the other corporate events that we get invited to. We loved being a part of all the fun today.” She further commended the Coca-Cola India Operations Team on the vivacious energy and comradery that they displayed through the course of the event. Perhaps, this is what the adage ‘a team that has fun together, wins together’ means.  

Anurag Anand is General Manager- Franchise Capability Service at Coca-Cola India & Southwest Asia