Go to Top

Rock Climbing: A Lesson in Strategic Communication

This is the thirteenth in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change.

Imagine rock climbing up a steep mountain face with arms and legs shaking from exhaustion and palms so sweaty you can’t maintain a grip. You yell, “Take!” but you don’t feel your rope tighten. Upon looking down, you see the “belayer” (the partner in control of the brake on your safety rope) is looking off into space and not paying attention. Your heart begins to pound. You try to grip the rock more securely, but you start to slip even more. Your partner eventually realizes what is going on and quickly grabs the brake on the rope. You come down slowly, you catch your breath, but you aren’t able to overcome your fear to go back up again that day. You leave without reaching the summit.

What just happened that changed your ability to accomplish your goals? Either your communication protocols were not properly established up front or your partner got distracted from the goal you were trying to reach together. Regardless, now you have lost trust in your partner and the prospect of reaching your goals seems more out of reach than ever before.

X-treme Sports Magazine talks about how communication is essential to the success of a rock climbing team. Terms like “Take” or the conversations that take place at the start of a climb, such as “On Belay?” “Belay on!” “Climbing?” “Climb on,” serve a strategic and fundamental purpose by ensuring everyone is speaking the same language and working together for a common goal – reaching the summit. These conversations establish roles and responsibilities, develop a culture of trust and accountability between partners, and lay the groundwork for the team to function smoothly and safely. When those protocols are not clearly established up front or built into the way that everyone operates and is accountable, the climber quickly loses their ability to trust the partnership. Ultimately, the team’s ability to work together toward reaching the summit becomes impaired.

I was reminded of how applicable this concept is to successful transformational movements when Amy Celep mentioned in her post earlier this week, “Communications is strategy for those working to create transformational change. It’s not an afterthought but a critical cornerstone of the strategy to solve a social problem.” In order to create a cornerstone strategy for communications, you must consider two important building blocks: establishing clear roles and responsibilities and developing a structured communication plan.

While Amy’s examples refer to building external communication, we also know that strong internal communication is the foundation that allows these external strategies to happen. These building blocks are often viewed as ancillary to the goal of achieving social impact but we see over and over in our work that successful organizations have taken the time to strategically develop a culture of trust and accountability across all of their stakeholders.

All transformational movements require bringing these various stakeholder groups and their different points of view and perspectives together to become partners in the quest to accomplish your bold goal. We recently mentioned in a post on Shared Leadership that, “By fostering trust between members, it should be easier and more comfortable to tackle many of the larger issues you will face as a group.” Similar to rock climbing, trust comes from showing each other that you are working towards the same goal and creating an environment of understanding so that actions are anticipated and partners are not surprised, or worse, left hanging. There will be many distractions along the way and while they may not be life threatening to you as a leader, they can threaten the success and “life” of a project if communication protocols are not in place to help stakeholders stay focused and on-track. So as you tackle the goals around you, remember to build communication into your strategy and make sure your partners are ready to “on belay” before you “climb on”.

We would love to hear from you. Do you agree/disagree? Do you have examples to share or ideas on how to build strong communication amongst stakeholders? Let us know!

, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Amy Farley

About Amy Farley

In her role as Associate Director, Amy Farley leads client relationships and engagements by facilitating diverse leadership teams in bold decision making and supporting the execution of transformational new ideas. Amy has a unique blend of business, nonprofit, and foundation experience, with a proven record of leading cross-functional teams and driving creative solutions that have delivered stronger collective solutions while increasing revenue and organizational growth. See Amy's full bio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.