Its not an easy road - Kokoda 2018
Earlier this year Ian Dixon ventured to PNG to undertake the Kokoda Track as part of a fundraising trek for White Ribbon. The challenge was demanding but immensely satisfying. In this article Ian reflects on his journey and the learnings that can be applied to the field of cross sector partnering.
It was May 2017 when I received an email from White Ribbon promoting a ‘Trek for Respect’ to tackle the Kokoda Track. The timing was to be the following year (2018) around the time of the Anzac Day celebrations. This captured my interest, not only to support a great cause in raising funds for White Ribbon in their quest to eliminate domestic violence but as a way of maintaining health and fitness into the future. It was also an opportunity to learn more about the Kokoda track and the sacrifices by our troops in the battle for the Kokoda Track in 1942.
So I signed up. Little did I know how consuming this challenge would be. Not only with the fundraising component but in getting prepared for the trek itself. Over the next 12 months I spent a lot of time getting fit for the trekking, taking a lot of advice as to what would be required and raising funds towards White Ribbon.
In mid-April 2018 I flew to Brisbane to meet other members of the trekking group, none of whom I had met before and knew very few details about their backgrounds. It turned out we had 19 people signed up for the trek – 11 men and 8 women from all ages and backgrounds all with a common desire to tackle the Kokoda track for their own personal reasons. The challenge was going to be how this group would come together to complete the track without any mishaps – to achieve the goal of completion and to satisfy each person’s own reason for participating.
We completed the trek on the morning of 26 April 2018, after 8 days of gruelling climbing and slippery tracks and many emotional high and lows. We walked over 120kms in distance south from Kokoda village and 7kms vertically – up and down. While physically tough it was harder mentally to keep focussed and achieve the never ending climbs and descents. I cannot describe the immense satisfaction and emotional relief at reaching the end of the trek at Ower’s Corner.
While reflecting on my Kokoda experience it struck me how many similarities there were to the challenges around cross sector partnering, where we are trying to bring diverse groups of people together around a common purpose and achieve an outcome.
Some of the points that really stood out for me were:
Being prepared for this challenge was absolutely critical. As someone who had done some bushwalking before but never to this level it was a completely different type of challenge and I needed to really prepare myself to make sure that I made it to the end of the trek.
Similarly in working with others - we need to be ‘fit for partnering’– we often underestimate the time and effort involved in preparing for complex multi stakeholder initiatives – having the right knowledge, skills, experience and resources is crucial. There is no way that I could have succeeded on the trek without preparing diligently and taking the time to learn from others who had been there before.
We had a very diverse group on the trek who brought different strengths that became evident as we undertook the challenge. There were many times on the trek when support and encouragement were needed to get the group through and individuals different skill sets shone through.
In partnering there is a great opportunity to embrace diversity and draw from the strengths of those who participate. In this way all partners can support each other to achieve their own and the groups goals.
At the start of every venture the one thing that is clear is that everyone is ‘uncertain.’ This was certainly the case for us on the trek and was very evident on the second day which was our first major hill climb. While everyone had trained hard we were all very uncertain just how we would hold up when we hit the steep climbs. This uncertainty was amplified as none of us had met before Day 1 of the trek and we knew very little about our fellow trekkers at that time and how much everyone had prepared for the trek.
In partnering the one thing that we can be sure of is everyone is very uncertain at the start. When organisations come together to explore partnering there is often a lack of information about each other and about what may lay ahead. The key is to move forward together and to support each other through the process, while making sure that we are as prepared as we can be.
Bringing everyone along together
There is a saying I often use in partnering in that ‘you only move as fast as the slowest partner’. Never was this more true than on the trek. While there was a vast range of ages (29 to 65) and walking speeds – we would stop regularly to make sure that everyone caught up and the whole group went ahead together. Even when we reached the end we waited so that we could all go through the finishing line as close together as possible.
In partnering it is crucial that we make sure all partners are moving ahead together otherwise we run the risk of delays or having conflicts emerge and then having to backtrack before we can move forward.
There is no doubt about it – this trek was tough going. There were many challenges to overcome – sore muscles, dehydration, staying upright on the slippery tracks, getting enough rest, climbing never ending hills and navigating steep descents. But we did it together and everyone supported each other to get through these challenges.
Likewise in partnering – it is not easy! Partners will come up against many challenges both externally and internally as they go through the partnering process and it is only those partnering groups that can work through these challenges successfully that will reap the rewards they are seeking. Resilience is key.
Stopping and looking around
Before I headed to the trek a number of people I spoke to who had completed it before told me to make sure I stopped and looked around. Given how difficult the terrain is you needed to be watching where you place your feet so you did not slip or fall. So to look around you had to actually stop walking and then lift your head up to see and experience the beautiful jungle scenery and views.
Stopping and looking at what is happening is crucial in partnering. It is so easy to just keep doing things that we can often miss seeing what is happening around us.
Every time we reached the top of a steep incline we would celebrate this achievement with plenty of high fives and by ‘clapping people in’ as they made it to the top. This was amazing in helping us all to keep going when things got really tough as we all had our good and bad days on the track.
Similarly in partnering we also need to celebrate when positive things happen so it gives a real boost to partners and helps momentum to be maintained over what can often be very long timeframes.
Reflecting on where we were and where we had come from
Celebrating small achievements was significant but another really important aspect was reflecting at the end of each day on what we had achieved, how we managed to make it to where we were and what we may need to do differently the next day. This could have been food intake, adjusting our levels of hydrolytes or even the amount of rest we needed that night.
In partnering, reflection can be a really useful tool to help continual learning and to make sure we are always performing at the best level possible. It is often very underrated but can pay significant benefits when undertaken consistently.
These are just a few thoughts and reflections on the trek and how it has some striking similarity to partners embarking on a partnering journey. I hope you can draw some learnings from this for your own partnering work and I would encourage you to think about how you can use other activities in your life in a similar way.
For those who would like to see more of this trek you can view a short video here and if anyone would like to know more about the challenge or are considering walking the Kokoda Track please don't hesitate to contact me and I would be happy to share any information that would assist.