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Expedition Behavior

I was recently on an epic hike with my new hubby. A few hours into our climb, he mentioned a backpacking trip run by the group NOLS he took as a teenager. He brought up the central, unifying concept that was drilled into all of the backpackers from day one of this trip: the concept of Expedition Behavior. Expedition Behavior, as summed up by him (and by NOLS) is the idea that everyone on the trip exhibits behaviors that add to and positively influence the overall experience of all of the others on the trip. Or, more simply, it’s that “you do your part, plus a little extra.

You do your part, plus a little extra.

The group of backpackers was frequently complimented as having “good EB” when they approached a challenging part of the trip with enthusiasm instead of complaints. They were reminded to exhibit EB when a trip member needed extra support in carrying his pack. When they encountered a challenge in setting up camp - their equipment was broken or something was missing - they all actively sought solutions instead of dwelling on who messed up or the problem at hand. Within a few hours of the first day of the trip, the teens were clamoring to demonstrate their great EB and be recognized for those efforts.

As a newlywed, I absolutely know for certain that my husband didn’t bring up EB in my response to not wanting to take a turn in schlepping our shared overstuffed backpack (that, for the record, I did mention was way too big for this hike). Rather, I believe he brought up the concept of EB as a link to organizational culture, and as a potential lens from which we, as managers, can think about how we run our teams.

On the hike, I had been talking about a culture challenge I was struggling with. A team member had recently done something that didn’t necessarily violate a code of ethics or conduct, but rather, her actions upset many members of the team: her actions broke down our team instead of building it up. It was hard to fully articulate why her behaviors just weren’t cool. Though we have a list of cultural values and a code of conduct, neither list really got to the root of the problem….which was that she was just not acting with Expedition Behavior.

To build a great team, encourage your team members to demonstrate Expedition Behavior. And demonstrate Expedition Behavior yourself.

Here are some other examples of what makes up Expedition Behavior:

  • Looking for solutions instead of problems

  • Approaching a challenging or uncertain situation with curiosity and positivity

  • Thinking about every member of the team and ensuring that they feel included and safe

  • Taking ownership for your own experience

  • Taking ownership for the collective experience

And how can you encourage EB on your teams? Praise individuals when they exhibit great EB. Encourage others to praise each other when they witness great EB. Hold up examples of EB when you see it (and, provide examples of what great EB looks like to you). Talk about the concept and talk about it frequently. Use management tools (such as development plans) that support an individual's ownership of their experience in the work place.

As I’ve written before, there are challenges in solely relying on a list of cultural values as a way to ensure you have thriving teams and organizations. Cultural values - the list of adjectives that so many companies put on their walls and on their websites - often don’t clearly define the expectations for a team member’s actions. And, cultural values can be exclusive and may limit the ability to build a diverse team. For example, we may have a value of “creativity”; however for our finance team, creativity is not a value that is held dear to how they do their jobs well. A value of “empathy” may inadvertently exclude neurologically diverse team members. We may build bias into our interviewing process by using cultural values as a way to not hire people who are different from us.

So next time you’re talking to your team about who you want to be as a group, how you want to operate, and what kind of candidates you want to hire, think about the concept of Expedition Behavior. Happy hiking!


Are you looking for other ways to strengthen your team?

  • How To Fix Your Team That’s Not Actually a Team

  • Painless Team Building Exercises

Want more tips or tricks to be a great boss? Check out and subscribe to my newsletter or pre-order the book, Bringing Up the Boss: Practical Lessons for New Managers!



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