Lessons from the Lift: What Skiing with Friends Can Teach HR Leaders About the Art of Employee Engagement and Belonging


For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege to facilitate a mastermind group of about 100 HR Executives from different industries and size companies across the United States. We gather to discuss the challenges that we are currently facing and share best practices.

Recently, while skiing with my HR colleagues at a ski resort, I have been pondering over some of the most challenging topics, such as reducing turnover without raising wages, enhancing employee engagement in remote or hybrid settings, and preventing high performers from burnout. These issues all relate to employee engagement and a sense of belonging within the workplace.

As the winter season has been particularly snowy in the Western United States, I have reflected on how skiing with friends at a ski resort can provide valuable insights into increasing employee engagement and addressing similar challenges discussed in our mastermind group.

Skiing with friends can serve as a valuable lesson for employee engagement and belonging in the workplace. Studies have shown that companies with high levels of collaboration are five times more likely to be high-performing, and employees who feel a sense of belonging in the workplace are more engaged and productive, resulting in improved business outcomes. Just as powder days bring skiers together on the mountain, there are five key lessons we can learn and apply in our employee networks to build better collaboration and a stronger sense of belonging among our team members.

  1. Everyone should have a shared goal and vision for why they are there.When skiing at a resort, the shared goal is clear: to have fun and enjoy the snow. Everyone is there for the same reason and is working towards a common goal (finding more powder). The same should be true in the workplace. Every employee should clearly understand the company’s mission, values, and goals and how their role contributes to the organization’s overall success. When employees have a common goal and vision, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to work towards achieving it. Furthermore, mission clarity allows employees to engage with one another in pushing the mission forward. Like skiing, when you hop on a lift to catch your next ride, you get an excellent opportunity to collect beta on the resort terrain or discuss the current snow conditions and the best way to ride them with your newfound friends.
  2. Create an environment that mitigates risk but allows for exploration.Skiing at a resort can be risky, but the resort takes measures to mitigate that risk. There are designated trails for different skill levels, ski patrol spends time bombing slopes that could avalanche and roping off potentially dangerous areas, and there are signs and markers to help skiers navigate the mountain. In the workplace, managers should create an environment that allows for exploration and innovation while creating a safe work environment where everyone can thrive and contribute. This means providing employees with the tools and resources they need to succeed while ensuring they have proper training and support. Managers should also be open to new ideas and willing to take calculated risks to support employee growth.
  3. Taking the lift up to the top of a run brings people together to chat and share.Riding up the chairlift is a great time to catch up, chat and share with friends and fellow skiers. Some of my most fond memories are the laughs and jokes I’ve shared with friends while riding up the lift to catch the next turns down the mountain. The same is true in the workplace. When employees are given the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas, they feel more connected and engaged. We commonly refer to this as ‘watercooler’ conversations. However, traditional serendipitous methods, such as the ‘watercooler’, are becoming increasingly outdated. It is now more important than ever to use technology to design novel experiences that bring people together in unique ways. This can be done by enhancing regular team meetings, cross-functional collaborations, slack channels, or informal gatherings. These gatherings don’t need to take up much time but do need to occur regularly during the work week.
  4. Sense of shared accomplishment and camaraderie.After finishing a fun and challenging ski run, there is a sense of shared accomplishment when you reach the bottom of the mountain. Smiles are shared, and tales of the excellent snow conditions and the amazing drop you found in the trees are told. The same is true in the workplace. Employees who work together to achieve a common goal feel a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. Managers should create opportunities for employees to work together and achieve shared goals. This can be done through team projects, team-building activities, or even friendly competitions.
  5. Bringing different skill sets together and sharing best practices. Employees need to collaborate with other departments.Skiing at a resort requires different skill sets. Some skiers are experts at navigating the steepest trails, while others are better at cruising the groomers. Employees also have different skill sets in the workplace, and it’s essential to bring them together and share best practices. Leaders should create opportunities for employees to collaborate with other departments and encourage them to share their unique perspectives and expertise. This can be done through cross-functional teams, mentoring programs, or asking employees to opt into groups designed to tackle the company’s specific challenges.

In conclusion, skiing at a resort can teach a lot about creating belonging at work. By having a shared goal and vision, creating an environment that mitigates risk but allows for exploration, bringing people together to chat and share, creating a sense of shared accomplishment and camaraderie, and bringing different skill sets together and sharing best practices, we can increase employee engagement and create a workplace where employees feel they belong. As HR professionals, it’s our responsibility to create an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and connected, and we can learn a lot from the ski slopes.


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