Mouth for Sale: Teaming in a Flash

Robyn Benincasa is no delicate flower. This powerhouse has traversed just about every corner of the world and is ready to teach your group how to get things done.

Following a stint in the corporate world, Benincasa began competing in Ironman-distance triathlons, then adventure racing, which included participating in—and winning—Eco-Challenge. The competition, Survivor creator Mark Burnett's brainchild, was the subject of his first unscripted show and followed adventure racing teams of four on 10-day, nonstop races including kayaking, orienteering (navigational challenges), and mountain biking, among other trials.

It was during Eco-Challenge that Benincasa realized, "Through a particular kind of teaming, our outcomes are greater than our efforts. Our team of ragtag members beat out better athletes, because of teamwork."

So Benincasa created Human Synergy, Inc., a company that spread her extreme teamwork message to corporate groups through talks on "Eight Essential Elements of Human Synergy" and through World Class Teams teambuilding activities.

Benincasa's speaking career moved to the next level six years ago when she became a firefighter and "a default expert in teamwork," as she calls herself. A conversation between Benincasa and her fire chief revolved around what people could learn from firefighting and led to the development of Flashover Seminars, which offers events and keynotes. A Flashover keynote on extreme teaming uses the acronym FLASH (Focus on we; Leadership flexibility; Adversity management; Subjugation of ego; Honor and respect) to describe effective teamwork.

Benincasa, a fire chief, and two fire captains, one of whom also served two tours in Iraq, run the Extreme Teams session. Corporate groups can choose between Extreme Teams and an Incident Command keynote, which uses the acronym STRAP (Scene sizeup; Tactical priorities; Resource acquisition; Action; Position, progress, & needs) as its model. Incident Command uses 100 years of firefighting to discern "what are the best strategies to size up a scene and handle everything appropriately," says Benincasa. "It teaches how to handle business 'fires'," by following the STRAP plan firefighters use for structural firefighting.

Benincasa works with groups ahead of time to determine their needs and how the presentation can be tailored to fit the audience. She also invites a company executive to tie the message directly back to the group and help the audience understand how to relate the presentation to their work. "It's much better than me trying to make it up," she explains. "It really hits home that way."

Flashover Seminars also offers three supplemental breakout sessions: a search-and-rescue operation, an outdoor firefighter challenge, and a computer-based fire simulation activity.

"We don't expect people to know firefighting techniques; it's about sizing up the situation," Benincasa explains. For example, "It's pretty funny when people park their [simulated fire] trucks too close to the fire and the engine melts." While there may not be an acronym for that one, learning from mistakes can be valuable too.