Team-Building In The Age of Discovery


Team-Building In The Age of Discovery


I have been very researching historic approaches to team-building. Deep in a vault in the Royal Archives in Madrid I came upon this very illuminating document which was written by Christopher Columbus the day before he set out for that fateful voyage to America.

As ever, the team-building techniques described herein belong to a different era and Remote Pals does not necessarily endorse them.


On Building Morale Aboard Seafaring Vessels. Five Methods For A Glorious Voyage That Brings Glory On Our Monarchs (Who I Doth Respect Greatly)

by Christopher Columbus, August 2, 1492

1. A Bacchanalian

Before I start a great Voyage, I like to throw a party for my men, boys, and monkeys, so that there spirits may soar like the waves of the great Atlantic. This is verily important as not all realise how rewarding a life at sea can be. Some prefer to run out their hour glass of life in a dank cell [expeditions of that time often recruited prisoners and poor people]. Strange indeed!

For such men in the gaol here in Palos [the port Columbus sailed from], I have arranged a bacchanlian tonight. There will be very many barrels of rum that they can drink to their hearts’ content, and most secure sleeping quarters that they can repose in.

Then on the morrow, after we’ve cast anchor away, should any such man rise and say, “Lord, I prefereth to swim back to shore and retake my place in gaol” then I shall of course grant him that freedom and advise him on how to best avoid sharks.

2. Rum

The doldrums can be a dreary business indeed. Week upon week of no wind and no wave, and very little progress. For this, I have stored up a bottle of rum per day per man, half a bottle per boy, and but a modest thimble for the monkeys.

This will keep spirits up and ensure that a most social and cordial atmosphere on board.

Barrels of Rum
Stack ’em high, mateys!

3. More Rum

Such a great Quantitie of rum is drunk in the doldrums that the men, boys, and monkeys expect that they have drunk it all. I like to surprise them by revealing – just after we’ve exited the doldrums – a great new big store of rum from the hold of the ship.

In this way, shall peace and amity be maintained.

4. False Teeth

Scurvy is most fearsome indeed.

I shall show the utmost of concern for my men in this regard, by maintaining one set of false teeth on board. The quarter-master has already acquired a nice set, well worn-in, from a merchant Toledo so the cost to the exchequer is quite low. The most productive seaman every week is to be allowed use of the false teeth on the Sabbath. On this day he may chew up all his victuals for the coming week.

An actual picture of false teeth from Columbus’ time is not pleasant at all

5. Eternal Salvation

My greatest fear as I embark upon this voyage, more than storm or savage, is that we reach the edge of the Earth and plunge over into this Abyss! I have drilled my men to tack furiously and to be able to turn our vessels around, even in the teeth of a strong wind.

Nonetheless, it would be nice to see what does happen when the Abyss is breached, and so I will dispatch a sloopful of my most criminal men so that I may observe them fall into the Abyss. By the divine right of Monarchs, Fat Izzy [again, we believe he would have amended this for the published version. Also, this was before fat shaming was a thing] has told me I can promise such men Eternal Salvation and peaceful repose in the bosom of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and St Elmo [patron saint of sailors].

Columbus really feared reaching the edge of the Earth