Extreme Team Building


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Team skydiving, rock climbing, white water rafting, and bungee jumping are all suitable activities for adrenaline-loving thrill seekers, but what role do they play in corporate America? All are extreme team recreational exercises that some executives believe help to boost employee morale and foster a spirit cooperation and creativity amongst team members.

Most team-building activities focus on developing critical skills, like problem-solving, real -time decision-making, task delegation, and communication. Some are mental exercises and some just aren't for the faint of heart. Take Vallarta Adventures, which offers an "Adventure Team Building Program" designed to facilitate the development of more creative and productive employees, effective managers, and efficient teams. Their outdoor skills program sends participants through mountains, mesas and canyons with few basic supplies - no tents, sleeping bags, stoves, backpacks, watches, radios, or cell phones. The outdoor adventure program is just as challenging, as participants are engaged in a high-speed boat ride, hiking, rappelling, zip lining, mule riding, and traversing jungle bridges.

Many corporate executives believe that extreme team building exercises help to boost employee morale and foster cooperation.

Management consulting firm, Teambuilding Inc., organizes a high-tech treasure hunt, called Geoquest, where team members must work together to find hidden targets. Teams of four to five people receive handheld GPS units pre-programmed with the locations of hidden treasures. The GPS units guide teams to within 20 feet of their goal. After that, they use their wits and determination to decipher written clues to find the hidden answers. In their sailing team building exercise, participants battle the wind, currents, and their colleagues while guiding their sail boats through an obstacle course. Success requires extensive collaboration between boats using hand-held radios as communications skills.

For the more adventurous, extreme team building exercises are designed to build team spirit or put decision-making skills into practice by placing participants into physically demanding situations. While treasure hunts, hiking, and sailing are relatively safe, team skydiving seems to move closer to the danger zone. Rock climbing, another demanding extreme sport, presents its own challenges and risks, yet some incorporate the activity into their team building program.

Sound like fun teambuilding exercises? Not to everyone.

Anne Thornley-Brown, president of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto-based management consulting firm specializing in team building retreats and facilitated business simulations, cautions that dangerous activities are being passed off as team building. "Adrenaline junkies in some executive suites combined with an 'anything a group does together is team building' mentality is a slippery, dangerous, and, at times very expensive slope," writes Thornley-Brown in her corporate team building blog.

"Team building can include recreational activities but a recreational activity is not the same thing as team building. Just because a group gets together and engages in an activity that is 'fun', does not make the activity 'team building'," she says. "Business team building is about bringing the team together and using their collective genius to achieve results. Expertly facilitated team building can help business organizations generate specific and measurable business results."

Thornley-Brown adds: "Is there a place for strictly recreational activities in the corporate world? Absolutely. Companies would be dreary places to work if no one ever laughed or smiled. There is a place for company picnics, Christmas parties, and recreational outings... even paintball if it floats your boat. The key is that, unless your business is a country club or a recreation center, the budget for recreation should never exceed or be close to what is spent on "real " team building to help the organization achieve its mission and purpose."

Tom Ricci is the owner of Ricci Communications.

Team building can include recreational activities but a recreational activity is not the same thing as team building.

Anne Thornley-Brown, president, Executive Oasis International

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December 2012

by Tom Ricci, ASME.org