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Tag: outdoor team building problems

Why I HATE Outdoor Teambuilding after 30 years

“Outdoor Teambuilding.”

For me, this phrase represents an oxymoron, two words that simply do not go together. Classic oxymoron examples include “jumbo shrimp,” “crash landing,” “found missing,” “student teacher,” and, being an old rock and roller, my personal favorite, “Country Music!”

Why do I hate outdoor team building events? Because outdoors represents a basically impossible environment to do much actual team building yet companies choose to do those things, get no results and then think that no team building is actually possible. And they waste money, time and energy and cast a pall on good, impactful programs.

With training outdoors, there are simply too many distractions and dissociations in how people are reacting to make good connections to workplace issues. Outdoors is simply a place full of distractions making it is hard to hear and easy to lose focus. Sure, who doesn’t like to go whitewater rafting*, but other than remembering the fun and a few crazy things that happened to a few people, does it apply to workplace improvement or innovation or discussing changes in expectations or alignment?

And let me note that a lot of “indoor team-building focused experiential training experiences” are often simply outdoor-type activities moved indoors. I do not include any of those in my framing of business simulations and business teambuilding events. Running around indoors is the same as running around outdoors, in my view and I would also not consider paintball and firewalking to be indoor activities.


The ROI on most of these activities simply cannot be measured. Sure people have fun and will talk about the experience afterwards, but will they really do anything differently to impact the organization? And isn’t that why we are doing team building in the first place?


(Okay, an outdoor adventure or some fun and games IS better than listening to a senior executive share critically important data using powerpoint. I will take a climbing wall over a slideshow on last year’s results for inventory turnover… But I am talking about team building activities here…)

Organizations spend a LOT of money on team building events, with the expectation that they will get some return on that investment and see some changes in organizational behavior such as increased collaboration between departments or better alignment to the organizational mission and goals. (And, yes, “Interdepartmental Collaboration” is another favorite oxymoron!).

Post program, you will find the attendees talking about the activity and the structure and not a lot about the debriefing or the business links. Navigating that high ropes challenge is a solid accomplishment. And, sure, solving The Acid River is an interesting challenge – now how does that relate either to solving interdepartmental issues? And, often, the solution comes from ONE individual and not the team – there is no real teamwork involved in the strategy and those not involved are often those same people who resist the changes being done to them. Being directed as to how to perform is NOT teamwork and will not improve collaboration.

Click on the image above to see another article on outdoor learning and change

CAN Outdoor Teambuilding work? Sure. But DOES it represent the BEST environment for involving and engaging the broad diversity of people within the group and generate sufficient critical thinking or shifting of perspective that could drive changes in behavior? Organizations pay for this stuff, but I am not sure if they are looking for “great fun reactions” or actual impacts and changes. Only you can make that judgement based on your personal experiences, but my direct and indirect experience would say, Nope. No way.

  • Generally, those kinds of activities offer no possibility of measuring or measurement of behavior of individuals or groups, unless you focus on timing, which is a focus on competition more than collaboration.
  • They make it difficult for the older, less athletically-able people to compete on equal footing (that is a pun because I have a bad foot in actuality). The older workers simply cannot run and jump with the younger ones.
  • The events are often exclusive to those with some kind of disability or infirmity, such as a bad back or shoulder or knee and, frankly, being an observer is simply reinforcing that they are different (and not included with the others).

Doing a Dragon Boat Race is seemingly pretty unrelated to improving customer service or implementing the new strategy to involve and engage everyone in a workplace innovation project. Going go-kart racing is a fun thing, but who wins is often the most common discussion along with who had the fastest kart or who cheated so they could win. Do you have a different perspective?

And there is Paintball. Paintball as a business exercise. Shooting at other people with hard projectiles with the goal of doing them harm (killing them out of the game?) but also demanding some high level of motor skills coordination and physical activity of running and dodging to succeed creates an unfair playing field.  Grandmother Susan in accounting is probably going to find it somewhat physically challenging to lie in the dirt and shoot at people.

This 30-second advertisement for Booking.com is an especially good one, I think. Click on the image below to watch it on YouTube – it is well worth the time (30 sec)!

Annual company paintball teambuilding retreat booking dot com

And I also still laugh at the Firewalking “training event” paid for by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in this “team building and personal growth” session. The result was that 12 people got their feet burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article and there were a ton of posts around “naming the event” in a couple of training discussion threads, as well as suggestions for potential theme songs like, “Light My Fire” by The Doors (grin) ).  You can read more about firewalking here.

(Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)
(The organizer blamed the burns on people with incredibly sensitive feet!!)

Firewalking can be a legitimate (and costly) experience growth experience (www.skepdic.com/firewalk.html).
but does it really impact teams and help to improve company results?

One who suffered injury was Burger King’s vice president of product marketing. But, hey, she had no regrets, for she was filled with the corporate rapture. Walking across searing coals, she exclaimed, “Made you feel a sense of empowerment and that you can accomplish anything” (and she could accomplish that with only a few casualties and hospital and ambulance bills). (And one wonders how she is doing these days…)

…so the Big Benefit of Outdoor Training:  You do not have to rent a hotel room.
(Well, Booking.com suggests you do as the one main benefit in their ad!)

Sure there are things like whitewater rafting that need to be outside, but I encourage you to watch White Mile with Alan Alda (trailer is excellent!) about his mandatory whitewater trip and the death of some of his executive team. Sure, it is a movie, but being on the water is not really the cat’s meow for many people.

I can go on and on about the personal experiences (generally failures and mediocre learning situations) but those have been done in prior blogs. What we are talking about is team BUILDING activities and not the team BONDING kinds of things that might improve friendliness or improve personal interactions but that have only remote connections to organizational development.

You have alternatives. There are a lot of good team building simulations out there that focus discussions on issues and opportunities, programs that present actionable behaviors and cultural shifts in how things are done.

So when someone is suggesting an event, ask questions about what might result from the expenditures. Define the desired outcomes and frame up with the ROI should look like. Good events can generate a lot of positive outcomes and impacts.

See this post for how those discussions might be addressed in a conversation of two senior managers trying to impact their organization:

Many People Hate Offsite Teambuilding – A Learned Response

 

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

One of the best teambuilding exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Twitter @scottsimmerman


Alan Alda’s movie, White Mile, was released in 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8DIGIr8SiU

Booking.com’s advertisement on rewarding hotels after Paintball is found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZTgKU5KNTM

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building simulation can be found at: http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/corporate-team-building-games-the-search-for-the-lost-dutchmans-gold-mine/

Outdoor Training: Issues of Learning and Change

The situation is simple when it comes to outdoor training and development:

  • Workers are the people who are doing the work.
  • Managers are the people managing.
  • Teamwork should have positive impacts on people and performance.
  • Training should impact perspective and understanding
  • Collaboration is more important than competition.
  • Debriefing and Discussion are generally the best desired outcomes, along with commitment to change.

So why do most outdoor activities seem to be highly competitive activities with lots of room for climate issues and other distractions? And why would we want MORE competition within the organization since it is already not helping and generally sub-optimizing  — “interdepartmental collaboration” is an oxymoron in most places!

And I am sure that the workers find more competition within the different departments of your company right now than they find between your company and your competitors. The senior managers might see things differently, but do the workers themselves actually feel they are competing with others more than they feel they are already competing with their own management?

  • So, why not focus on more inter-departmental collaboration and alignment?
  • Why not build on improving communications and engagement?
  • Why keep doing competitive things when collaborative ones are needed?

—————————

Airline Cargo Volleyball TrophyWe won the competition, but we lost the team building aspect of things. And I have the trophy to prove it! More on this below.

—————————

On occasion, I am asked if one of our team building games could be used in an outdoor setting. Wow, does that bring up some memories about what might have happened and the reality of losing control. I find too many uncontrolled things can happen in an outside environment and wonder why they are used, actually. And, so many of these outdoor events are strictly “games” and not learning events and, therefore, primarily competition-based engagement.

(Is that an oxymoron?)

Being outside is great, but is it cost effective for a business to make that decision? I guess if FUN is the desired outcome, and not LEARNING nor generating behavioral commitments to do things differently, outdoor games can work. But my personal experience is that the outdoor environment is generally NOT conducive to generating organizational change and I have lots of frameworks for that in my personal history of being a participant as well as a leader.

The idea of sports analogies or military frameworks applied to business development situations also makes me uncomfortable because businesses do NOT represent how sports teams operate nor are we generally accepting assault and raw aggression as good business strategies. We are not a football team with a quarterback and plays and countless practice drills and direct head-to-head team competition with other teams. We are not a baseball team, with players who each do their jobs in the field and then take bats individually against the pitcher of another team. We are not basketball teams, running plays and shooting baskets. We can make analogies to those activities, but we are not in those industries!

Paintball as a business exercise? Shooting at other people with the goal of doing them harm (killing them out of the game?) and demanding some level of motor skills coordination and physical activity of running and dodging to succeed creates an unfair playing field.  Sure, there are analogies, but is that a business learning opportunity? Is building a rope bridge and then walking over it a real situation for your business (or driving a go-cart or bowling) — is it going to generate real business collaboration and improvement? Firewalking?

(I do have a good article on Business Sabotage you can read here!)

Sports are too much about winners and losers whereas business requires collaboration across a variety of operational and support groups. Military games are way too deadly serious and many of your participants may have significant emotional ties to such situations. If they were in a real war, your activity will bring back those strong negative associations and memories. If they had a child or relative killed or injured in some war, it is that same issue — you are coercing them to participate in a situation that creates unpleasant emotions.

Do we really need to use competition and competitiveness
as driving forces
for collaboration within our companies?

(Is that telephone customer service rep actually in competition with another company or merely depending on collaboration from other departments to perform well in her job? Is that guy on the shopfloor really competing with The Koreans in producing a high quality automobile? Is competition the real driving force for top performance by people? (Answer: NO) )

Workers are the people who are doing the work. Managers are the people managing. Workers and Managers both want LESS competition within the different departments of your company. So, why not focus on more inter-departmental collaboration and improving communications and engagement?

Generally, the links to the business improvement issues — why companies are actually spending money and time with managers and employees — are sometimes quite vague when relating many outdoor activities to organizational behavior and leadership, problem solving or change. Sure, these outside exercises are fun and people do like to solve problems and compete. But it takes a good facilitator to bring out the discussions and not all the facilitators are all that good nor is there always support within the program design for a strong debriefing to take place. Plus, the links from the activity back to business are sometimes stretched.

I speak with experience as a participant of many different kinds of these activities. One was at a college with a bunch of my Leadership Greenville colleagues (a program supported by our Chamber of Commerce). Being collaborative and facilitative in my general style, I applied these skills in discussions about solving the outdoor problems at hand (like the acid river and the bucket on a string designs). The “session leader”  actually decided I was helping too much and told me that I HAD to be silent and could not talk — this is also known as punishment in psychology and it has pretty predictable consequences long-term.

(Yeah, and imagine when I was allowed to talk in the debriefing! One of the questions I asked of her was about the leader’s business experience. Turns out that she had never actually had an actual job. And she is the leader of this group of business people? Really?)

Another such program on collaboration turned into a mass group competition, where the VP of the group was making things more competitive by timing the different problem solving activities and comparing different groups to the others.

Airline Cargo Volleyball TrophyWe actually had a quite competitive volleyball teambuilding competition, too, and during the awards ceremony, many of the Losers actually booed the Winners in front of the company’s Executive VP Operations. And this was at a team building event where the company spent many 10s of thousands of dollars bringing players in from all over the US and hosting them at a retreat facility in the middle of Texas!

Note: I was on the winning team and I still have my trophy on my bookshelf as a reminder of how badly this went…

That same event also had one of the participants being stung by a scorpion when he leaned on a tree — he went into shock. But the facilitation team actually carried an anaphylactic shock kit with them out in the field, since it had apparently happened before (wonder if they had mentioned that when working on the design of the activities). Needless to say, that hour spent on it was costly for the 60 highly paid company people — everything stopped completely — as well as pretty distracting for all of his friends and co-workers.

Competition produces chaos and confusion, not collaboration and improvement

My outdoor delivery experiences also include a session where the sun came out and totally washed out the projected images on the screen so no one could see. At a different event, the temperature in the huge circus tent went to 110 degrees and the big electric fans blew all the papers off the tabletops (so we taped them down). But these same fans were so noisy that the debriefing was impossible, as also occurred with the game activities that followed after my session. And this narrative represents the short-version of all the things that went wrong…

Another event had it rain for an hour right after we put the maps and things on the tables. We quickly recollected all the soluble stuff and then, when the rain stopped, we had each table select what it required from our “Organized Pile of Materials” and take these things outside to their tables (which the hotel staff helped us dry off with a massive number of room towels).

YES, my games CAN be delivered as outside activities, but why? I cannot remember a single time when something did not go wrong and force us to make a major adjustment in our delivery (like an afternoon lightning storm or very high heat). And I cannot imagine doing a large group, outside, with any kind of controllable learning outcomes. Yet here is one we did indoors for 500 people that went really well:

Large group team building delivery - INSIDE - with everything under control!

If my client is paying big bucks to get people to the venue, feed them, house them and all that, and they are renting a room for lunch or dinner, why the heck not simply deliver the exercise inside under controlled temperature and lighting and audio/video and avoid all the outdoor disasters?

– Why even allow the potential problems and distractions?
– Why necessitate a scramble when the weather changes?
– What is the big benefit of people standing around outside?Birds?

(Heck, maybe I could design a program around them all coming over to my house and working on my yard and gardens, ya think? Do it like one of those cooking classes — I could sell it as a Landscaping Teambuilding Initiative and maybe even get them to work on my neighbors’ yards…)

Lastly, I do not consider firewalking, golf, go-karting or golfing to be very good team building activities. Baseball is okay, maybe, since everyone can play and bat and all that but running is required (and I actually ruptured an Achilles tendon playing ball). Volleyball requires too much skill and the size and skill differences between people can be way too large. And how many times do I have to pass balls around or deal with a bucket on a string or hold hands with other people to solve a problem, anyway…

There are LOTS and lots of good team building games and exercises that can be delivered with high impact and good learning. So, why intentionally add uncontrollable factors just to make it some “outside” program whereby a much higher potential for non-participation or even injury might occur?

I will always remember the movie White Mile, where a corporate rafting, team-building trip ends in tragedy. Hoping to build bonds between his employees and clients, advertising executive Dan Cutler (Alan Alda) takes the group on a whitewater rafting excursion. But the raft capsizes, several of the men die, and one widow files a lawsuit. Cutler tries to hide his negligence, and one survivor (Peter Gallagher) faces a difficult moral dilemma. We often see the same kind of lower-level drama play out in such corporate team days… Watch the two-minute trailer here for some great scenes.

These uncontrolled, outdoor activities CAN go very wrong, but so many simply have the outdoors as functionally distracting to the learning that is supposed to be the main desired outcome.

Have fun out there! And maximize your team building impact.

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ –

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here

 

Why use Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for large team building events?

I was chatting with a human resources director and we were planning  the presentation of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for about 250 people — her whole organization — in one big fun learning event. This was for a financial institution priding itself on customer service and customer / employee retention and collaboration and communications, so the fit was quite good.

The plan we discussed is for her to have her senior management team do a team building program using Lost Dutchman, where they will sort out their issues and opportunities and what they choose to do differently and improve on and then teach them how to support the delivery for the large group. As I posted up in the blog the other day, using senior management to help deliver is a pretty common model for me, one where the internal people do all the training and delivery work without using an outside person. It dramatically helps generate alignment and makes these people part of the actual perceived organizational support team!

Why use Lost Dutchman and Senior Managers for such events?

Well, the design of the game precludes my personal involvement — I am not required to help deliver it, which has many positive impacts. If I understand the desired outcomes, I can customize the suggested debriefing. If a trainer can use the game with her executives — and the metaphors of the exercise and the actual behaviors of the executives — she can deliver a highly congruent program and deal with the results without “personal involvement.” She will not be attacked for her leading discussions about the sub-optimizing choices of the leadership team.

AND, she management/leadership prepared to support the delivery of the exercise to all the employees. This saves a great deal of money and dramatically improves the relevancy of play to reality of how things are working and can work.

After all, two main themes of the game are focused on organizational alignment and collaboration:

and

The Goal of the game is to COLLABORATE and optimize results...

These are business card magnets that we often give out as reminders of why we played the game. They generally wind up on file cabinets and breakroom refrigerators.

The word we use is, “WE” but teams take that as, “My Team, My Team, My Team” in many cases.

Dutchman is a powerful game that’s easy to learn to deliver, bombproof and congruent in its play and focuses discussions on choices that we make and alternative choices that are available in the game, and then back in the workplace. Collaboration and engagement are the things that lead to employee involvement and intrinsic motivation.

And because it is straightforward and easy to play, it becomes a great event for managers to truly demonstrate their active support for helping teams be successful and optimizing results of the entire group.

large teambuilding event

Dutchman works great for very large groups

Dutchman is a powerful exercise for large events since you run the game with internal people (and leaders if you can involve them) and the game metaphors are completely congruent with the concepts of collaboration between departments and engaging people to motivate high levels of performance. The discussions focused on actual behavior and the choices that people could make in the future are also great ways to discuss possibilities. It is these visions of how thing could be that help drive improved overall results and engage and motivate individuals. It is the alignment to missions and visions that helps push things forward.

Generating alignment is a key factor in performance and optimization of results

Have fun out there, get people aligned and performing, and improve things!

You can see more about the exercise on our websites at http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/category_s/110.htm and at
http://www.squarewheels.com/ld/ldindex.html where there is a LOT of descriptive information.

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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