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Tag: outdoor training

Outdoor Training: Issues of Learning and Change

Workers are the people who are doing the work. Managers are the people managing. Teamwork should have positive impacts and collaboration is more important than competition.

So why do most outdoor activities seem to be highly competitive ones? And why would we want MORE competition within the organization since it is already not helping — “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?

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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.

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 actually 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). And I cannot imagine doing a large group, outside, with any kind of controllable learning outcomes. Here is one we did 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 disasters? Why even allow the potential problems? What is the big benefit of people standing around outside? (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 White Mile movie starring Alan Alda: A corporate team-building trip ends in tragedy in this drama. 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.

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

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>

this was re-edited and re-published on September 30, 2012.

Outdoor Training – Just Fun or does Learning actually occur

In the past couple of months, I have been involved in a couple of threads on  LinkedIn groups that concerned learning and team building and organizational change and defining effective approaches to intervention. There are always different perspectives on these things and on their impacts on teamwork and collaboration.

There are many ways to do team building, but one guy actually questioned whether anything NOT done outdoors could represent an effective team building environment. He also said that “neuroscience” supported his personal opinion and experiences. His position was that the only way to do teambuilding was with outdoor experiential activities. Seriously?

I countered his assumption with a little challenge based on a variety of experiences and 20 years in the team building business, including the added reality that I earned a doctorate in behavioral neurophysiology and understood just a little bit about how the brain works and people learn. Kinda funny conversation, actually, since he had heard that stuff about neuroscience…

(Yeah, I can talk the talk when it comes to the brain, physiology, psychology, behavior and learning. And I have a few hundred experiences facilitating team building activities over the last 25 years…)

But his contention did stimulate me to start thinking about the indoor / outdoor paradox. There exists a blog post on some of my thoughts  —Moron Outdoor Training — and in another blog about some of the problems with outdoor training. Basically, the outdoor training kinds of things can be effective if — and only if, in my opinion — they are combined with good debriefing and reflection on the part of participants. Otherwise, I simply believe that they are just activities with more of a personal growth anchor.

In a discussion with a friend in Turkey (Murvet Gulseven), I started thinking about this issue even more. She does both indoor training as well as outdoor activities and suggested these as her overall key client framing questions for training:

  • Why they want to invest such time and money to this particular program?
  • What do they want afterwards as a desired outcome(s)?
  • What should change and how will we know when that is successful?
  • Why did they think of having such a team-building training? Who wanted the program and why? What is the support for it?
  • 3 things they want to see that has changed in their team after the program
  • Who will attend and are there anticipated problems?
  • Which trainings they have had before? What worked and what did not?
  • How are they working together now? Who are their customers? What are their issues and goals?
  • Where will they do the training? Does this place have an indoor training room, too? Etc..

I think that is a great framework and similar to how I approach things. And I wonder, on a point-to-point comparison basis, whether “outdoor activities” can measure up when it comes to consistently supplying desired outcomes, consistently focusing the attention of all of the participants clearly on the desired outcomes and on the effectiveness of the environment on minimizing distractions. It just seems like there are too many extraneous variables that can get in the way of a client spending $20,000 of its monies and taking people off work in the hopes that the environment will work. (And it is why Murvet packs “A, B, C and sometimes D” materials just in case and includes raincoats!)

Why, “Outdoors?” Understand that I am an outdoorsy guy, still camping and kayaking and similar at age 66. I’ve boated the Chattooga River (best known for being the main location in the movie, Deliverance) maybe 100 times and also the Ocoee (where they held the Atlanta Olympic Whitewater competitions) and also the Merced, Tuolumne, Kern, and even the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on 3 different times. In the late 70s, I did a 9-month road trip around the US with my car and my tent.

But my experiences with “outdoor training” have never been positive ones, with issues ranging from really poor instructors who knew the exercise but who had no business experience (think “raft guide” or “college student”) to wild temperatures (95 to 100 degree F) to thunderstorms and the real danger of lightning, to “too sunny” to “rainy and windy.” And most of the exercises (with but one exception) did not do a great job of gaining everyone’s involvement. In none of them did they effectively include people with physical handicaps.

This is building teamwork and improving organizational results?

Really? This is building teamwork and improving organizational results?

I will admit that my outdoor experiences in such events are not really all that broad. I did one “high ropes” program with a skilled instructor at a great facility that was really well-done (but that was about ME and not about building teamwork) and I have not played paintball for a variety of reasons (or lasertag).

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

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 burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article of his and there were a ton of posts around “naming the event” in a couple of training discussion threads, as well as potential theme songs like, “Light My Fire” by The Doors (grin) ).  You can read more here.  (Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)

Firewalking can be a legitimate (and costly) 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 I wonder how she is doing these days…)

So, my basic position simply asks, “Why?” Why do something the might work when there are known alternatives that DO work and that can link to specific desired and measurable corporate desired outcomes?

Lastly, here is a post on outdoor training and pheromones that you might find interesting as well as amusing. (Seriously! Click on the image below.)

timthumb

Care to discuss any of this stuff? Pop me a comment!

And you are certainly welcome to come kayaking with me — but we will not charge you for it and we will not define it as a team building activity. It is just a fun way to get outdoors and away from most people and to float without any real goals and agendas in mind…

For the FUN of It!

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on People and Performance is here.

 

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>

The Problems with Outdoor Training – some thoughts on team building

In a conversation a while back, I was asked if one of our team building games could be used in an outdoor setting. Wow, did that bring up some memories about what might have happened and the reality of losing control.

Firstly, I am not a fan of most outdoor types of activities. 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 the game to organizational behavior and leadership, problem solving or change. Sure, the exercises are fun and people do like to solve problems. But it takes a good facilitator to bring out the discussions and not all the facilitators are all that good. Plus, the links from the activity back to business are sometimes stretched.

And it is not that I have not personally participated in those kinds of things over the years. I attended one such event as a participant and was there 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 task at hand. The “session leader” 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 most circles.

(Yeah, and imagine when I was allowed to talk in the debriefing! One of the questions I asked of her was about her 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 timing the different problem solving activities and comparing different groups to the others. We actually had a really competitive volleyball competition, too, and during the awards ceremony, many the Losers actually booed the Winners in front of the company’s executive VP. And this was at a team building event where the company spent many 10s of thousands of dollars! — Note: I was on the winning team and I still have my trophy on my bookshelf as a reminder of how badly this went…

Competition produces chaos, not collaboration and improvement

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, since it has apparently happened before. Needless to say, that hour spent on it was costly as well as pretty distracting for all of his friends and co-workers.

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 occurring 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 I actually cannot remember a single time when something did not go wrong and force us to make a major adjustment in our delivery. And I cannot imagine doing a large group, outside, with any kind of controllable learning outcomes. Here is one we did for 500 people:

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 disasters? Why even allow the potential problems? What is the big benefit of people standing around outside? (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 golf, bowling or firewalking to be very good team building activities. Baseball is okay, maybe, since everyone can play and bat and all that. But volleyball requires too much skill and the 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. Why add uncontrollable factors just to make it some “outside” program whereby the potential for non-participation or even injury might occur?

I will always remember the White Mile movie starring Alan Alda: A corporate team-building trip ends in tragedy in this drama. 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.

Have fun out there!

this was re-edited and re-publishes on September 30, 2012.   

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

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>

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