For the past decade, I have been involved in discussion threads on  LinkedIn and Twitter that concerned learning and team building and organizational change and defining effective approaches to business interventions. There are always different perspectives on these things and on their impacts on teamwork and collaboration.

There are many ways to do good 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 challenge based on a variety of experiences and 25+ years in the INDOOR 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 but really did not know much about information processing, barriers to change, or behavioral science in general…

(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 and organizational improvement activities over the last 40 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 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) personal growth experience
( )
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.)


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=”″ 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.
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Scott holds a doctorate from The University of North Carolina in behavioral neurophysiology. Consulting since 1978, he is a Certified Professional Trainer (IAPPD) and a Certified Professional Facilitator (IAF) and the founder of The Square Wheels Project, a facilitation course designed for generating Disruptive Engagement among supervisors to motivate and empower their people.


Also published on Medium.