The last word

Trainer and writer John Charlton gives a personal and tongue-in-cheek view
of outdoor development courses

Shared experiences that are tough and challenging build team spirit:
discuss. Nights spent down the pub telling jokes and spinning yarns also build
team spirit: discuss.

As a mock-battle-hardened veteran of both the ‘push-them-to-the-limits’ and
‘keep them cosy’ team-building methods, I can see both sides of the argument.
But when I read that a well-known manufacturer was using bungee jumping as a
team-building exercise for its apprentices, I wondered whether this was taking
the tough outdoor approach too far.

Let’s face it; hanging head-first over a water feature after a 100-foot
elastic-assisted plunge won’t necessarily lead to better built lean-burn
engines, although it’ll make for excited chatter afterwards, at least for the
survivors. And it is during those ‘après-danger’ socials that team spirit
really manifests itself.

Many employers and training providers take an imaginative approach to
experiential learning, but why do some organisations still think that
team-building training must involve discomfort and wet feet? I have a theory.

Workplaces today are relatively safe as houses, and the vast majority of
Britons lead lives where practically all danger has been removed. That is why
many of us crave a risky outdoor experience – as long as it’s legal. And there
are legions of ex-military types who want to earn a living by putting their
experiences to commercial use.

Put the two together, and what do you get? Why, building a raft with a plank
of four-by-two timber, 10 empty beer cans and a skipping rope, and then
crossing a stickleback-infested Essex pond with a discarded plastic box as a
paddle. Or riding a motorbike backwards while blindfolded and whistling
Bohemian Rhapsody.

I can handle these things. But I can’t fathom why being forced to trek
across bleak moorlands with an 80-pound backpack and a muesli bar while being
told you are useless, makes you a more effective team member.

One high-profile former defence guru told me recently that the team-building
courses run by his company include three nights’ survival training in the snowy
Arctic. "But it’s not tough," he says. And it’s not relevant either.

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