Why take your team outside?

I had an interesting conversation with a corporate client last week about Outdoor Team Building. We were reminiscing about the late '80's and early '90's when adventure based activities were popular as a company team building event. People in their droves swapped suits for bush clothes and paddled, climbed, swung, paint balled and built their way to team success.

Most activities like this have a similar formula - a problem that can only be solved/overcome by a team who can innovate, communicate and cooperate. It's a solid formula. Most workplaces are attempting to create teams that do just that. So why did these programs all but disappear?

  • One size fits all - Despite being highly flexible about activities and locations, the vast majority of operators ran the same program, regardless of the client. The place and activities might change, but how and why it was done remained much the same.
  • No connection - The potential links between activities and the people doing them were poorly explored. It was fun but didn't relate to the "real world".
  • Missed opportunities - Most programs were staffed by technically skilled young people who knew the activities inside out. Some had leadership experience, but mostly in the outdoors. Few had business experience. Activities were often debriefed in very superficial ways. Canned debriefs included sweeping, generalised statements like "So you see, communication is really important". Participants were given opportunities to reflect on behaviour, but few tools for any significant change. In the worst of programs, teams were actually worse off. They had seen and confronted ineffective team behaviour, and left the program aware, disgruntled and unsupported.

NOTE: These are generalisations. There were and are a few excellent companies providing such activities that do an awesome job of all the above.

So why do I recommend companies take their teams outside?

I just wanted to pass on my gratitude and appreciation for the planning, facilitation, insights, activities, catering and all the other experiences and knowledge created over the 2-day bush retreat. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gained a lot from it including how to use a compass correctly!

The additional resources you gave us are perfect. I set up meetings with each Area manager to work on improving my unit’s service and delivery to them. I am confident that the questions and guidance you provided will assist in us understanding our customer needs and focusing our resources correctly.
— Senior Manager - Bush Retreat
  • Different environment - Stepping out of the familiar work setting changes everything. Hierarchy seems less important. The pace naturally slows. Corporate language and formality drop away. Habitual ways of relating to each other are reset. Communication improves. Silo walls get torn down.
  • Perception expands - Physically people's eyes move from short intense focus to broad soft focus. As teams renegotiate their way of being together, previously unspoken assumptions about "the way things are done around here" get some conscious air time. Collective and self awareness rises. 
  • It's restorative - A growing body of research shows attention, cognitive function and productivity all rise as a result of being outside. Stress, mental fatigue, depression and anxiety all reduce. Almost every company I have worked with is attempting to address one or more of these issues continuously in the workplace.

The bush is no magic bullet, but a well thought out and delivered outdoors program can have massive and lasting effects. If you would like to discuss how you might use some outdoor time this financial year, feel free to be in touch.