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July 30, 2008

GOING TO EXTREMES:Have teambuilding events lost their edge?

Not so long ago, extreme teambuilding events were all the rage, from putting your sales team through the rigours of an army training course, to going abseiling or white water rafting. These activities certainly got delegates’ adrenalin pumping and they were often seen as the ultimate way to get your team bonding through encouraging people to work together under adverse conditions. It was generally thought that not only would your team have a rip-roaring time, but they would also perform better together once back at the office.

Today, internal meetings, conference and incentive travel activity is one of the key growth areas in the events sector, which itself is one of the fastest growing elements of the marketing industry. As such, more and more internal events are being held, while delegates are getting used to increasingly sophisticated production values, making it harder for organisers to create that all important ‘wow’ factor.

Surely, under the right circumstances and with the appropriate delegate profile, extreme events offer a perfect route to solving this problem. Yet they seem to be a tool that is declining in popularity.

“There appears to be a paradigm shift taking place in the definition of ‘wow’ with respect to teambuilding events these days,” observes events specialist John Hooker. “Today, companies tend to try to ensure what they do is safe, appropriate and with the minimum possible exposure to risk.”

Risky business
A number of factors are driving this movement away from creating teambuilding events using extreme sporting and outdoor activities. The first is the Corporate Manslaughter Act, a more stringent version of which was implemented earlier this year. Now senior company executives can be personally liable for injury to their staff, depending on the circumstances.

“Corporates are now stressing the need for those companies that organise their events to pay close attention to the new legislation,” says Hooker. “This has increased the importance of careful risk assessment during the planning and organisation process, adding to an the increasingly dense regulatory framework within which events companies now have to operate.”

And, of course, the organisers themselves are bound by the same Corporate Manslaughter Act with respect to their employees.

Consequently, the risks involved in extreme teambuilding activities are so high that they would never make it through the risk assessment process unless they were watered down considerably, which would significantly reduce their effectiveness. And it’s not simply a case of delegates signing disclaimers, as these would be unlikely to protect employers entirely from liability should an accident occur.

CSR and reputation
Another key factor pushing companies away from extreme events is corporate social responsibility. Although many view this issue through green spectacles, there is a big social element to CSR, which deters companies from an activity that places their employees at risk. There is also a dimension that avoids placing people in uncomfortable situations, which is one of the many aims of extreme teambuilding activities, with the view of gauging reactions to such situations as a way of learning more about staff and how they perform under pressure.

“These days, companies have never been more answerable to their stakeholders and shareholders, particularly through their CSR policies,” says Hooker. Of course, this level of accountability is generally a good thing, but it can also have the effect of creating a highly risk-averse business environment.

Then there’s also the fear of the reputational damage that extreme teambuilding events can cause should something go wrong. “Such is the nature of modern media, which places the conduct of businesses very much in the spotlight, that any damage to a company’s reputation can prove disastrous,” says Hooker.

All these factors add up to many companies believing that pushing their employees to the limit through extreme teambuilding events is now far too high a risk to take. The question remains unanswered as to whether their internal events programmes are suffering as a result, particularly when delegates are hankering after originality and increased engagement, and when it has never been more important for companies to ensure their people are working to their maximum potential.

So have teambuilding events gone soft? Email your comments on this subject to [email protected]

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