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August 18, 2008

SENSE OF ADVENTURE:How outdoor corporate challenges help prepare staff for modern business

We live in a highly risk-averse corporate landscape, and one in which reputation is increasingly important. This, along with the recent tightening of the Corporate Manslaughter Act that puts company directors in danger of prosecution should staff get hurt, is having a direct effect on the kind of internal events companies are holding.

This is manifest in a move away from those events considered to be high risk, such as outdoor adventure teambuilding activities that mirror extreme sports like rock climbing and white-water rafting.

There is also a practical organisational concern that such activities, although being highly effective under the right circumstances, are also a nightmare when it comes to carrying out the risk assessment procedures that many companies are now demanding.

Alive and well
However, despite the current conservative climate, Mick Earle, director of Wild Track, which specialises in adventure-style teambuilding and problem-solving activities, reports that the outdoor management development (OMD) business is actually alive and well.

Big adventure: delegates take to the river

“OMD activities, ranging from adventure sports, through high ropes challenges to low level 'lawn-based' team problem-solving challenges, remain very popular and are simply an option which a client may choose to take up,” he says.

“Equally they may choose to undertake, among many other solutions, a business simulation, treasure hunt or corporate social responsibility project (often moving from one option to another either during a long programme or as a choice for each successive annual teambuilding event).

“None of these options are in any way better than the others and, appropriately reviewed, can all deliver valuable learning both at individual and group levels, which will add value in the workplace.”

The value of risk

When asked about the fear over reputational damage should disaster strike an OMD event, Earle claims many companies are fully aware of the dangers, but also clearly understand the value of such activities in terms of staff development.

“There are plenty of international organisations involved in challenging team and personal development opportunities – ocean yacht racing, for instance – fully understanding the fact that disasters do occasionally occur,” he explains. “In the 21st century, progressive organisations understand that to take calculated risk is a necessity in business and that developing this ethos in managers and staff is appropriate, if not vital.”

Questioned over the fact that some claim OMD events would never make it through modern risk-assessment processes, Earle believes this is pure fantasy.

“This is frankly laughable,” he says. “OMD activities are regularly risk assessed and these form the basis for 'method statements' and 'working practices', which create a safety ethos around a potentially hazardous activity.”

Earle actually plays down the risk element of OMD events, citing as evidence work by Project Adventure in the US, which has published 30-year safety audits on adventure activities, which demonstrate that an appropriately supervised OMD activity is as safe as remaining in your average corporate office workplace.

“Let’s face it,” he adds, “driving your car to an event is far more hazardous than abseiling 100ft down a cliff or taking part in a high ropes challenge activity – providing of course it is appropriately run and supervised.”

Gaining an edge
Earl is also keen to stress how physically challenging corporate events have moved on in recent years.

“Long gone are the days when we thought that by 'giving someone a hard time' would simply 'make them a better person',” he says.

“Far more care and consideration is given to the planning and delivery of challenging team and individual development opportunities these days, and much more emphasis is placed on learning transfer, enabling teams and individuals to harness challenge, collaboration and problem-solving in their workplace to their advantage and that of their organisation.

“Business going forward will become more challenging, audacious and risky and those organisations who value managers and staff who can risk assess, manage conflict under pressure, lead with innovation and clarity and harness strengths of those around them when the challenges are tough will certainly be positioning themselves favourably against the opposition,” he concludes.

“OMD activities are one platform for developing these skills and behaviours. They may not be considered appropriate by all, but they have a proven track record and continue to be both popular and effective around the world.”

For more information, visit www.wild-track.com

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