(Business Destinations) — When disaster strikes in the office, it’s essential that boardrooms remain calm, cool and collected. Colleagues must work as a team to overcome obstacles. Yet it’s tricky to work together effectively when employees don’t feel like they’re part of that team. Water cooler chat and after-work drinks are all well and good, but without shared experiences, cohesion in the office may be lacking. When CEOs realized this, the corporate retreat was born. In the eyes of millions of staff members across the globe, it was the birth of a monster.
Team building outside the office may be a great way to craft a forward-thinking workplace, but the conventional corporate retreat can be an agonizingly dull affair. Executives will often leave it until the last minute and book everyone into a standard hotel with a conference room. An unknown (and typically uninspiring) inspirational speaker inevitably joins the fray before encouraging the group to build a bridge out of matchsticks. By no means should that be considered an adequate bonding experience.
However, some CEOs are upping their game. In the last few years, extreme takes on the standard corporate retreat have risen from the ashes of team building nightmares to provide companies with opportunities to grow team spirit in invigorating scenarios. By tossing everyone into adverse (and sometimes, titillatingly dangerous) adventures, colleagues become closer, offices unite and businesses grow. No matchsticks required.
Stuff of legend
Some corporate retreats are more creative than others. In the US, a firm called Be Legendary tosses groups into extreme scenarios in which colleagues are given no choice but to work together. The psychologically taxing ‘Cabin Fever’ retreat sees a board trapped together in a single, cramped log cabin for an entire weekend. Tensions in the small, isolated cottage inevitably run high, setting the stage for conflict-resolution training and tight-knit bonding.
More active challenges include the company’s ‘Deep Snow Survival’, which forces participants to work together to survive imminent natural disasters. After a grueling trek into the alpine snowdrifts of the San Juan Mountains, weary hikers are told by their guide that a looming avalanche means the group will be forced to stay in the wilderness overnight. The team must then scramble together to build snow caves and find food.
“Roles disappear. Being the CEO or VP of whatever no longer matters,” says James Carter, founder of Be Legendary. “The memo I wrote last week that pissed everyone off no longer matters. All that matters is that we have to come together to survive. After a group has come together, faced a life-or-death scenario and survived, we have them at a very emotionally raw point and can build them up.
“The beauty of the avalanche scenario is that people rarely question nature. Mother Nature makes a great adversary to bring everyone together because people spend less time pointing the finger and being angry.”
A couple hours after the team has built their shelters, a snowcat arrives to take them to a cozy lodge instead. Yet the relief of a warm shelter by no means marginalizes the power of this unique bonding experience.
“Our extreme retreats are a very careful balance of hope and fear,” Carter says. “Fear is used to bring everyone together to overcome an impossible challenge with life-or-death consequences.” But it’s not all despair, as “hope is then used to get them to speak about what they can accomplish when they come together – almost anything!”
Extreme corporate retreats have proven highly effective for some of the world’s most successful companies; however, CEOs shouldn’t fret if they haven’t got the funds to fly their entire boardroom to Africa. With a little creativity, companies can provide employees with exercises that will not be easily forgotten. As in business, dare to be different in planning corporate retreats. Employees will be astounded by the positive transformation in rapport once they’ve returned to their desks.
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