Team building by terror2009-02-01
During my Tenure at Allergan, the leadership of the Human Resources department spent a long weekend at a Ropes course. At this outdoorsy facility, the vice president of Benefits and Compensation and I sat on the ground back-to-back, locked elbows, and figured out how to stand up without separating and without falling over. Teams negotiated the crossing of a river without falling in. We each stood on a platform and toppled backwards, confident in the knowledge that the rest of the staff would catch us before we hit the ground.
All of this was designed to help us learn to work together as a team. There was lots of cheering and high-fiving. We discussed the learnings in an emotional wrap-up session. Then we went back to the office where we were just as dysfunctional as we ever were.
The reason Ropes courses don’t work is simple: If you ever find yourself and your team trapped in the wilderness, you’ll probably figure out how to cross a river. But the dynamics of office activities are completely different. What you learn in the outdoors in a small group with no extraneous factors in play simply doesn’t translate to the business world.
That isn’t stopping British Airways from taking the Ropes concept to the next level of absurdity and charging 130 pounds per employee for it (that’s about $260 in US dollars) to work together in a different kind of challenge. Rather than a team coming together to solve an immediate problem (e.g., crossing a river), the team must come together to survive (wait for it…) a plane crash.
That’s right. Members of the corporate team board a Boeing 737 mounted on a motion platform. Takeoff is simulated, after which the plane simulates a 3,000-foot plunge as smoke fills the cabin. Once the plane “hits” the ground, the employees have to…well… get off. That is, they must escape as quickly as possible through front and back exits.
These half-day “crash courses” (not my pun) are booked for more than 350 faux flights. The passengers come from oil companies, financial services, civil servants, and even staff at a UK national sports league.
(You’d have to wonder about a Wall Street company spending $260 per person for this. You would think, as one comment left to the London Times story suggested, that they would have had enough experience with crashes.)
The idea, according to one report, is that your survival instinct leads you think of yourself first. In a team-building exercise, you’re supposed to consider the needs of others. According to BA’s Andy Clubb, who manages the program, “The adrenaline kicks in and they all bond together because they go through a stressful environment.???
Yep, that’ll make it so much easier to go through the budget process back at the office.
As ludicrous as this is, you have to give props to British Airways for coming up with a way to make some money during an economic downturn that has produced a decline in air travel. But if you’re genuinely interested in team building, here are two more reality-grounded exercises:
- After every difficult or lengthy project or assignment, pull the team together to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and how different members of the team reacted to the process. Decide what to do differently next time.
- Go offsite for major planning processes. Use the living room of a team member’s house or a park (if the weather allows).
- Get together as a team outside of work from time to time. Dinner, a barbecue, anyplace you can be more relaxed and informal without artificial crises that distract rather than reinforce the kind of team you are.