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Professional Selling
The Race is On: Team building exercises draw from reality TV for inspiration
By Brenda Hampton

Say good-bye to mind-numbing seminars and mind-boggling flow charts – the newest trend in corporate team building involves surviving in the outback and racing around the world. Sales teams are trying to get on The Amazing Race, Survivor and The Apprentice – well, simulations of the popular reality shows. Sure these adventure games beat a day in the office, but do they work?

Anne Thornley-Brown, president of The Training Oasis says definitely. “We’re all locked into our own patterns and paradigms of doing things,” she explains thoughtfully. “[Active team-building] takes you out of the box and lets you see what your own situation is with a fresh perspective. Participants learn to come up with new solutions, identify new target markets and think of new strategies.”

Jim Storey, managing partner of The Great Canadian Adventure Company, agrees. “This type of team building gets people outside of their normal comfort zones. It puts managers and staff on equal foot.”

The Training Oasis and The Great Canadian Adventure Company are just two companies that have thrived on the move towards active teambuilding over the past few years. At Executive Oasis, days are strategic and involve sales teams as well as their senior staff. The Training Oasis focuses on team building for changing organizations. The Great Canadian Adventure Company originally launched as an adventure travel company but immediately received corporate requests. Now team-building is a big part of their success.

“The fad I’m seeing in team-building is a move towards reality television,” explains Storey, adding that an Amazing Race-themed day is portable, so a facilitator can run the game from any location. “We did an Amazing Race day for MacLab Hotel Chain which was just like the TV show- deluxe with all the bells and whistles, right down to the zipper envelopes which held the next clue.”

Survivor gets higher ratings than The Amazing Race. At The Training Oasis, in the simulated exercise “Survival: Marooned in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country”, team members are horseback riding in the hills when they misplace their supplies and realize they are lost. The team then has to develop a strategy to earn money and return to Canada, explains Thornley-Brown.

But what valuable tools can Survivor-style competitions or Amazing Race scavenger hunts really give participants? According to Thornley-Brown, people take the skills they use in the simulations back to the office.

“People rethink their target market,” she explains. “I’ll give them tools such as force-field analysis, storyboards and mind maps that they can use afterwards for any business problem.”

Thornley-Brown refers to training expert Bob Pike, who believes participant-centered learning is much more effective than passive learning. Her programs go by this mandate. Pike’s research shows that the average person only retains 20 per cent of what they hear in a seminar. In contrast, people who are actively involved in their training remember 90 per cent. The numbers speak for themselves.

Ernie Sweeny, VP Sales and Marketing at Wurth Canada, couldn’t agree more. His team’s adventure day with The Training Oasis was highly successful. “Seminars are absolutely not as effective as “workout” days for your team,” he says, adding he has been involved in many “active” team-building days and would recommend them to any company. “Team-building is very important but with seminars people pick up half the information - if you’re lucky.”

And though it’s difficult to measure how such a day impacts a participant’s productivity, it definitely increases a team’s morale. And a happier team could mean a harder working team.

“There was more of a team spirit,” says Sweeney of the time after his team’s Survival day, adding that people began talking amongst themselves more often. But Sweeney is hesitant to comment on what the team learned or whether there was a spike in productivity explaining no one was evaluated afterwards.

Thornley Brown cautions: “If you don’t do any checkups, follow up or coaching within 30 days, team members forget 80 per cent of what they’ve learned,” she says. “My intention is to do proper work ahead of time (including personal assessments of individuals), figure out what results they want to achieve and do proper work afterwards. But some companies see the day as a stand alone – they don’t see it as something that can have bottom line impact.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help establish the day’s credibility. Neither do the new “adventure” companies claiming to offer team-building activities. White water rafting, rock-climbing and paintball are fun, but don’t teach specific team-building skills. And although these activities can have positive effects on a team – they encourage cooperation (everyone has to paddle together) and communication – according to Thornley-Brown they can give organized teambuilding a bad rep.

“It’s unfortunate that I see a lot of fluff in the market,” she says. “I think it gives people the impression there isn’t value here.”

“An adventure activity is not as structured,” explains Storey, whose company, The Great Canadian Adventure Company, sells these active sports days as well. “There’s a team element but rafting, rock-climbing and propelling are more informal and aren’t sold as a team-building event. They’re usually just about having fun.”

And there’s no question that these sports days, and the organized active team-building days, are fun. But there is a downside.

“The days usually involve some type of physical activity so if someone had a lot of physical challenges they wouldn’t be able to play,” explains Thornley-Brown, quickly adding that the level of rigor can be toned down for groups. Additionally, a profile of each individual is completed before the event to find out about everyone’s level of physical fitness.

“There are some physical programs like ropes courses and rock climbing,” adds Storey. “But the theme days like The Amazing Race and Survivor are not as physical. If someone can walk and maybe do gardening at home, they’re suitable. There are no special skills or athletic ability required.”

So the biggest hitch is the cost. Days with Training Oasis can range between $200 and $250 per person. The Great Canadian Adventure Company cost approximately $100 to $150 per person for a full day or $75 to $100 per person for a half day. But if it works, maybe it’s worth it.

Says Sweeney: “Team building exercises are important to make people understand how beneficial [their work] is to themselves, to the team and to the company.”

And what could be more valuable than that.

This section was not in the orginal article:

Training Oasis Team Building Programmes

Activities to get your team laughing…..and learning. Combine recreational activities with business simulations to get more bang for your team building buck.

Apprentice Team Building
This is definitely a day to hone your project management and team leadership skills and nobody gets fired (You're the Boss: Apprentice Team Building

Survivor Team Building
Fine-tune your sales and marketing stategy.
Boost team spirit.

Camping, canoeing, horseback riding, orienteering, night hike, bonfire
Boost your team's effectiveness without breaking your budget (Wilderness Survival)

Snowshoe races, dog sledding, snow shoe treak, fire starter challenge
Explore uncharted territory and prepare your team for a year of change. (Arctic Survival)

Creativity, innovation, amusement park
Explore Canada's Wonderland or an amusement park near you...then join your team in creativity exercises(Igniting Creative Sparks)

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