Risking your life for corporate camaraderie – Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

From the Huffington Post

Imagine being submerged inside a downed aircraft in icy water, knowing that to reach air and safety you have to work with fellow passengers. Of course, you understand this is only a training exercise, aimed at honing your capacity for trust, collaboration, and team building. Here’s the question: Will defying death succeed better than the rope courses, scavenger hunts, tug of wars and other standbys of traditional corporate team building?

The Groton, Conn.-based company Survival Systems USA is betting that undergoing realistic disaster training is the new trend in helping corporations enhance teamwork, improve leadership and build skills needed for 21st century workplaces. The company is adapting its aquatic survival training into a program for companies seeking to push the envelope in employee team building.

The Survival System training, which involves a mock plane or helicopter crash in nasty conditions, is but the latest in moves toward intensive team-building exercises that go far beyond the classic “trust fall.” Exercises may range from rock climbing, rappelling, wilderness camping and sailing to sophisticated “geo hunts” in which teams use GPS to follow clues.

Many executives believe that such intensive activities improve morale and increase teamwork (and hence, productivity); they’ve noticed that people who go through such programs bring back a more positive attitude and greater ability to work as a team. However, some team building exercises backfire, leaving employees bewildered, embarrassed and even demoralized.

A variety of factors may be pushing companies to engage in team building activities. One is that MBA programs around the country are using similar exercises as teaching tools for graduate students. At MIT Sloan, for example, new students spend a full day together at the Warren Conference Center building a boat and getting their team to cross an area of water. (If it fails, you’re going to get very wet!) At the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, MBA students undergo a mock training in which they have to deal with the aftermath of a tornado. The goal is to provide training in crisis leadership as well as team building. If MBA students bring away positive experiences from these kinds of exercises, they are more likely to use them as management tools when they enter the workforce.

Read the full post at The Huffington Post.

Neal Hartman is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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