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.
One could almost pity the executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter as they were grilled on Capitol Hill earlier this week by senators upset about Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election, via the posting of cleverly worded propaganda ads and messages on social-media sites.
After all, how do you detect – let alone stop – a small group of determined foreign nationals manipulating and taking advantage of what’s supposed to be open, free-flowing Internet platforms idealistically designed to allow billions of people across the globe to voice their thoughts on everything from world politics to the type off pigeons in Trafalgar Square?
Of course, the Facebook, Google and Twitter executives at the Senate hearing earlier this week bowed their heads, expressed remorse and vowed to do better in combating the threat of foreign interference in our democratic elections.
But the question is: Can they do better? Is it possible? Remember: Facebook alone acknowledges that it received only about $100,000 in paid ads by those it later learned were tied to various Russian groups, but those ads were still seen by about 10 million people, according to media reports.
As an expert in organizational communication and leadership, I saw the dismissal of the councils as a dramatic and important moment in the relationship between top business leaders and the president. But does it spell the demise of the often difficult partnership between President Trump and corporate America?
A permanent breach?
CEOs like Merck’s Ken Frazier rightly voted their conscience when they began to abandon Trump’s American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum. Frazier, the first to resign, said he felt “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
The Wall Street Journal, however, was quick to point out that many companies have stopped short of saying they would refuse to work with the White House in the future.
Indeed, despite the heated rhetoric, one thing is clear: Corporate America wants and needs to work with the administration, while the president benefits from a healthy relationship with America’s CEOs.
So if they both need each other, the question becomes how this increasingly tenuous relationship will play out.
Of course, you know the old adage: Don’t talk about religion and politics. But that’s difficult to avoid as we move into the final weeks of this turbulent election season. It’s natural to discuss the most recent presidential debate with co-workers with the opening line: “Can you believe what just happened?”
With partisan sentiments running high, however, such conversations can lead into stormy waters – if not outright hostility – and that can be counterproductive in the workplace. Modeling the third and final debate, for example, would itself be disrupting; you don’t want to talk over others, shout or slip in insults (“Such a nasty woman” and “You’re the puppet” comes to mind.) There are ways, however, to have political conversations without devolving into a shouting match.
We need to be careful that we – unlike perhaps Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — don’t let emotions get in the way of considered conversation – even if there is a lot of emotion going into the presidential race. For starters, focus on the issues. Instead of immediately jumping in and saying, “How could anyone vote for him/her?” try asking why the candidate deserves support. What do you think of so-and-so’s policy on X? How could that candidate be helpful for our business or our daily lives? Ask, “What do you think of Trump’s or Clinton’s economic plans, their positions on small business taxes or making college affordable.” The last debate actually created some useful fodder for this kind of give-and-take.
In the latest MIT Sloan Expert Series podcast, Neal Hartman, Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management, discusses the current political discourse and the impact of related discussions in the workplace.