A Few Tricks Outside Office Perk Up Skills

Updated: Aug 31 2003, 05:30am hrs
In a dense forest, two groups attired in military fatigues are carrying all kinds of combat paraphernaliawireless sets, maps, compasses, laptops and even guns. Hold your breath! These are not army officers, but senior corporate executives waging a war of a different kind. They are learning team-building and leadership qualities in an outdoor setting.

The Way To Play It

Corporate games bring a lot of advantages to the training situation. They can be great fun, involving an element of child-like play, which can be extremely conducive to learning and in making inhibitions disappear. The element of competition can be used to show both its positive and negative effects on working relationships. Games influence attitudes by placing people in situations where they can see things from a different perspective.
Games are easy to initiate, but can develop unnecessary cross-tangents of learning and conflict if they are not facilitated and monitored effectively. Corporate trainer Rajiv Khurana, who heads The Personnel Lab, outlines the following important steps to be kept in mind by the trainer.
Prepare properly and test effectively. Admit before the participants if you are trying a hitherto untested game.
Ensure that any equipment needed is prepared and ready to operate before the game begins.
Maintain close links with the training objective vis-a-vis the probable game outcome. Never adjust or ignore the training objectives to fit in with the game.
Work out the logistical arrangements, where the game will fit into the time-table, and how and when you are going to brief, monitor, review and, if necessary, manage any feedback session for the participants.
Be careful of the groupings if the game has to be played by teams. Keep the teams balanced in terms of motivational level, calibre and role of the participants.
Clarify rules orally or in writing before the game begins. Make sure that all the rules have been clearly understood by the participants.
Use your judgement in terms of providing information before the game begins. Too much information could reduce the spontaneity of an individuals behaviour during the playing of the game and thus hamper some of the learning.
Select from volunteers to act as observers who may note the participants performance in the game and report their findings to the group later.
If resources allow, use a video camera to record the performance by the participants. The video acts as a real mirror.
Take a short break between the completion of the game and the review. This will allow the excitement about the content of the game to reduce and make room for the relevant processes to be examined.
Involve the participants in documenting the learning from the game. A common transparency could be prepared and photocopies distributed at a later stage.
Dont forget to thank all the participants for their active participation and the shared learning after each game simulation is completed.
Make it clear from the beginning that your games are going to be serious fun, but dont let the seriousness be overshadowed by the fun. Dont let people sulk if they fail in the game. Failure adds to the learning and learners are always winners.

Corporates are fast realising that outdoor training programmes not only lighten the monotony of learning indoors, but also make the exercise more appreciable, applicable and appropriate for various cut-throat business situations. Accordingly, companies are taking their executives to various locations, including popular hill stations, for weekend training sessions, packaging these with lots of learning and some fun and frolic, too.

In order to make learning effective, a couple of years ago, NIS Sparta Ltd, a corporate training and consultancy organisation, conceptualised Adventure Based Learning Experience (ABLE), a reality learning programme. This presents a war simulation scenario, drawing from the learning of strategy and tactics applied in military science to provide the basis for modern management theories and practices. Every step in this programme is in consonance with various corporate situations.

Another important fun simulation game under NIS reality learning programme is Lost Dutchmans Gold Mine (LDGM), which focusses on organisational improvement. The simulation focusses discussion on mining gold within the organisation. Mining gold is a great metaphor for organisational improvement and participants leave with tangible ideas for better communications, teamwork and leadership. A powerful and proven team-building event, it also links to issues of quality, processes and systems. Sessions can be delivered for groups comprising 36 to 600 people. The group gets to play and then fully debrief the event and discuss real opportunities for improvement.

Says Sanjeev Duggal, president, NIS Sparta Ltd, All of us learn differently and, more essentially, learn by doing. When the learning process happens in an outdoor set-up and one has to do it oneself, the recall value is very high and thats the reason why corporates are taking their employees outstation from boardrooms for training. He explains that NIS reality learning is based on providing a holistic learning experience with significantly higher retention of principles, concepts and inputs.

NIS training process follows a three-pronged strategy: use of psychometrics; experience through simulation and instructor-led training. Reality learning addresses not only the intelligent quotient, but also the emotional quotient of an individual. It combines various forms of learning such as classroom, psychometric tool-based, outbound and one-on-one coaching to help participants understand and apply their new-found knowledge, skills and perspectives within a single learning initiative, says Mr Duggal.

Companies like NTPC, HCL Perot Systems, the Ambuja group, American Express, Gati and several others have gone through NIS ABLE programme. About 20 of NTPCs senior executivesexecutive directors and general managerswent on a five-day ABLE programme at the Jim Corbett Park last year. The training was designed to enhance leadership and communication skills and recognise talents; at the end, a powerful action plan was developed and implemented.

Says Suneeta Singh, senior faculty, Training, NTPC, A training programme outside the classroom has greater impact as it is experience-led. The five-day training cost the company Rs 5.5 lakh. Apart from this particular ABLE programme, NTPC regularly organises a host of outdoor training programmes for its executives of all levels.

A group of team leaders of HCL Perot Systems went on a two-day ABLE training programme. Called Renewed Adaptability In A Changing Environment, the programme was conducted at Damdama Lake in Delhis suburbs. Before the event, a personal profile tool was conducted where everyone introduced themselves and understood self and others in areas of dominance, influence, steadiness and consciousness. The activities captured emotions like disappointment, stress, anger, enthusiasm and joy, apart from skills to facilitate the process of translating learning into practice.

Says Hema Malhotra, head, Training, HCL Perot Systems, The training programme was for senior managersdepartment heads and vice-presidentson effective leadership traits. After the two-day training, a follow-up session was done in which all the participants met and developed action plans to be carried out at the workplace. The cost of the training was about Rs 3,500 per day per person.

Ms Malhotra, who also took part in the training programme says, that the training overall was a great success and helped the participants to implement the learning they had acquired in their work. And what about returns on the investment Its very difficult to calculate it, as a training programme is done to enhance the professional qualities of employees, says Ms Malhotra.

After the end of the training programme, NIS compiles a study of all the groups that have undergone the training and sends a post-training report to the companies for their internal assessment.

The concept of outdoor training can be traced back to the 1940s when Dr Kurt Hahn, a Jewish philosopher, proposed the theory that outdoor training programmes enhance peoples personalities and their ability to learn fast. The benefits, as corporate houses are discovering, are in the core areas of team-building, leadership development, conflict resolution and interpersonal skills.

Outdoor Management Training (OMT) is a proven and effective method to train corporate executives, irrespective of their seniority and responsibilities within the organisation. OMT methods differ from standard training strategies in several important ways.

Firstly, OMT tasks are means by which group interaction is assessed and developed. Secondly, the impact of decisions and actions that participants take relate directly to the success of the team. Lastly, the focus is on the training need and the facilitator.

Says management expert Dr M B Athreya, The routine of corporate life is both necessary, but also a potential hazard. The routine can become a rut. Outbound training does help to get away from the soporific effect of the routine for some time. Good OT programmes also pose real-life challenges such as overcoming obstacles; reaching destinations; working in a team; experiencing ones physical and psychological limits.

Dr Athreya explains that such programmes do have an immediate psychological impact. They are novel, different and a break from not only corporate routine, but also from routine classroom training, even if its in a five-star hotel. They are in the open, near a hill station, on a mountain, in the woods, near a river, ravine, etc. The first reaction can even be euphoric and people do recall it for a long time.

Echoing a similar view, corporate trainer Rajiv Khurana says, The learner of today expects the learning to come to him in all three ways: faster, better and in his own way. Participants expect the learning to be more practical and action-oriented. Experiential learning is in and the saga on the stage is out. Walk the talk is in, chalk and talk is out.

Global giant American Express underwent a three-day outbound team effectiveness programme at Jim Corbett Park with NIS. The company flew in about 25 senior executives from the US; Indian employees numbered another 15. A company official says that the training has benefited the leadership qualities and team effectiveness that will drive the employees performance in the future.

Delhi based Rams Relationships organises a host of team-building exercises, behaviour training, treasure hunts and stress management for corporates. As a part of a destressing programme, the company offers a three-night programme called Balance aimed at finding the equilibrium between ones body and mind. Says Sameer Mutreja, CEO, Rams Communications, In an outdoor training, apart from regular team building programmes, we do a lot of neuropsychology programmes, which enhance the bodies and minds of corporates. Diet management, Reiki, hypnosis and Pranic healing are part of the Balance programme. The companys outdoor training programmes can range from Rs 5,000-25,000 per employee for 2-3 days and if a client prefers an annual plan, the cost works out to between Rs 30,000 and Rs 1,00,000.

Snow Leopard Adventures conducts corporate training programmes at several picturesque locations in Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. Programmed for team-building, the games and exercises are usually customised according to client specifications. A typical three-night programme costs around Rs 5,100 per person, excluding travel. Companies like Bharti and Coca-Cola India are regulars with them. Says Garima Kumar, senior manager, Snow Leopard Adventures, The concept of outdoor training is shifting from all fun to serious learning and some elements of fun.

Companiesin the sectors of IT, hotels, consumer durables, pharmaceuticals and a host of othershave been able to solve a whole lot of issues, which could not have been raised in classroom situations otherwise, through these outdoor sessions.

Korean consumer electronic goods major LG Electronics regularly organises trekking and rafting as a part of reality learning for the overall development of its employees. Says Dr Y V Verma, vice-president, HR and Management Support, LG Electronics India, Learning is much faster in an open and outbound location and has a better impact. Away from the workplace and all the daily tensions, the employees can focus on the training and interact with an open and free mind.

The company conducts quite a few behavioural training sessions in areas such as motivation, team building, stress management, planning and organising, conflict management, creativity and innovation at various locations across the country. Each session typically lasts two days and the company spends around Rs 50,000-75,000 per session.

Guidant, a medical equipment manufacturing company, recently sent a team of 20 regional sales heads to Samod Palace in Rajasthan. The two-day programme, costing Rs 2 lakh, enabled the team members to understand each other and motivate the sales team. Says Srinivas Maddali, regional manager, Guidant, The training programme was a great motivator and the team returned in high spirits. It really helped them in their work and we are planning to do such training programmes regularly.

The Park Hotel, Delhi, is planning a training programme next month, somewhere in the northern hills, for its departmental heads. The hotel chain has been regularly conducting such programmes across the country. The training programme will help us generate new ideas and initiatives and will, above all, give all the HoDs a chance to know each other very well, which is not possible otherwise in day-to-day work, says M Douglas Peter, associate director, Training and Development, The Park Hotels.

Dr Athreya outlines four steps that need to be handled well to raise the effectiveness of such training programmes. First, identify the appropriate target participants; their learning needs from such training; design it in detail for the purpose in mind. Second, pick emotionally healthy, mature, skilled trainers to conduct such sensitive training, with its rewards and risks, including physical, personal, relationship and organisational risks. Third, stress on the participants responsibility to be proactive, open and keen learners. Fourth, on their return, expect and support the participants to retain and implement the learning at work and home, and, thus, internalise it.

But the pertinent question is whether outdoor training programmes actually help to reshape the companys balance sheet Company officials and organisers of outdoor training programme feel that it is difficult to quantify the returns on investment in such training programmes. Training cannot be done like a sales target. Its a catalyst in the overall development of the company through individuals, says Rams Mr Mutreja. LGs Dr Verma explains that returns are: a common mindset, collective and uniform learning, sharing of ideas and better coordination and planning. The employees are fresh, motivated and willing to move on with better mindsets.

Dr Athreya has the last word: Outdoor training can help change mindsets. But neither outdoor training, nor any other training can guarantee change. That depends on the learning attitude, style and skills of each participant. Some are quick on the uptake and can change faster. But outdoor training provides opportunities for learning to be a team player, first; team builder, next; and team leader, third. It can also strengthen the will, perseverance, tolerance and acceptance of the employees.