ROOPALI sighed contentedly, gazing into the horizon as the train breezed through the countryside. ``Come and get a glimpse of the setting sun,'' shouts Kamal, loud as a clarion that jolts her into reality. A noisy babble and the fifteen colleagues make a beeline for the door, while the others scramble to capture the picturesque scene from the window. The outdoors seemed to have whetted their appetite and the joie de vivre of the whole team was running high.
The lively bunch of young people are employees of a prominent Internet company in Hyderabad. They were returning from an outbound management training programme conducted by Accord Consultants Pvt. Ltd. When the VP of the company decided that his team should be sent for this programme, he wasn't making a mistake- it was an effective HR intervention.
Many companies are now looking at recruiting executives and managers by putting them through this innovative exercise. It has become an important aspect of the hiring process as it gives the management a clear insight into the competency of prospective candidates. Smaller companies have used this `Wilderness training programme' as a value adding HR intervention.
Conventionally, companies conducted team-building exercises in the closed confines of the office environment. However, it was only a matter of time before territorialism and groupism reared its ugly head. Employees were guarded and preferred to restrict their interaction to people with whom they were comfortable. In case of higher management, team- building exercises happened if ever, in the stifling boardroom environment that restricted creativity and limited interaction.
These methods proved unfruitful, as teams continued to disintegrate and the top management still had their skirmishes that led them to retreat into their domains. This adversely affected productivity, with alarming attrition rates becoming the norm.
This led to the emergence of Prima donnas. With alarming repercussions among the lower levels of the workforce, HR managers in top companies the world over decided it was time for an intervention. Every employee needed to feel wanted and seen as making a significant contribution to the progress of the company. Team sports were then introduced, but this remained ineffective, since only a few numbers took part.
Making it happen
It was in the 1960s that wilderness training was introduced and many companies adopted it. It was a two-fold success. It provided an out-of-the-box experience to the desk-bound executive, while employees got the chance to experience team-work and group dynamics by being a part of it.
Wilderness training evolved over the years from being merely a camping trip to one that is exercise-oriented and aimed at developing and fostering team cohesiveness. The training was based on the fact that after the training, individuals began to work for the good of the team rather than only achieving self- centred goals. Individual triumphs were insignificant when compared to the successes achieved as a team, and team success was again a matter of success of individuals, which was very satisfying to all concerned.
The Indian scenario
In India the concept has been around for a while and has been put to use by many HRD departments. The implementation is aimed at stimulating a number of aspects in team dynamics like communication, problem solving, decision-making and managing change, a common requirement in any typical Indian establishment.
The activities of the outbound training module are exciting, and intellectually, physically and socially challenging. The participants are taught abseiling techniques, a ropes course, jungle navigation, coracling and kayaking so that they have a better understanding of their capabilities. The outbound training facilitators are skilled and talented individuals who are trained to ensure the safety of all the participants and to facilitate individual and group learning at all times.
Rappelling or abseiling involves the participant being anchored to a stay-rope and belayed by a running line over a steep rock face. Experienced instructors ensure safety. The exercise is a `safe risk' as the belayed ropes hold the participant securely.
By working their way down a 90-degree abseil in small steps, participants overcome their initial fears and finish with a heightened feeling of achievement. The participant also develops a true sense of self- esteem and is able to cope with anxiety and uncertainty-common feelings that come before any unfamiliar, uncharted caper.
The exercise also improves mutual trust and support within the group as there develops an understanding and encouragement. It facilitates a synchronised physical and mental action that increases agility and makes for better performance.
Following the abseiling exercise is a lengthy de-briefing session where every individual is made to share his or her experiences, feelings, fears and excitement at each stage of the process. They are also expected to explain how they managed to conquer negative emotions like fear, and apply the learning to help them. The purpose of this exercise is to help individuals face new challenges, risks and manage fears better.
Achieving its end
OBTs are useful in making persons working together to know each other better and to get closer. It gives a free rein to the spirit of empathy, thus increasing understanding and bettering the personal equation that an employee has with his co-worker. This achieves the end the outbound management training is looking for- improving organisational productivity and quality of work output, and increases the inter/intra personal relationships at all levels in an organisation.
Since human resources development has become a vital corporate function, learner centric activities have now taken centre stage.
Since the outbound management development training helps generate fresh ideas, emotional responses and attitudes, it acts as a trigger to reconsider existing work related attitudes.
It helps them venture out of the comfort zone all the while boosting the team spirit.
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