The annual planning conference for the administrative services department of State Farm's northern California region had traditionally taken place at a conference center where staff would "get fired up, then forget everything and go back to business as usual," says Tom Cirimele. The administrative services supervisor at State Farm's Rohnert Park, Calif., office, Cirimele is new to the company and says he wasn't all that impressed with its last planning conference. So when management asked for volunteers to plan this year's event, he jumped at the opportunity.
His idea? Addcomponents before the planning conference to bring employees together and make their planning work more effective.
With this in mind Cirimele has come up with a multifaceted plan at the heart of which lies a team orienteering exercise in Yosemite National Park, where group members will be trained in different skills and then work together to follow clues from a map and discover a series of hidden markers.
Out with Bad Blood As a first step, the group of 25 managers in his department have completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a test that identifies an individual's personality traits. With the results, group members can better understand both themselves and their fellow employees. As another precursor to the team orienteering program, the group will complete a "ropes course" in September at a site near its offices. The orienteering is set for October, and the actual planning conference will be held at State Farm's offices in November. Berkeley, Calif.-based Adventure Associates, which operates teambuilding activities and training programs, will run the orienteering exercise.
"The program they were offering fit what we want to do," says Cirimele. "We have a group of people in the office that have been here for eons, and there is a certain amount of bad blood from things that happened years ago. I want to bring people closer together and improve how we work. Our department services 35 offices. Sometimes, for example, we'll have a telephone staffer and a maintenance staffer making separate trips to the same office; there's no reason for that. By working together more closely we can eliminate duplicating our efforts."
The State Farm group will stay at a lodge in Yosemite for the orienteering program. The first day is a travel day with a welcome reception. The orienteering will be held the second day. A debriefing and assessment will take place on the second and third days.
Before the four-hour orienteering exercise, participants will be divided into three groups: One will learn to read a compass, one will learn distance pace-setting, and the third will learn map reading, says Brad Albert, marketing director at Adventure Associates. Teams of three, containing members with each of the three skills, will then set forth along a trail designed by Adventure Associates.
"There is a wide range of goals that can be met by team orienteering, from improving communication skills to sharing resources," says Albert. "The idea is we all learn better by experiencing."
The ropes course, which for logistical purposes State Farm is doing through another company, is a good introduction to outdoor teamwork, Albert adds. Using harnesses and ropes, participants typically climb up some 50 feet with the support of the group. "This is a profound experience that pulls the group together," Albert says. "Even for people who are comfortable with heights, the common experience creates a bond."
Not Boot Camp Response to the upcoming teambuilding program has been mixed, Cirimele says. Some are concerned about being fit enough, while others are simply not accustomed to "business being run this way," he says. "The group ranges in age from 30 to the early 60s, and the younger crowd has been more receptive than the older. Still, everyone is on board for it."
Albert says Adventure Associates is used to dealing with groups where some members don't want to participate. "Everything we do is challenge by choice," he says. "We're not a boot camp. We can find other ways for people to participate."
COBS Professional courses, which can focus on any issue, not just leadership, can run from half a day to six days; can use several written assessment instruments (or none at all); and can involve any level of physical exertion.
Programs are conducted at various locations, including its 15-acre Leadville Mountain Center campus, and other base camps throughout the Colorado mountains, canyons, and deserts in Utah and Arizona, and in Baja, Mexico.
To further the programs' objectives, all participants stay in the base-camp dorms when not on the trails. To learn more about the options available for COBS programs, call (800) 477-2627.
Selling the Outdoor Experience How can you justify the investment of time and money in an outdoor experiential program, especially when such programs are alien to many an established corporate culture?
Mark Laurin, senior manager, global training and development, at Gallileo, who planned a Colorado Outward Bound program for his company, was careful about how he implemented it. "If you present something like this with big parades and flags waving, you become a target for people who don't see the immediate value," he explains. "I knew that if I made a big deal out of it, there was potential for it to be stalled." Eric Siegler, one of the participants, agrees. "Some people questioned the value of the trip, thinking that it was some fluffy thing," he says. "Having gone through it, I can guarantee one thing: It isn't fluffy. You're working hard. Anyone who goes to this type of program is going to come back a different person. I guarantee it."
Other points to keep in mind: * People learn by experience; they retain more when they experience something directly.
* Teambuilding programs are aimed at the individual with an average level of fitness.
* For staff who are either hesitant or have disabilities, teambuilding companies will offer alternative ways to take part in activities.