Sharing a physically and emotionally challenging experience together does not necessarily build an effective team. The October issue of Inc. Magazine has an article by Alison Stein Wellner that describes the experience of the senior management group of a small manufacturing company who went on a seven-day backpacking trip in the Wyoming wilderness. The CEO’s purpose for the trip was to jumpstart his executive team’s development, something they would not be able to do in the fast-paced pressure of their typical days in the office. The writer calls this “extreme team building.” Her description indicates that as a result of the experience participants felt closer to each other and had a better understanding of how to work together. This is one example among a plethora of team-building exercises that all put team members in challenging situations very different from their normal work situations, that don’t depend on status and hierarchy, but require members to depend on each other to accomplish a difficult task.
No doubt these kinds of experiences can be fun, energizing, and provide opportunities for insight regarding oneself and co-workers. But whether there is significant, lasting learning that contributes to business results depends on other factors. As with any learning experience, results depend on the clarity of goals, on standing back from the experience and reflecting on one’s own learning, and on being able to relate the experience directly to the work of the organization. Lasting value from this kind of investment in a leadership team depends on the team periodically reflecting on what members learned weeks and months later. They must take the time and put effort into integrating learning from the “extreme” experience with their team goals. Otherwise, the backpacking, or river rafting, or mountain climbing experience is just another shared adventure without long-term payoff for the organization.