Companies Still Substituting Extreme Activities for Real Team Building


I was sure that, in the aftermath of the economic downturn and the “AIG Effect”, we could finally say good riddance to companies using extreme activities as a substitute for real team building. Based on recent CNN report, this is not the case.

Here are some excerpts:

“The desert experience involves archery and a “fire walk” across hot coals. The latter activity is intended to leave participants energized and on a “spiritual high,” ready to attempt an even more cathartic challenge — having an arrow pressed against their throat until it snapped.”

“Deep Snow Survival” retreat, held in the Rockies. Participants are given snowshoes, beacons and taught alpine survival skills, before trekking deep into avalanche country. Their guides then tell them there has been an avalanche, that they will have to overnight in the snow, and they need to begin building snow shelters immediately.”

“”A day out of the office trialling the Jetlev R200 — a personal, water-powered jet pack that can propel the wearer 30 feet in the air over water — fits the bill.”

“Another option for executives seeking an invigorating buzz is to take to the skies in an Italian military training plane for an old-fashioned dog fight.”

Is this for real?

The National Post has reported that, even the Sky Tower in Auckland, N.Z. has billed its walk around its circumference, 192 metres above the ground without handrails as “the ideal corporate team-building activity”.

At least CN Tower has described it  Edgewalk attraction which involves a walk around the circumference and balancing off the tower as an “extreme urban adventure” and not team building.

What do any of these activities have to do with team building?

  • Bungee jumping off bridges in Australia
  • Controlled free falls from a 260 metres launch pad at Sky Jump in Las Vegas
  • Getting set on fire, jumping through breakaway windows or falling down stairs at stunt schools in Australia and California.

Absolutely nothing!

  • Have some companies learned nothing from the events of the past 3 1/2 years?
  • What are the benefits?
  • Where is the R.O.I.?
  • How do any of these activities contribute to the bottom line?
  • Why are some companies still spending on these extreme activities instead of real team building?
  • How can any CEO cost justify any of these activities, particularly when the economic recovery is still so fragile?

I hope that some executives will come by and share their perspective.


Looking for real team building that integrates:

  • safe outdoor team challenges
  • facilitated business team building exercises
  • business cases
  • debriefing and business applications exercises targeting your companies issues that impact the bottom line

Try the following facilitated team building simulations:

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6 Responses

  1. [...] Companies Still Substituting Extreme Activites for Real Team Building [...]

  2. I found your link because you included paintball in the fake team building activities.

    As someone that was involved in corporate team building events that included paintball, I can say there is a great benefit.

    People build stronger relationships as you put them in a stressful situations, you can research that yourself, as it has been studied over an over.

    On the other hand people enjoying them selves with their peers is something that any coumpany should not just pay attention to, but actually focus on, and create a great culture at the workplace.

    ROI? Bottom lines? That makes me a little sick.
    How about less turnover and attracting top talent because the company is a GREAT place to work at.

    Just by reading this: “debriefing and business applications exercises targeting your companies issues that impact the bottom line”, I feel bad. People would probably call in sick for that, or maybe just rather WORK.

    I recommend you read Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh. (CEO at Zappos)
    And aslo read anything Jason Freid, such as ReWork.

    Both have great approaches towards culture at the workplace.
    And unless you plan on having a company of suited-up baby boomers you will have a hard time hiring/retaining young talent, as these things do not just apply to Internet startups anymore.

    We are not in 1985 any more. And being creative at team building and creating a company culture is a must.

  3. I am thoroughly familiar with Jason Fried’s work as well as Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. In fact, Zappos was gracious enough to allow a team from one of our regular corporate client organizations interview a member of their executive team about the key elements for shaping corporate culture and providing exceptional client care. If you took the time to read the blog, you will see that I have referred to Tony Hsieh more than once and that I stress the importance of creating a vibrant corporate culture, for example:

    I am not sure what to make of your bizarre and baffling comment:

    “ROI? Bottom lines? That makes me a little sick.”

    ROI and generating bottom line results are not dirty words. If you think they are, then work for a non-profit organization. I don’t for a moment think that you don’t realize the raison d’être for business is to generate a profit for owners and shareholders by providing products or services that meet the needs of clients. Employees are valuable members of the team to generate results and they need to be treated well and, ideally, have a piece of the action. The bottom line is that businesses that don’t generate a profit, will go out of business. We have seen many instances of this in the last 4 years.

    Businesses aren’t country clubs or recreation centres. Their primary mission is not to provide social activities for employees. Yes, from time to time, social activities like company picnics, the Christmas party, or outdoor team challenges are important so that employees can relax, let off steam, and get to know each other better. However, any company that invests the bulk of their “team building” budget on fun and games has lost sight of its mission. Companies that invest heavily in recreation and fail to spend time with members of their team brainstorming and generating strategies to make the work environment a better place are using the equivalent of a placebo to replace real team building.

    As for your concern that younger workers will find real team building boring or call in sick, you have got to be kidding. Younger workers in particularly love our approach of integrating business exercises, team challenges, and activities to create powerful simulations that are then debriefed. They have a blast and they are relieved that the whole day has not been spent on fluff and frivolity while work is piling up on their desks.

    As for Paintball, is it team building? Heck no. I seem to have mashed your corn but facts are facts. During retreats, some of my clients have participate in Paintball to let off steam for a couple of hours, for example see this blog entry for where I arranged for one team to have fun as part of their retreat in Dubai:

    Hey, whatever floats your boat. By all means, play and have fun but don’t deceive companies by trying to pass Paintball off as team building. You’ll never convince me that firing paint cartridges at colleagues and inflicting pain is team building. It isn’t and neither is drumming, bungee jumping, juggling, bowling, ziplining, grape stomping, fire walking, or the latest flavour of the month. When marketed as such, paintball does belong on the list of “fake team building”.

  4. [...] 7. Using recreational events or extreme activities as a substitute for real team building. [...]

  5. […] Companies Still Substituting Extreme Activites for Real Team Building […]

  6. […] Companies Still Substituting Extreme Activities for Real Team Building […]

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