Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Outdoor Adventure and Organizational Development: A Ropes Course Intervention

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Outdoor Adventure and Organizational Development: A Ropes Course Intervention

Article excerpt


Public health services in the greater Tulsa metropolitan area are delivered by a special government district jointly administered by the city and county of Tulsa and called the Tulsa City-County Health Department (TCCHD). In the fall of 1988, the Board of Directors of the TCCHD received numerous complaints from employees about administrative intimidation and declining efficiency. In response the Board created an ad hoc Special Committee to Investigate Administrative Procedures which recommended the utilization of an organizational development (OD) intervention to create an administrative leadership team from among the thirteen department heads and thereby influence the performance of all employees toward organizational objectives. A unique OD intervention was selected: outdoor adventure activities for team building, including the use of a Ropes Course.

Organizational development is a long-range management program that focuses on changing employee attitudes and behavior, thereby improving performance. Its intent is to discover symptoms of ineffective performance and to correct their underlying human causes. Although OD programs in public administration should be designed to match the needs of specific, unique organizational situations, commonly stated objectives (Golembiewski and Eddy, 1978) can be summarized as follows: (1) to increase trust and support among employees; (2) to encourage confronting rather than avoiding organizational problems; (3) to create a work environment in which formal authority is augmented by authority based on knowledge and skill; (4) to increase open communication; (5) to increase employee enthusiasm and job satisfaction; (6) to find creative solutions by which all involved gain more through cooperation than through conflict; and (7) to increase self and group responsibility in planning and implementing organizational activities.

Probably the most common OD technique is "team building," an organizational intervention which is intended to build cohesive and successful work groups. Team building is a process which includes activities such as: (1) clarifying employee roles; (2) reducing conflict; (3) improving interpersonal relations between group members; and (4) improving problem-solving skills.

Only a few studies have been published about OD interventions which employ outdoor adventure techniques. Although outdoor adventure programs have been available for personal development (Weider, 1976; Meyer and Meyer, 1974), the only published accounts of outdoor adventure programs used to accomplish organizational objectives have been in the field of education (Abell, 1985; Havens, 1986; Richards, 1985; Roland and Havens, 1981; Smith, 1985).

This article will supplement the literature on OD by presenting a case involving a local health department and its outdoor adventure OD intervention. This article will: first, review the findings of the ad hoc Special Committee; second, describe the curriculum of the outdoor adventure workshop designed for the TCCHD leadership team members; and, finally, present empirical findings concerning the extent of team development resulting from the outdoor adventure intervention.


In September, 1988, the TCCHD established the ad hoc Special Committee and gave it the authority to use any methods deemed necessary to obtain information for a thorough inquiry. Upon completing this assignment, the committee was charged with making recommendations to correct administrative procedures at the Health Department.

As part of this investigation, the committee decided to survey all employees at the Health Department in order to assess their attitudes and perceptions toward department management. However, because it had neither the experience nor the time to conduct such a survey, the committee requested bids from organizational consulting firms. On November 30, 1988, the committee recommended that Hogan Assessment Systems be hired to conduct the employee survey. …

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