Magazine article New Zealand Management

Outward Bound: Why Leaders Need to Get Physical; at a Time When Many Senior Managers Dismiss Outdoor Experiential Learning Activities as Passe or Useless, Outward Bound Is Leaping into Its 40th Year. What Is It Doing Right and What Are Leaders Who Avoid the Experience Missing? (Experiential Learning)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Outward Bound: Why Leaders Need to Get Physical; at a Time When Many Senior Managers Dismiss Outdoor Experiential Learning Activities as Passe or Useless, Outward Bound Is Leaping into Its 40th Year. What Is It Doing Right and What Are Leaders Who Avoid the Experience Missing? (Experiential Learning)

Article excerpt

At 6.20am on a bitterly cold winter's morning the little bay of Anakiwa in the South Island's Marlborough Sounds echoes with the soft slap of running shoes on tarmac. Thirteen human resources specialists are trialling Outward Bound's courses for corporate managers.

Their three kilometre run will be followed by complete immersion in the water, a cold shower and, later the same day, a blindfold exercise and a high ropes course.

They do it in the name of leadership skills, team-building and motivation.

Internationally, Outward Bound has challenged people's personal boundaries since 1941. In New Zealand, more than 40,000 New Zealanders have slogged their way through its often arduous courses in its 40-year history.

Most have fronted up as individuals. But in the past five years the organisation has refocused its energies on corporates, firstly with its Compass course, remodelled this year as Navigator, and more recently with custom-designed programmes for individual companies.

Customer manager corporate Darren Quirk says Outward Bound works at the attitudinal and behavioural level to help managers deal with the current "whitewater business environment" in which nothing stands still.

According to John Luckner and Reldan Nadler, authors of Processing the experience: strategies to enhance and generalize learning participants in Outward Bound's experiential learning programmes are engaged in "posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibilities, being creative and constructing meaning".

Facilitators help draw out the relevance of each activity through a series of techniques based on reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.

It's hardly surprising, then, that companies posing as experiential facilitators but merely offering a two-hour kayaking trip, don't cut it with senior managers looking for significant and long-term change in staff attitudes or behaviour.

Ironically, many such senior managers undermine the very effectiveness of Outward Bound's courses themselves by their reluctance to front up in person.

Quirk admits that, not altogether altruistically, many senior managers often delegate attendance at a course to their more agile junior colleagues.

"The problem I face," says David Crawford, the Maritime Safety Authority's divisional manager, analysis and strategy, "is that the more senior people are, the less likely they are to do something experiential".

The same manager charges that experiential learning is still ridiculed due to the money-no-object excesses of the '90s.

Quirk agrees there is a problem but suggests that this stems from the historically poor debriefing processes employed by some operators. Others suggest it's simply that few senior managers relish the prospect of appearing ridiculous or unfit, or of facing their very private fears in front of junior colleagues.

If that is the case they're missing a key point. The aim is not to be first back from that early morning run--although it helps if you want to squeeze in a hot shower after the obligatory cold one--but to be taking part. Sure, that sounds naff. But the courses are varied enough to ensure that everyone will at some point face a task that is challenging for them. What matters is how they deal with it.

Reluctant managers would do well to pack a rucksack full of Daniel Goleman-style emotional intelligence and roll up with plentiful stores of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. …

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