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Has Outdoor Management Development Had Its Day ?


I'm researching the market for outsourced management development programmes of the type traditionally known as "outdoor management development" - usually residential - usually around leadership, team building, personal development, assessment etc. I'd like to speak to HR specifiers/ Management Development trainers who use, or have used, these methods about how relevant they are - and whether - or how they need to develop to meet current needs. Are they more or less used today than, say, 3 years ago ?

Views/perspectives welcomed. Ideally I'd like an opportunity to talk on the phone with you. Contact me on [email protected].
Andy Mason

18 Responses

  1. Outdoor management development and equal opportunities
    Dear Andy,

    The traditional outdoor management development training presents a number of potential legal equal opportunity issues which are often over looked. For example disability discrimination, religious discrimination and age discrimination (after October 2006) just to mention a few. Many of my clients have made a move away from this type of training for these reasons.

    Please feel free to e-mail or call me if you’d like to discuss this further.


    [email protected]
    tel +44(0)1895 230 912
    mobile +44(0)7905 170 566
    fax +44(0)1895 256 572

  2. Still going strong
    Hi Andy,

    I’m in the midst of designing a team development day for a large group of Parking Attendants which will combine both outdoor and indoor activities. We have been very careful to research and respect individual needs and the participants are looking forward to having a great day together. Please contact me via e-mail if you would like to know more.

    Jackie Smith
    Inspired Business Consulting Ltd

  3. Usually desribed by participants as ‘the best part’ of their tra
    I have been involved in outdoor management training residentials on CMI and ILM certificate and diploma management courses and participants of all shapes and sizes have found them excellent. nb Although I have not had a wheelchair bound person or other major handicapped person on a course yet?
    I am sure there are other ‘non-obvious’ disabilities but never had any noticeable isues surface.
    I think we should not get into PC stuff as its gone too far and doesn’t reflect the true world. I have worked in the midlands for many years, which contains many ethnic backgrounds, and I treat people as people not categories of such! The key is to know when to allow them not to participate if they feel unsafe and when to encourage them when they need it.

  4. Baby out with the bathwater
    Hi all

    There is a suggestion that companies are stopping undertaking an effective training process for fear of legal implications. To me that seems crazy. There are lots of things I cannot do or don’t want to do but I fail to see why this should restrict others from reaping the benefits. Surely a rounded approach to training and development should prevail, some individuals may not be able to or want to go on a particular type of training, but provided they are offered a comparable learning opportunity, where is the discrimination.

    I am not totally familiar with the various legislations that impact on this but as I understand it, its not a case of stopping something but taking reasonable steps to ensure equitability; that seems common sense to me. Or has common sense gone out of the window as well as the baby and the bathwater?

    Yes I have a vested interest in residential retreats and management development programmes in that I co run them on yachts in Turkey.

    Onwards and upwards


  5. Business need first – methodology second!
    Dear Andy
    I have used the outdoors as part of creatively designed programmes to help people, leaders and teams develop for nearly 30 years. It is true that it may not be ‘flavour of the month’ anymore. Neither is the wheel, but it still does a useful job! In particular situations I and my customers believe the use of the outdoors can really compliment people and business development. I have learned that the key is to do sufficient research before designing a programme. Find out about the business goals and about the people. Then decide on your methodology. Recognise that the word ‘outdoors’ can be an emotive one for some people. I have used everything from team based experiences on large yachts to nothing more adventurous than sitting down on a well groomed lawn. Effective research and creative design means that there is no need for the outdoors to be discriminatory. What is important is to understand the need, understand the people and understand the medium. Do your research, have the knowledge, skill and experience to design a programme that meets the development need and work with your customer on appropriate follow up that embeds the learning. The outdoors can be challenging, many people like a challenge. It can also build supportive networks and confidence and build commitment to getting things done. To me it is all about understanding the objectives, understanding the medium and understanding the power of using the outdoors in an appropriate and sensitive way.

  6. I hope not
    Its encouraging to read the views of those above. As a Company that does experiential outdoor events the majority of the time we feel that it still has a strong role in illustrating key issues if done carefully and with great thought. Whilst some guests do have a great sense of trepidation at the start of such an event, inevitably they are joining in with 100% by the end and leave feeling a great sense of acheivement.

    The critical factor we feel is that no-one should be made to do something they are not comfortable with, and the event should be tailored to meet the needs of all the group (within reason.) With good communication between the organiser and the event designer it is quite acheivable.

    Having said all that we have an umbrella Company called Adventure Sports Ltd but now market training under Next Level Learning too!

    I am happy to chat through thoughts if you want to give me a call.

  7. Far from it!
    Hi Andy

    To add to the support for OMD from my fellow peers in the industry, I would like to add that the outdoors provides one of the most emotionally engaging environments for learning. We are using the outdoors extensively to help teams and individuals develop their emotional intelligence.

    The whole aim of our approach is to engage everyone, allowing for the various trepidations and limitations that people experience. The responsibility is on the training provider to ensure that the programme does not exclude any participant, by being creative in the programme design and when defining and setting up the exercises and challenges.

    And last but not least, nature has a highly positive effect on our brain waves to accelerate the learning process!

    best wishes

  8. Quick access to long term memory
    The outdoor programmes I have participated in stick in my memory much longer than most classroom-based events. One the other hand, being obsessed with transfer of learning, I am concerned that the outdoor environment is very different from the office for most people.

    Therefore, the skill in making an outdoor event a catalyst for change (why else would anyone do training?) is to combine the memorable outdoor activities with opportunities to practise the skills in an enviroment much closer to the workplace. This way, you have the best of both worlds: the exhilirating memorable experience of being outside and the practised skills that will actually change what you do, think and believe tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.

    If you are interested in this approach, please get in touch – [email protected].

    Sari Robinson

  9. OMD – incredibly powerful & still useful
    Hi Andy, We have been delivering programmes using the outdoors for over 15 years. Certainly there are issues with health & safety etc. that have come to the fore in the last few years, and rightly so. So long as the programmes are linked in properly as part of a wider leadership / team development programme, and are facilitated correctly by people who have the ability to “transfer” the whole scenario back into the real business world, the payback can be awesome.

    Have a look at an article on our website

    Always delighted to speak with you (and anyone else!) on this issue.
    Best wishes
    Ken Minor

  10. It depends on the type of activity
    It is wrong to lump all types of outdoor training together as if they were the same thing.

    Modern outdoor training uses a variety of environments that are challenging but not physical. For six years my company has been working with Team Voyage ( ) to provide experiential training based on sailing yachts to many world class organisations. For those of you who don’t know sailing is one of the most inclusive sports with regards to gender (don’t tell Ellen McArthur or Shirley Robertson – 2 times Olympic gold medallist – that women can’t sail), age (most UK boat owners are over 60) and disability (the UK Sailability programme has had more success in getting disabled people involved in sport than almost any other initiative).

    It has always been the case that some types of outdoor / experiential training have been designed for (and by) testosterone junkies looking to physically test themselves and any hapless delegate that comes their way. And that is still occasionally the case… you can usually spot them because the facilitators / designers are often ex-military, ex-explorers, ex-adventurers, or ex-athletes. (Before I offend to many people there are, of course, exceptions.)

    However, these days much outdoor training has changed with organisational needs. It is more cerebral in its purpose and design, whilst still exploiting the two great benefits of experiential learning: real challenges (not role-plays) and being memorable.

    If you are trying to develop teams, or leaders, as our clients are, outdoors still offers a big bang for your buck.

    Jeremy Holt
    Chartered Occupational Psychologist
    Managing Director
    Centre for Team Excellence
    0870 609 2038
    [email protected]

  11. Great Outdoors’ Events … time to close the countryside?
    Interesting that most comments here are from people who have a vested financial interest in supporting the use of the Great Outdoors’ Events (GOE).
    As someone who has participated in GOE’s and also spoken to clients who have used them, I would say good riddance to them! I am not convinced that any “learning” is transferred from GOE’s to the real world of work. They remain an opportunity for participants to get away from work and have a personal adrenaline and/or emotional “buzz” for a few days. Give ’em a holiday voucher instead.

    I asked one senior manager what he had learned when returning from an expensive four day GOE. He replied, ” I learned that I do not like being wet and cold, hate living in a hostel environment, cannot cope with strangers’ outpouring of emotions and , in particular, I really am afraid of potholing!” Not a convert.

  12. Maybe it’s the title that has had it’s day!?
    Developing people using relevant, experiential learning & problem solving activities continues to have impact & influence. It is dependent on well designed programmes that meet client expectations & organisation objectives without the need for physical ability and endurance.
    Activities can be short, low level and undertaken on a lawn not necessarily in extreme environments. Equally it is the ability of the provider to make practical links so that the experience & the learning can transform professional practice that makes the difference in effectiveness of the programme. It is also encumbent on the commissioning organisation to ensure that conditions exist ‘back at the ranch’ to enable the participants to utilise new learning when they return with enthusiasm to function differently.
    Experiential learning has so much to offer by allowing participants to test knowledge and skills in practice, much like a virtual laboratory, however it does need to be grounded in theory and understanding and be able to be transferred pragmatically to the workplace.
    I would be delighted to discuss this and offer further thoughts & evidence from my own experience. Feel free to contact me ; [email protected] 00353 851514207

  13. Using the outdoors…
    I agree 100% with Kathy’s views on this article, but disagree with Ray’s. So we shouldn’t use the outdoors based on the comments of one senior manager? What about the thousands of others who have great memories of their experiences, and who have successfully transferred learning points back to their work and life? Our clients tell us that there are also plenty of waste of time “traditional” courses. Can we truly pass judgement based on one person’s experience?

  14. Thank You
    Many thanks to everyone who responded to this query. I have found many of them very interesting and have spoken on the phone to several of you.Apologies to those who I have not had time to contact and speak to in more depth. I have also been tentatively approached with the idea of writing a magazine article on the issue. If I go ahead I may contact you again to ask if I can use your various inputs. In the meantime feel free to keep the comments flowing….

  15. The proof of the pudding …
    The simple truth, though of course the “outward bound” trainers won’t like it, is that Ray’s point is absolutely correct.
    All the enthusiastic responses have been from people with a financial interest in this kind of training – and NONE from actual attendees (I’m presuming people on this forum actually have been ON courses from time to time as well as delivering them).

    Surely the most apposite comment came from the person who recommended making *business needs* the number one criteria.

    Personally I have never been on an OB course (and I’ve been on several) where any of the trainers could explain the value of any of the activities other than vague, unsupported claims that they “build team spirit”, etc.
    Nor have I ever come away from such a course feeling that I’ve achieved anything that would be of value to whoever was picking up the bill.

    To be blunt, it is my impression that OB training is a left-over from the era when business training in general was in its infancy and the more market-savvy people/companies who were already running courses of this kind saw an opportunity to extend their customer base.
    It is my perception that much of the early popularity of this training was down to the number of people in relevant positions in business who had enjoyed their time in the forces, or at least during “National Service” and who genuinely believed this sort of experience had some an innate value of some kind.
    (I am excluding from these remarks the kind of courses which simply include a little time “out on the lawn” as it is my *impression* that this is not the kind of course Andy was describing.)

    Nowadays, even if *some* OB exercises have “back home” application, I’d suggest that any training course which consisted entirely of (full-blooded) OB experiences is going to be hopelessly lop-sided and provide a very poor ROI.



  16. Oh dear!!
    Having read Paul’s comments it really does seem that some people have had some very poor experiences delivered by not very good outdoor providers. This is a great pity as it leads to the sort of “lop-sided” views written. I have been a delegate on this type of programme before we then developed our own when I set up my business some 16 years ago. We have a great number of comments from people that support the use of the outdoors when used in the right context. It is hopeless to use this message board to debate these issues, but would welcome a meaningful discussion with anyone where I am willing to “bring witnesses to court” to support the use of the outdoors for leadership & team development. Nuff said from me!

  17. Another View

    I undertook my Masters Degree at Sheffield University on the subject of Activity Based Management Development (ABMD). The results were interesting and to cut a long story short some of the key points were as follows:

    1. ABMD which consisted of activities where the experience was not de briefed or reviewed effectively rarely if ever made any impression or long term changes to the behaviours or actions of the people participating.

    2. ABMD that consisted of activities often received good reaction level evaluation results but resulted in few if any actual changes in work place behaviour or results.

    3. ABMD and the exercises that took place on it were generally remembered longer and for the majority of people was more memorable than other forms of development.

    4. Where an ITN was conducted, and the ABMD was designed to respond to and meet the needs of the target group, coupled with effective delivery; the results were generally better than and more productive than classroom based events.

    5. The occurrences of 4. above were few and far between with the numbers of centres providing this sort of approach being able to be counted on the fingers of one mutilated hand.

    6. ABMD was no worse and no better than any form of training and development were the application of the Systematic Training Cycle was rigorous and the process of ABMD was relevant to the form of development required, i.e. using ABMD to develop someone’s skills in using Microsoft Excel was not going to work.

    7. 6. was true of a significant amount of training delivered in the workplace with no presence of ABMD and a significant amount of ‘generic’ training was seen to have little to no effect on the long term actions or results of the participants.

    8. People seem to have very polarised views, some are very much for it and many against it, sometimes based on personal experience but often driven by little more than emotional responses to the subject.

    9. ABMD is a tool that can contribute to a persons development, however it should be carefully designed and delivered by professionals to achieve specific organisational outcomes. Where this occurs it is a very powerful and long last mechanism, where it doesn’t, it isn’t.

    10. ABMD is not inherently flawed, but its misuse and poor management frequently leads to it being labelled as useless, when it is actually its application and the process of application that is badly undertaken.

  18. Thank you, Garry
    As I predicted, at least some people who have a vested interest in OB training found my comments not to their liking.

    May I say, then, that Garry’s post answered all of my criticisms of this kind of training – both implicit and explicit – and I wholly concur with his conclusions (point 10).

    Thank you Garry for such a clear and concise summary.



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