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Outbound and unbound

Nothing like a wilderness break to bring a jaded team together again.

Vinay Kamath

It’s a hot afternoon at Adventure Zone, an outbound training camp near Madurantakam, about 90 km from Chennai. The camp’s buzzing with activity: A group from AIG-IT is tackling the artificial rock face set up at the camp. To vociferous shouts of encouragement from colleagues, a normally shy and retiring executive from the company, strapped into a harness, bravely rappels down the vertical surface, using the rope to walk backwards down the wall .

A group from the Round Table is in the casuarina grove negotiating an obstacle course after which they will have a debriefing session with Maj S.R. Roy, former Army man and Adventure Zone’s founder and prime mover.

In another corner of the camp, spread over five-and-a-half acres near a village called Zamin Endathur, off a scenic highway that snakes past lush green fields, a group of post-graduate MBA students from IIT Madras is engaged in an energetic game of volleyball. At the end of the day, the groups will either head back to the city or retire to their bunk beds in large tents (air-conditioned in the summer!), falling asleep to the sounds of crickets and waking up to bird calls.

Away from the 9-to-5 office environment, each of them would have discovered new facets of the other, bonded with colleagues, and come away with a better understanding of the people and challenges they work with.

It isn’t exactly an army-style boot camp that Roy, a former commando instructor, is heading; what with air-con tents, gourmet lunches (his main chef worked earlier at a top-notch flight kitchen!) and plush toilets, it isn’t exactly roughing it out. But, the camp, which moved to this site a year ago, gives executives their first brush with a boot camp. Around 100 companies have sent in their executives to train at Adventure Zone since its inception in 1998. Says Maj Roy, “Of course, the method of instruction and motivation is very different from the Army. The activities too are structured differently. I find that the most common activity that corporates are looking for is team building, but we’ve also helped develop vision statements for the top leadership of a company.”

So, why are companies sending in their troops to sully their hands, sweat it out in the open, swing from trees and scramble up rock walls? Ask K. Venkataraman, Director, Cognizant Technology Solutions, what benefits his company sees in such activities, and he explains, “The benefits of such programmes get reflected in the participants’ attitude towards work. They help the participants see the importance of communication, leadership, teamwork, planning and delegation.”

Besides, he elaborates, they also help associates improve productivity and creativity, build capacities, become goal-oriented, attain a greater sense of belonging, learn to resolve conflicts to perform, achieve self-discipline, and manage time, teams and other demands more effectively.

Camps at Adventure Zone are a part of Cognizant’s Campus Associate Training Programme offered to fresh recruits under the aegis of the Cognizant Academy, its in-house learning centre. So far, more than 1,000 entry-level trainees have taken the programme, while project teams from business units have also participated in them.

Typically, the trainees are divided into teams and participate in sessions of rappelling, rock climbing, rifle and pistol firing, running obstacle courses and so on, which is followed by a process review with a team of facilitators, including Maj Roy himself.

While the activities that form a part of this programme test the physical and mental strength of the participants, they have also been found to be very useful in creating a sense of camaraderie among the participants. Says Venkataraman, “It helps build high-performance teams by highlighting and honing the various team skills of the participants and helping them bond better with their peers, understand team dynamics and leadership skills better and work more closely and seamlessly as a team.”

Venkataraman emphasises that this helps the participants to draw upon their own inspiration, creativity and ability to collaborate, and has great implications for their enthusiasm and attitude at work and their ability to connect with people.

R. Rajan, Training Manager at Delphi TVS Diesel Systems, finds that such outbound training camps have intangible benefits. Says he, “The way people behave when confronted with real obstacles in life is mirrored in their reactions to the many challenges on the course. Consequently, each element of the course becomes a metaphor for life’s events. Placing a person in a primitive environment where challenges are more elemental wakes up something within.”

So, while it’s probably a far cry from the Army commando camp that Maj Roy was in before he quit the service, executives such as Rajan believe that the Army-style training, which transfers people management strategies and practices from the armed forces to the corporate world, is of great value when it is modified and packaged appropriately, as it is here. As Maj Roy himself says, “A mind that has been stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

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