BY GORD WOODWARD
WHEN COSTCO member Rochelle
Duhaime’s office colleagues struggled to pull
together for a project, she found the solution
in an unusual place: the great outdoors.
Duhaime, a resident of Quebec City,
signed them up for outdoor team-building
training. “We needed to work better as a
team,” she says. Seeking more cooperation
and cohesion, she chose to get everyone
away from the familiar seminar environ-
ment of tables in banquet rooms. “Outdoor
training changes the paradigm,” she says.
“You’re outside of your comfort zone.”
With Mother Nature as the backdrop,
facilitator Jim Ongena led Duhaime’s staff
through exercises that helped them under-
stand each other’s strengths, weaknesses
and interests. For example, participants had
to traverse nine stumps, each 30 centime-
tres ( 1 foot) high, using four pieces of wood
and rope. Success depended on teamwork.
They also spent time outside getting
to know each other personally rather
than professionally. “That sharing became
the glue that held the team together,”
Duhaime says. “We gave ourselves permis-
sion to call each other [out] on inappro-
The breaking of interpersonal barriers
came as no surprise to Ongena, a Costco
member who runs the Summerland, British
Columbia–based training firm Corporate
Heights ( corporateheights.ca). “The out-
doors really is the most powerful classroom
in the world,” he says.
He lays claim to being one of the first
in Canada to take team building outside.
For decades, under open skies, he’s helped
businesses overcome staff dysfunction
caused by lack of trust and poor communi-
cation. “Traditionally, team building is
cultural development,” he explains. “These
are effectiveness seminars.”
Moving people outdoors “gives you the
opportunity to get a little more adventurous,
a little more active,” adds Costco member
Bryan Mc Williams, employee engagement
consultant for Outback Team Building and
Training in Vancouver.
Outback runs programs across the country and in the U.S. Venues range from parks
to city streets. “Each challenge requires a
different skill set,” Mc Williams says.
Participants test their cognitive, physical
and social skills as well as their creativity.
Being outdoors makes for a unique
experience—even for those who prefer the
comforts of a heated office. “People will
really bond and find common ground,”
according to Mc Williams. “You learn a lot
Team building in the
“World’s most powerful classroom”
offers a unique twist on staff training WHAT TO EXPECT
THINKING OF signing your staff up for an
outdoor team-building program? Here’s
what you need to know.
It requires commitment. Don’t
expect lasting improvements if you book
one three-hour session. “It’s so hard to
change a group in one day,” says Jim
Ongena, of Corporate Heights in British
Columbia. Most trainers recommend anywhere from two to three days. Jean-François Beauchamp, of Kin-Option in
Montreal, offers his clients a running program that stretches over eight weeks.
It can help your bottom line. “The
return on investment is really good,”
says Beauchamp. An effective program
helps your staff work together interdependently. Better relationships and communication can reduce workplace stress
and boost productivity—and help with
Anyone can participate. “It’s not for
athletes [only],” says Ongena. “You don’t
have to be fit. Just don’t expect to sit all
day. Or be able to adjust the thermostat.”
Clothing matters. Given Canada’s
climate, most outdoor sessions here
happen in spring and summer. Bryan
Mc Williams, of Outback Team Building in
Vancouver, recommends good shoes or
boots, a waterproof jacket and dressing
of interesting things about each other.”
One of Outback’s most popular activi-
ties is the Amazing Chase, which sends
small groups of participants on a scavenger
hunt through a community’s downtown. “It
doubles as a team build and sightseeing
opportunity,” Mc Williams says.
Costco member Jean-François Beauchamp, owner of Kin-Option (kinoption.
com) in Montreal, has his own twist on
outdoor team building. He takes his clients
on runs and hikes. How do such recreational
pursuits, which are often viewed as solitary,
help foster teamwork?
“People have to stay together. They have
to communicate,” he says. “If a teammate
is struggling, from being tired or carrying
a heavy backpack, you help and encourage
and motivate him.”
Corporate troubleshooter Duhaime
gained lasting value from her team’s time
on the ground. “I was a convert,” she says.
“The life lessons I learned I carried forward.”
Facilitator Ongena sees an additional
benefit: “It’s fun!” C
Gord Woodward is a writer and business
author in British Columbia.