Taking teambuilding to the extreme



People looking to conquer their worst fears can turn to an extreme adventure coach to help, but what should corporate managers ask their employees to take these kinds of risks?

What would you pay to rid yourself of your worst fears? Does $162 seem reasonable? For that amount, you can dig your own grave in the woods, lie in it and have an extreme adventure coach you with dirt. He’ll also throw in a breathing hose. Sound like fun? Kahasta thought so.

“When I was dug out, I was elated and felt like I loved everyone on Earth,” Kahasta said of her experience being buried alive. “I was very happy with what happened and I was able to master myself. And all those movies where people dig themselves out of their graves is complete nonsense! It's impossible to move when you're down there.” 

Kahasta shared her experience on an Internet forum for Russians interested in finding something new to spice up their lives. These people are not teenagers searching for their next adrenaline rush; they aren’t interested in riding between subway cars. They are mostly members of the middle class who want to conquer their psychological hang-ups. Courses marketed online through forums for thrill-seekers often use such language as “get to know yourself,” and “fight your fears” in their advertisements. Participants are told to expect “serious psychological experiences.”

Psychologist Sergei Yenikolopov believes that participating in such courses is a way to fulfill the perfectly natural desire to test yourself under extreme conditions.

“We are all interested in how we would react in a stressful situation. This is what man does not know about himself,” Yenikolopov said. “It's no secret that now people often do things that no one expects from them. A quiet, reserved individual can turn out to be a hero at the most critical moment, while a person who considers himself a leader may end up being a coward. However, there is another, far more unpleasant, side to this extreme trend: boredom, the frustration of everyday life, the search for meaning. Very often it is self-destructive behavior, even suicidal tendencies that are at the root of this extremism, the chance to go out in a glorified manner.”

Not every participant in an extreme adventure goes out looking for it. This kind of outing has become popular as a corporate team-building exercise. Why get your colleagues together at a weekend cottage or invite a life coach to help you all learn how to get along when instead you can conquer a river on a raft built by your own hands?

“There are lots of requests, especially in the summer,” said Maxim, an extreme adventure coach. “We have already offered our coaching services to employees of three major Russian mobile carriers. Participants are generally between 25 and 40. It's fun to watch these people, tortured by work and their careers. They wear ties and expensive shoes when they come to the forest, not knowing what to expect. And they are met by a coach knee-deep in mud who gives them wellington boots, some tools and says, ‘There’s a camp with electricity, heating and mod cons on the opposite shore. Build a raft and sail there.’”

The cost of each training course is calculated individually depending on the degree of thrill of the upcoming adventure. They average between $65 and $165 per person. Activities are priced differently. For example, a training exercise in which participants engage in sporting activities, even if they are in unusual circumstances, has a different price from the “school of survival,” which focuses on overcoming fears and pushing participants to the limits of their physical capabilities. The location of the training program also plays a role. Some are limited to the Moscow region, while other firms can afford to send their employees on an extreme adventure to the forests of the Karelia region of northwest Russia.

Yenikolopov believes that stress experienced jointly can bring a team together, but it can also have the opposite effect, dividing a group into “winners” and “losers.” The psychologist does not think this kind of training should be thought of as a fun way to brighten up mundane working days.

“If someone willingly goes on an ordinary training course, whatever it is, that person is obliged to participate. Needless to say that not everyone is ready for this kind of experience. Survival courses can indeed help unite a team, and this is essential when you're talking about soldiers, firefighters, and rescue workers, for example. This is part of their job. But it's hard to imagine why such tests of endurance are necessary for accountants or bankers.”

 “The very idea of making real estate agents or insurance agents run a race through the woods, climbing through caves, and jumping from heights is of course, fun. But, besides the fact that the person may not be prepared physically for the test, he or she may simply not be good enough and will let the team down. Failure can deprive a participant of respect, both in his own eyes and the eyes of his colleagues, and this would only add to his low self-esteem. It seems to me that managers who arrange this kind of shock therapy for their employees should be prepared to reap the rewards of their own folly - employees who have no predisposition towards the extreme will prefer to leave, and others may want to sue their overly eccentric bosses.”

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