with a thrill
One-man armies never win battles.
It is teams that work together that can out-perform
those that merely work from the same office. HR practitioners
around the world today recommend outdoor training in
learning models to develop skills such as leadership,
teamwork and communication to enhance an organisation’s
“We use outdoors as a tool for
training,” explains Wade Campbell, Sri Lanka’s
Managing Director of Borderlands, which offers adventure
based training programmes that enable individuals to
explore from a different perspective who they are and
how they work together, moving towards significant change
through a real experience.
“We put our trainees into explosive
environments,” Wade says illustrating one of their
techniques. When a non-swimmer is put into the middle
of the river, there is fear and anxiety. However, the
individual has to take responsibility and do it right,
learning in the process how to trust people and himself.
Trust here is built on good communication.
Kushal Dhanushka of MAS Intimates
participated in a team building exercise that involved
activities such as scavenger hunt, trust building and
white water rafting of which he found rafting the most
challenging. Rafting not only challenges the individual
by testing his endurance and strength but also as an
adventure sport enables teams to focus on communication
and team-building skills.
A saga of adventure
A Canadian national, Wade Campbell who holds a Masters in outdoor activities
has had over 20 years of experience in the field,
having served as a certified trainer/course director/photographer
in Outward Bound Canada and in US, Japan, Mexico
and Nepal. Having started operations in the Himalayas
of Nepal in 1996 Borderlands came to Sri Lanka
three years ago after the peace accord when Nepal
was experiencing a period of instability. Checking
out the island to see if the environment was conducive
to run such programmes he was amazed. “The
adventure based potential is untapped and underdeveloped,”
he states. In Sri Lanka they currently work with
some of the top corporate companies. “We
like to keep it real and safe with the use of
the latest equipment of international standards,
fully insured,” he says.
“When I came out of it my fear
was gone,” he said, of the activity that taught
them how to go beyond their expectations. “You
can topple if you do not communicate.” Back at
office he now finds it easier to interact with others
and is able to get more work done because of effective
Similarly, there are several other
activities among the experiential learning exercises
– rock climbing, trekking, mountain biking, both
simulated and real that while energizing members allow
for nurturing tolerance, facilitating conflict resolution
and managing stress.
However, water based activities such
as white water rafting, kayaking, and river-crossing
form an integral part of these programmes. “The
river is a great teacher – indifferent to social
status, income and education,” Wade says, adding
that it takes you at face value. Hence, a new world
that is wild, unpredictable and constantly changing
is opened up to participants in the form of a river
that has its own natural rules, rhythms and outcomes.
Rafting apparently mirrors the team’s
approach on how they deal with things. Wade has noticed
that in every group there are risk-takers and the withdrawn
who normally would behave likewise in an office set-up.
“The natural qualities of people come out during
the activities,” he says.
Notably, the activities enable members
to focus with clarity on their strengths and need areas.
If everyone is a risk taker, the company would obviously
be in trouble and if everyone is passive, then the company
would not move forward. An organisation would need to
find the right balance by identifying the diversity
- the different strains and insights that people bring.
Citing the incident at a recent programme
when the CEO of a high level management firm fell into
the water at the rapids and was assisted by a junior
colleague, “That relationship has forever changed,”
Wade surmises pointing at the new bonds that are evolved
among team members, enabling them to be a more productive
Similarly, when being held at the
top of a high fall, participants count on support from
colleagues. By doing so, their relationship and communication
is taken to a whole new level.
Still on the subject, rafting according
to Wade is a great analogy. The group paddles together,
overcomes obstacles, celebrates successes, learns from
failures and learns to appreciate the environment. “It
is all about training - the river and the boat are merely
tools,” he stresses. It goes without saying that
a lot depends on the carpenter who can either smash
a window or build a house.
Participants who have been at the
training say that the activities though highly stressful
are simplified, allowing for people at various levels
to voice an opinion. In addition, living in tents with
no mobile phones and having to ward off leeches, a person
is removed from his/her comfort zone. “True adventure
has to have hardship, adventure and fun,” Wade
“The team dynamics has certainly
improved as a result of the team building and motivation
exercises,” spokesperson of Standard Chartered
Bank Manik Welikala said explaining that their members
now understand better each other’s capabilities,
the comfort level having increased tremendously.
All sessions end with a debriefing.
“Reflection is a way of making learning conscious,”
Wade says, “as it gets to the heart of the matter
and the truth of things.” By doing so we process
our feelings, understand them, resolve questions and
get on with our work. A team can thus achieve their
maximum potential and take it to another dimension.
Most people have no hesitation about
supporting another individual by giving a hand when
crossing a river. How is the same learning transferred
to their professional life? What of the competition?
Borderlands has on their staff both educationists and
professionals from the corporate sector who having formulated
the programmes help participants draw parallels in the
Normally a video recording is made
of the entire programme for participants to see for
themselves what they are capable of, to revisit the
course and reinforce learning as they slip back into
old routines. “They are often shocked at their
The leap which involved a jump from
a thirty foot high rock into the river was the most
frightening event according to Ceylon Pencils’
(Atlas) Manager for Human Resources and Administration
Sonia Gnanapragasam. “It was highly risky but
all my colleagues faced the challenge except for me
as I wear glasses and cannot see without them,”
From their experiences, Borderland
finds such programmes beneficial to both traditional
organisations and progressive companies. On their part
they tailor-make each programme using different approaches
to meet the needs of the company based on their budgetary
constraints, physical or health constraints.
Experiential learning is at the heart
of many training and learning events the world over
for it has been established that some of the most important
aspects of management can be learnt in an informal outdoor