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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Corporate bonding: Happy together?
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By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy

Next time you find yourself lost and shivering on the side of a Cumbria fell, cursing the huddle of clueless colleagues who surround you and dreaming of home, remember: it's a bonding experience.

After all, discomfort, indignity and downright humiliation are commonly viewed as the very essence of corporate bonding.

According to the management psychobabble, take someone out of the office environment, drive them to the very end of their tether and you shall reap rewards ten-fold in terms of productivity gains and company loyalty.

Not surprisingly though, it sometimes goes too far. The story of Anne Shackley is a case in point.
Sumo wrestlers
Anne Shackley was ordered to impersonate a sumo wrestler

Earlier this week, Miss Shackley, 44, won 275,000 compensation from her former employer after seriously injuring herself during a bout of company-sponsored "sumo wrestling".

Despite her protests, the slightly-built Miss Shackley - height 5ft 3ins - was told to get into the spirit of a corporate bonding event, held in 1995. That meant stepping into a one-size-fits-all padded "sumo suit" and wrestling one of her colleagues.

Unfortunately the suit proved too heavy, causing Miss Shackley to fall and bang her head on concrete. Since then she has suffered from epilepsy and lost her driving licence.

The accident may have been unusual, but it highlights the fact that one manager's idea of a good-natured bonding session is another employee's nightmare.

But if your impression of a team-building exercise is a two-day survival trek on Dartmoor in the hands of some ex-SAS soldiers, then think again.

The changing nature of the workplace has prompted a good deal of creative thinking among personnel managers and professional events companies.
Bar room football
Life-size table football is used for bonding sessions

Staff at Carphone Warehouse are treated to a monthly Friday-night drinking session where the company picks up the bar tab, and managers with Asda were recently enrolled on a "Red Indian" motivation day.

That idea derives from a management theory known as Gung Ho which is based on native American customs.

Last year, staff with the media distribution company Itel were taken to the Isle of Wight for a weekend and given 48 hours to put on a "review of the 20th Century" show.

In America, the trend is for weekend retreats - company-bought homes in the country where employees are invited to mingle while their loved ones are left at home.

On this side of the Atlantic some of the more novel ideas include teaching staff to play Samba music and treating them to cookery classes.

The company "away day" is another form of bonding on the rise. Generally it involves retreating to a luxury hotel for sessions of brainstorming and problem solving, topped off by an extended spell in the bar.
Sean Connery and Jill St John
Bond: Maybe taking the whole concept too far

As we work longer hours, the justification for corporate bonding is growing.

In the hi-tech sector, where jobs are plentiful and skills are in short supply, companies say team-building exercises are key to keeping a competitive edge and preventing staff from defecting.

The findings of a new survey, which says only 36% of Britons enjoy their work, will be seen as a further excuse for bonding exercises.

But what of those, like Anne Shackley, who would rather sit down to a civilised canteen lunch than go white-water rafting?

Tim Waygood, of MotivAction, says the business is wising up to a more subtle approach.

He summons the traditional view of a team-building event: "If someone said to me we are going to the Brecon Beacons, you are going to go through hardship and be woken up at three in the morning by someone balling in your ear, I would tell them where to go.

"Therefore I would be rejected as not a team player and not suitable for leadership. But obviously I am," says Mr Waygood, who has built up a million-pound business in corporate events management.
Sheep
Feeling sheepish? Tim Waygood has a solution

His company takes a more creative approach. An example of one of his exercises is Human Sheep - where one person is dressed as a sheep and herded into a pen by fellow workers who can only communicate with tambourines and whistles.

MortivAction also has a "James Bond experience", where staff spend a day trying to save the work from a megalomaniac. Other options include life-size table football - played on a 60ftx40ft pitch - and blindfolded Land Rover driving.

But be warned: the touchy-feely approach has its limits, as Jim Hodkinson, former chief executive of the fashion firm New Look will testify.

The high-flying businessman was fired this week when, at a team-building industry awards party, he tried to "bond" with a colleague by pinching her bottom.

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See also:

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