Developing People With Outdoor Experiential Learning

The purpose of this briefing paper by Clive Bonny is to advise on his benchmark processes and outcomes when using OEL as a means to improve team and individual effectiveness. This outlines OEL options and differences between facility suppliers. OEL can act as a catalyst to improve the management and development of human resources to achieve high organisation performance and personal success.

Objectives Of OEL

The most common applications relate to the skills of team building, teamleading, coaching, resource planning, personal communications, motivation and attitudinal change. The objectives of an OEL programme should be prioritised, linked to business or individual goals, and clearly communicated to those involved. When the objectives are focused on improving personal skills these should be explicit and specific so that learning objectives can be described in behavioural terms.
Activity reviews require analysis of visible behaviours to enable skills to be developed on a step-by-step basis. There needs to be agreement on what success looks like: “metrics that matter”. An example of effective resource management skills: “consults others in planning; encourages innovation; evaluates risk; communicates positive expectations; sets challenging goals; acknowledges achievement”. These skills and more can be quickly analysed and improved in an OEL setting.
When objectives include attitudinal change a pre-event survey can assess current attitudes and a post-event survey can measure changes in perception. This can be accomplished through questionnaires, interviews or focus groups and can include an assessment of organisation and personal values. Inner beliefs can have a profound influence on readiness for change. Values can be a driving (or limiting) force. By diagnosing the gap between stated (aspired) values and peoples perceived (demonstrated) values it is possible to identify issues that help and hinder change. The result of an attitude survey may show a need to realign values.
Without clearly defined and prioritised objectives at the outset, an OEL event becomes an activity without a purpose or success criteria (“playing football without goalposts”). If people do not agree initial “rules of engagement” ie how they will work together (values), the motivation and effectiveness of those involved is at risk.

Benchmarking Best Practice To Achieve Excellence

OEL programmes are sometimes seen as “high risk” as well as “high return”. This makes it paramount to ensure best practice is applied in the “journey” process from pre-event planning to delivery and evaluation. Best practice design is found in international training and development benchmarks such as Investors in People and the Business Excellence Model This ensures effective commitment, planning, action and evaluation. A separate paper is available on these widely used standards which are equally applicable to both indoor training and OEL.
Best Practice in delivery should also include case studies of real life scenarios from the past and present. These can include exceptional success stories from attendee experiences and from third parties. The involvement of guest speakers adds a new dimension to the story telling. Exceptional individuals such as an Olympic gold winner, a round the world yacht skipper or a military commander can be invited to share personal “moments of truth” in leadership, teamwork and attitude. People will remember their stories and anecdotes as role model examples of success in the face of adversity or limited resources.
Stories can come from the past too:
A mother once took her son to see Ghandi and asked that Ghandi stop the little boy eating sugar. Ghandi took one look at the little boy and said “Bring him back to me in two weeks time” When the mother visited Ghandi again, he took the boy to one side and said “Little boy – you must stop eating sugar”. The mother was both surprised and disappointed, “but why didn’t you simply tell him that two weeks ago?” And Ghandi replied “two weeks ago I was still eating sugar.”
Learning from mistakes is equally important, and one of the paradigms of the modern leader is to admit to mistakes. This encourages innovation and risk-taking that is vital in OEL. Stories can therefore include “glorious failures” to highlight the impact of error. “Mistake management” is integral to supporting change so that people are encouraged onto new paths.
OEL facility providers must offer TOTAL QUALITY in the provision of Health and Safety, which should exceed the minimum statutory requirements. In the UK this requires conformance to Equal Opportunities (i.e. non-discrimination for physical disability), First Aid Certification, ISO 9001, RIDDOR (reporting injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrence regulations), public liability insurance, personal injury cover, and AALR (adventure activities licensing regulations). Whilst some of these requirements relate to instructing people under 18 years, any supplier should still be expected to conform. The risk of accidents always exists and “survival” courses or partially registered suppliers increase such risk unnecessarily.
The use of analogy, metaphor, and other memory-enhancing methods in communicating change should also be demonstrated by facilitators. There are strong links in success between sport and business using “mind-gym” techniques based on neurolinguistic programming:
“Some days you are better You are quicker
You are stronger
You see more
Solutions come to you
You re on a roll
You are better”
Visualisation, imagery, trigger words, anchoring and flow techniques are proven and accepted psychological building blocks for aligning mind and body towards successful outcomes. Discussion (with examples) of best practice in critical thinking, reasoning and awareness techniques (“acuity, synthesis and sensibility”) will enable participants to access their latent right and left brain capabilities. Programmes asking people to mentally stretch themselves should show the wide array of tools and techniques which high achievers use to maximise their potential and move from transaction to transformational behaviour. Peak performers are role models and by analysing the attitudes and activities of successful people participants will recognise their ability to replicate them with excellent results.
Whilst the behavioural sciences can add real value to a programme it is however important to ensure that “psychobabble” does not create obstacles. The introduction of qualified psychologists who have little personal experience of building and managing businesses is unlikely to stimulate rapport with practical people. Appropriate use of language, and checking receptiveness to mental workouts will minimise this risk.

Land And Sea Options

There are many land-based and sea-based suppliers. The CIPD guidelines for OEL should apply to all. The role of an independent consultant is to make recommendations based on researched options and current best practice.
OEL on water allows people to operate in a single visible space, with a full view of the “supply chain”. The team has to respond quickly to instructions from the skipper in a pre-defined sequence. Activity cascades sequentially and the failure of a single person will be quickly a visibly highlighted.
OEL on land offers a wide choice of tasks, opportunity for teams to exchange members and review each task afterwards without distraction. There is less dependence on weather conditions, less time needed for instruction before action and more opportunity for innovative problem solving. The yachting experience is appropriate for leader instruction skills and team motivation. Land OEL also improves communication and innovation abilities. Some suppliers can offer both land and water activity (pool, lake, or river).
OEL suppliers should be assessed regarding:
  • Experience and understanding of OEL
  • Certificated safety provision and quality control
  • Range of exercise equipment and settings
  • Onsite facilities: eg accommodation, environment
  • Value for money
There are substantial differences between suppliers in planning, delivery and follow up.

Example Pre-Event Activities Before A 3-Day Roll-Out

Pre-event options can consist of:
  • Linking the programme to organisation priorities, development strategy, personal training needs
  • Observing participants at work for case studies and to check reality against perceptions
  • Surveying participant attitudes, skills and personal styles
  • Tailoring content and process to align with requirements before submitting a full programme

Delivery Options For A 3-Day Event

Day One
  • Reviewing objectives and challenges
  • Discussing survey results (if no prior survey conduct on site)
  • Agreeing desired outcomes and behaviours
  • Tasks in Teams. Review Outcomes and Processes
  • Set goals for Day 2
  • Evening team project: “Communicating change at work” – Creating a communication plan to manage change (to be presented by the team the following morning).

Day Two

  • Team Presentations with critiquing on video
  • Inner Fitness exercises: Aligning Mind and Body
  • Tasks in Teams. Review Outcomes and processes
  • Set goals for Day 3
  • Dinner Guest Speaker
  • Evening Project: Problem-Solving exercise

Day Three

  • Review evening project
  • Team exercises and communication challenges
  • Simulations managing real work issues with limited resources
  • Review programme learning. Develop Team Action Plans

Notes

  • All exercises can be observed with behavioural checklists. These analyse previously agreed skills for team-working and team-leading.
  • Feedback is given after each exercise by participants and facilitators.
  • Participant attitudes are surveyed each day.
  • Actual current work projects can be brought in.
  • All reviews relate learning to issues at work.

Post-Event Options

  • Debriefing with participants and other stakeholders
  • Facilitating Action Learning Groups for workplace learning
  • Surveying new attitudes and behaviours
  • Sourcing E-Learning and Open Learning materials to reinforce skills
  • Drafting Success Story PR articles for internal and external audiences

The above guidelines are based on several years experience by Clive Bonny as a designer and deliverer of OEL.

Posted in Briefing Papers, HR Management