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March 10, 2009

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By now you've heard about all types of exotic training ideas for managers and members of your team. For adventurous souls, most of them sound like fun: paintball war camps, ropes courses, rock-climbing, survival camps, fighter pilot simulations, BMW performance driving school, just to name a few.

But do they have any lasting positive effect?

Most participants seem to think these team, leadership, and confidence building experiences are effective -while they are there and in the first few days back on the job. During most such experiences they get good at whatever they've been working on - passing oranges without using their hands, or getting an unathletic team member to get over their fear and descend a climbing wall. But after they return to the office the question lingers - is there a lasting positive effect?

Employers spend plenty in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of their workers and managers. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) estimates a $55 billion annual tab for training in America. With that kind of spending it's clear that just about any idea with the slightest hope of giving a company a leg up on the competition is going to get tried.

Can the training world hold up back at the office

Increasingly there is unease about some of the more unorthodox training ideas out there. Critics suggest that the world of the training exercise and the reality of the day to day grind at the office are so far apart that the twain doesn't have much chance of meeting. As one expert Cary Cherniss, psychology professor and co-chair of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, said in a recent New York Times feature: "It takes a lot of time and effort to unlearn old ways of thinking and acting and develop new neural circuits: it's unlikely these programs have a lasting impact."

Not to say that time out of the office with colleagues at some fun activity can't be a recharging experience, one that builds lasting bonds of trust and cooperation with co-workers. Attending one of Afterburner Seminars half-day programs, for example, where management gets to experience fighter pilot training and combat experience sounds like a great team building experience.

Worker and employee needs too different

But the reality of the worker-management team is that managers want control and the ability to impose a direction, and employees want promotions, more money, and some control over their working experience. A simulation in a training exercise might help improve the organizational atmosphere, but it has little chance of changing the fundamentally different needs of workers and managers.

Motivating the old fashioned way

So, they conclude, training is a waste of money if it doesn't produce a lasting effect that helps move your organization ahead. You would be better off, they suggest, in spending the money and time the old-fashioned way - asking workers what makes them tick, sharing and setting expectations and goals, asking them for their ideas and input, and using promotions, raises and solid management techniques to motivate.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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