Outbound Learning or OBL is a term often used interchangeably with outdoor team building. The intention is to take your team out of the office and enable it to experience business simulations that can drive learning.
While the intention is clear, the execution is usually off center. Most organizations confuse outbound learning with team recreation. They begin with a plan, they list out objectives, they work out schedules and then they let it all slide by the time they begin to evaluate possible partners and their likely limitations.
We’ve seen organizations having clear objectives of communication transparency, conflict management, project management; ultimately choose something as mundane as rope courses for an “outbound learning” experience. A week after the OBL, the department is sure that money spent on these programs is wasted. But obviously, don’t you think?
Here’s a quick guide to planning your outbound learning or outbound training program with the intention of making it meaningful
1. What are your business objectives?
Identify all the business objectives that you have. Team issues, conflict, coordination, working in silos, new management, team effectiveness etc. Meet with the team to identify and articulate these better. Once you have made your list, prepare to share these with your partners. If your training partner does not understand the requirement, then chances are that they cannot meet your needs.
2. Selecting your location
Don’t weigh a “fancy resort” against the option of a quality outbound learning expert. Too often we see companies make the mistake of utilizing the biggest portion of budgets on an upscale resort. Be clear – do you want the team to learn or just soak in the ambience? Nothing wrong with the decision if your intention is to have a team recreation outing rather than associated learning. If you are looking to have your team energized and back at the office with renewed vigor and better team work, then spend your money on the team building/learning expert not on the location. In this case, you should go for this step only after you have identified the right partner.
3. Selecting the learning partner
Start with providing only a few of your key business objectives. When you receive the activity schedule and program, increase your list of objectives. A partner who maintains a similar schedule and plan irrespective of your business objectives is unlikely to have your best interests at heart. A good learning partner is one who has multiple options to suit your audience in both learning outcomes and (if required) budgetary constraints.
a. should have excellent credentials – having worked with companies in similar industries as yours
b. should be able to provide referrals
c. scalability – the activities and sessions provided should be scalable for your group size and not just for fixed numbers
d. experiential – its a proven fact that experiential activities when facilitated well are far more effective than classroom / theoretical sessions. Your partner should have expertise and not just experience in this.
e. should be able to service you as a company (multiple facilitators) and not as an individual. This helps you to choose by company profile and not trainer profile.
Its a straight forward decision – your team will remember the experience and not the menu or the lights in your room. If your intention is to benefit from the learning, then allocate your budget for the training partner. If you are planning a pure team recreation and cocktails / BBQ, then allocate your share for the resort / location.
Its a very common phenomenon for organizations to take their teams to the most fanciest location that they can afford and then squeeze out a small amount for the outbound learning or team building training. But what is not taken into account is the survey you run for the participants a few months down the line and they recall every activity (and its effectiveness) than the details of the location. Its therefore important to prioritize as it is highly unlikely that you can find a quality training partner at less than adequate budgets.
5. Measurement and Metrics
Measuring the success of the outbound learning or team building sessions is one of the toughest tasks. If you have selected a quality partner, then chances are that they would be able to help quantify these for you.
detailed feedback so gaps are identified and specific training needs planned
mapping of objectives to learning
a follow up session
A calculation of the efficiency / effectiveness of the team post the OBL with respect to your business objectives
Do note that unless these calculations have been made both prior to and post the outbound learning sessions, you will not have benchmarks
6. Next steps
Understand that outbound learning and team building are not quick fixes. These are behavioral changes that need to be reinforced over a period of time. Your team is important and their efficiency and productivity are paramount to your success. Don’t plan the Outbound Learning unless you are prepared to keep at it.