Make no mistake, I really admire my colleagues but there’s no way I’d trust them with my life in the wilds of the Kimberley. But it sure is fun watching other people try.

Ok, well you could probably twist my arm….

Cue Do or Die, the newish ABC2 series that documents the adventures of office workers thrown into an outdoor survival adventure. Forget drab hotel rooms, endless trays of muffins and a couple of nights getting riotously drunk with your colleagues. This is Bear Grylls for pen pushers; people who’d normally consider replacing the photocopier toner a challenge. 

It’s enthralling viewing. Mostly because you’re not the one being put through your paces, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to work with these people.

But it’s impossible to believe that orienteering adventures like this do anything to improve your ability to work together as a team in the office environment.

Occupational psychologist Simon Brown Greaves agrees. He told The Punch that the problem with these kinds of workplace challenges is that there is no agreed framework for effective leadership; it’s all about context.

“We choose to follow people for whom we respect their achievements, their track record and their knowledge,” Brown Greaves said.

In an office environment the leader is the person who makes the decisions and delegates the work, but in an outdoor race for survival those skills and that person are very different.

This week’s episode of Do or Die proved this point exactly. We met the amiable, calm and very polite, all-male collective of Soap Creative. They’re an advertising/marketing/PR company thrust from the air-conditioned comfort of their office into narrow, claustrophobia-inducing caves and hot, dry nights sleeping rough – no room for iPads or witty repartee in these conditions.

It looked pretty tough from where I was sitting.

The good news was they survived - but not before making some alarming discoveries. Boss Ash didn’t possess any kind of leadership qualities outside the perimeters of the office, while office junior John had all the answers.

While that made for terrific television, you got the distinct impression that things were going to get pretty uncomfortable back at the office. And that’s exactly why these terrifying teambuilding exercises are a complete waste of time.

The best bosses or leaders understand their working environments in terms of both its strengths and weaknesses. So effective teambuilding exercises must play to either spectrum and have a specific end goal in mind, or definite problem to solve.

Without those insights or direction there’s very little point in transferring your working relationships outside their everyday context because it won’t get you anywhere.

And unless you’re a park ranger, there’s very little chance that gallivanting around the outback is going to help.

What’s the worst teambuilding weekend you’ve ever had? Tell me on Twitter: @lucyjk

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

Most commented


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    • cdrl says:

      06:22am | 28/09/12

      tax payers money well spent i think not . the abc tis a silly place

    • SAm says:

      06:32am | 28/09/12

      gee id be stoked if my company did that. Not for the ‘leadership, teambuilding’ crap just for a nice paid holiday

    • Gregg says:

      06:46am | 28/09/12

      Well Lucy, unlike that $65M up for grabs with the HK tycoon and his lesbian daughter he wants converted, as much as I’d like to believe in that, perhaps you can get a little belief in your impossibility of the wilds fostering teamwork.
      I’m somewhat surprised with your Simon Greaves and to me his view is more than a little narrow.

      Who we follow in an organisation is usually foisted upon people by others who have made a selection which you have probably had nought to do with whether you like it or not.

      That said, a good boss ought to have good knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the environment in which he/she is supposed to lead and a good boss will also realise that he/she will only be as good as the team he/she has and recognising individual strengths and weaknesses.
      What of those may surface in the Kimberly wilds may have little to do with the office place environment as far as context of skills but it is more about developing relationships and reliance within the team as a whole.

      Certainly there will be some for whom both the teamwork building exercise and post the exercise there will be a level of mental discomfort and that is to be expected anytime someone is taken out of their comfort zone.
      You need to envisage just what might be achieved trying to have the teamwork event in the office or with a similar environment where there would be minimal challenge.
      I’d reckon people would likely be more in their normal roles and mindset with far less thinking outside the square.

      There also needs to be a level of maturity to enable team members to appreciate that whilst a team building exercise will be valuable if in fact teamwork back at the workplace is enhanced, that teamwork will be based on a different set of skills.

    • Sean says:

      07:13am | 28/09/12

      This may be true but the fact that the situations they were put in made them work out problems was overlooked in this article.

    • Ahhh the great indoors!! says:

      07:25am | 28/09/12

      Being approached to participate in the City to Surf.
      I was snubbed after asking for cab fare.

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:38am | 28/09/12

      A good leader is a person with a direction and goal in mind, and is then able to encourage his/her people to come along for the ride.

      It also means letting go of those that do not share the vision.

      Australian culture is particularly bad at choosing leaders, because we promote based on technical knowledge rather than leadership abillity.  The two are very different.

      Thus we lose both the technical expertise on the floor, and we get a poor leader who only just manages to not-quite-be incompetent enough to sack.

      There needs to be a way to demote.  To say to a person, “You’re a fantastic plumber, but you’re not a great leader.  You be our consultant plumber then.”

      Perhaps all promotions are “on probation”?  I don’t know.  Hard work and achievement should be rewarded, but rewarded appropriately.

    • Jess says:

      11:44am | 28/09/12

      where I work there is a technical stream and a management stream so people can be promoted and rewarded if they are very good at the technical aspects of their jobs but uncomfortable with the people management side. It works as we have a lot of extremely smart people but they are extremely socially awkward.

    • Chris says:

      08:06am | 28/09/12

      It’s the right of every hard-working Australian to be presented at least every 10 years with the opportunity to pepper their boss with paintballs.

    • iansand says:

      08:13am | 28/09/12

      Depending on the boss’ vindictiveness, in a decent company the office junior will be watched and fast tracked.  Looks like a pretty good talent spotting exercise to me.

    • Greg says:

      08:47am | 28/09/12

      Just because the junior knows things about surviving in the bush does not necessarily mean he knows squat about an office environment or his job.

      If the boss has never camped before anyone with a few years in scouts will make them look pretty stupid trying to survive out in the bush, that doesn’t make someone a bad boss.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      09:50am | 28/09/12

      @Greg, but if the junior shows that they are capable of handling difficult situations and thinking on their feet then surely you would mentor that junior in the office environment with a plan to promote.

      Often businesses are so regulated with who can do what that a chance to show initiative and receive credit for it is slim. If you come up with an idea to improve efficiency and there are three levels of management between you and the head, then someone else in that line is going to take the credit for your work.

    • Joan Bennett says:

      08:28am | 28/09/12

      If I had problems with a colleague, spending extra time with them somewhere remote would probably not be a good idea.  If a workplace is so bad, they can’t sort out “issues” in-house, you would just look for another job.

    • Al says:

      09:51am | 28/09/12

      Joan - I agree with you but probably for different reasons.
      Primarily that there are so many varied opurtunities to create an ‘accident’ out bush.
      I would most likely also just leave them to fend for themselevs and go off by myself, I know I can take care of myself and the others can suffer, they are work colleagues, not friends or family.

    • Christine says:

      09:50am | 28/09/12

      I think this is a great show and have so far enjoyed the first three episodes and wish my organisation would take our fat-arse complacent bullies on such an adventure.

    • Aussie Wazza says:

      10:12am | 28/09/12

      Reality shows suk. They are contrived, staged and edited to get sensation and therefore artificial. The camera crew presents forces this.

      Surely with the CCTV, drones and satellites a fair dinkum show worth watching could be made.

      A genuine style with NO interference. Just trim the mundane leaving the high points to fit the time frame.

      Day 1
      Parachuted in; only mishap, Glen lost when chute failed to open. All well otherwise. (show film shots taken from the plane.)

      Day 2/
      ’ 8:00 a.m. John is now leaving the group to try to get a better view from the top of a rock. Oh no, he has slipped into a crevasse and seems to be, yes, he is unconscious. Will any of the group miss him before bedding down tonight.

      6:00 p.m. Roll call and John is noted missing. Agreed Ted and George will backtrack at first light if John not here by then.

      OVER VOICE: Group failed to find Johns body and police were directed to the spot later after the group gone.

      Day 4

      The temperature is around 40 Deg and the team are now at a waterhole. Bert has jumped in and Alice follows.

      Struth is that—- yes its a bloody great crocodile. Look how the team are yelling and both swim toward the bank . Will they make—- no—- Its got Alice and is shaking her.

      It’s disappearing with half of Alice. Team now pull the rest of her out wrap her in plastic and cover with rocks. Mark the spot for easy police discovery later.

      Day 5   9:30 p.m.

      Notice how the bickering between Sam and Bill is escelating. Something is happening here right—what the, Bill has picked up a burning branch from the fire and is hitting Sam—- That’s his eye—yes,—- Sams left eye has been knocked out of its socket.. Harry and Leigh are grabbing Bill and have him on the ground. Sams up now and stamping on Johns leg, He’s broken it; the bone is through the flesh and sticking out the side. Look. blood everywhere. Charlie has grabbed Sam. Yes, yes, its settled down now.

      All seems calm and team patching up the wounded.

      DAY 7

      7:00 a.m. Last day and they should reach Bandiwallup by around 4:00 p.m.

      Bills broken leg now gangrenous and he is delirous but should make it.

      4:30 p.m. The group are entering town now and the greeting party will take over from now.

      Next week watch and see what happened when we dropped a group of ten in two liferafts 1000 Km. south of Hobart.

    • Gregg says:

      10:22am | 28/09/12

      I reckon we could do with some digital TV broadcasting team building for our area at least.
      We’ve got this dinky little set-up, apparently left over with all it’s deficiencies from the analogue transmission days, just the new repeater tower receivers/transmitters installed which might be pretty standard and would be good if there were not previous analogue TV problems.

      Only problem is that digital transmission has that signal drop off a cliff quality so to speak to compound dissatisfaction.
      Back in analogue days, it was also a case of contacting the local council because the transmission tower was what was classed as a community tower and that was not so bad until council amalgamations came along and new council people some 100 km. or so distant said ” you’ve got what? and it’s nothing to do with us, talk to the TV channels etc. ” , that was at least until you sorted them out and then on occasion it took about two weeks in total for someone to find what was faulty and then get replacement parts ordered and installed.

      So along comes digital with all its pixellation, loss of signal etc., again something nobody wants to address other than DOC suggest you get a TV technician who off the record says we’ve got a shit system which I suppose is good for his business but he protects his own A by not being prepared to tell DOC that.
      The alternative DOC suggest is to put in an application for the satellite AVAST system all for the sake of not doing an audit of what needs to be fixed for reasonable strength transmissions.

      And then we even have the local members office people claiming the member has attempted to raise issues with that right Senatorial Cant, yep can’t get anything out of him!
      Maybe we could send the good senator off into the wilds with a team of very unhappy digital denizens with the proviso that there be no hanging and just maybe some part of that massive NBN spend could be allocated to at least seeing that TV digital broadcast systems are robust and reliable across the nation.
      Surely that is not too much to ask for rather than have people loading up satellite transmission services.

    • Audra Blue says:

      11:31am | 28/09/12

      A few years ago I worked in a boutique financial planning firm.  There was only 30 of us and every year for 3 days, I’d have to attend a “team building” weekend with my work colleagues.

      it was excrutiatingly awful.  I liked my colleauges and we all got along well and everyone knew their roles at work and performed them well.  But this was supposed to boost team morale further - how, I never figured out.

      We each had to share a room with another person (of the same sex), which wigged me out.  I have a very distinct line between work and home and I did not feel comfortable at all walking around a hotel room in my pajamas in front a work mate, or sharing a bathroom with them and it was excrutiating sleeping in the same room as them.

      I felt like my personal privacy was hideously violated and I usually ended up so stressed from the stupid team building/bonding activities and lack of sleep that I was a basket case by the time I arrived home.  I also hate living out of a suitcase, hence me not being a good traveller.

      Due to my ongoing digestive issues, the food over the 3 days gave me massive pain, even though the boss tried hard to accommodate everyone’s food preferences.  After 3 years of this, I eventually told the CEO that I couldn’t do the team building weekend any more and I refused to go.  It ultimately didn’t matter because the team had fractured to the point where staff turnover was nearly a weekly occurrence and the incidence of bullying at the new hands of the new CEO forced me out anyway.

      Luckily in the Public Service where I am now, there’s no money for anything heinous like a team bonding weekend, and for that I am extremely grateful.  If ever I leave the PS, I will stipulate to any new boss that bonding weekends are NOT going to happen and they can leave me in the office to answer the phones.

    • shane says:

      12:58pm | 28/09/12

      Lucy, you really need to do something other than sit in an office and live a late lifestyle.  While I agree that this sort of thing will not really help office johnnies at work, it certainly will help them appreciate the nice easy life they have.

      You should take some time to get into the outback and see how easy you really have it so you can write something intelligent instead of your usual drivel.

    • Lucy Kippist

      Lucy Kippist says:

      01:14pm | 28/09/12

      I’ll try and keep that in mind Shane, thanks.

    • Troy Flynn says:

      01:54pm | 28/09/12

      Can you explain what a “late lifestyle” is?

    • bananabender says:

      01:01pm | 28/09/12

      Corporate team building (and personlaity testing) is litlte more than worthless psychobabble.

    • Al says:

      01:25pm | 28/09/12

      I remember doing some ‘personality test’ for a job I applied for years and years ago.
      The thing was once I found out what the job actualy was (not what they called it) I didn’t want to get it so deliberately answered all the questions with the worst possible response.
      They must have thought I was a real psycho! (They didn’t even contact me).

    • thatmosis says:

      01:39pm | 28/09/12

      I watched the show once and from what I saw the people were so up themselves that they wouldn’t listen to anybody. If it wasn’t for the camera crew being there I’m sure they would have perished, not that that would have been a bad thing as it showed just how insular people have become and how anything out of the ordinary throws them for a loop.People should learn at least the minimum survival skills as no one knows when and if these things will actually mean life and death.
        From the show I watched the main thing that came out was everybody doing their own thing regardless of the circumstance knowing full well that should they really get into trouble they would be picked up immediately so no threat per se.
        A true test would be to drop them in a place where there was nothing, give them enough water and food to make civilisation, with the necessary items like plastic sheets and a compass, a map and whatever they could carry and then monitor them only by drones. Only in dire circumstances would the producers step in and lift them out as they either gelled as a unit or failed miserably.

    • Utopia Boy says:

      02:30pm | 28/09/12

      A good article. A good office junior, if truly the “natural” leader, would have made sure the boss thought it was him who had all the answers. Then we’d know if John was a real future CEO. Office politics never ends at the end of the working day.
      Without having seen it, Ash, if he was outside his comfort zone, should have been trying to encourage others to think laterally etc etc.
      Real leadership doesn’t come from demanding certain actions or following protocol, it comes from opening subordinates minds, or at the very least, giving them the opportunity.

    • Gordon says:

      04:12pm | 28/09/12

      sub truthtest
      If (is on TV) = Yes,
      Then Truth = No
      Else gosub PlanB


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