On Thursday 130 businesses will again pit their wits (and brawn) against each other in the annual Microsoft UK Challenge, a four-day team-building event held in Scotland. The four-person teams (which must include one senior exec) have to run, kayak and bike their way up hills, down dales and across lakes, while solving various puzzles (and finding out a bit more about their colleagues) along the way. The idea is that all this honest endeavour will foster better teamwork and leadership skills – while raising £600,000 for the NSPCC at the same time. All very laudable aims, and judging from the number of entrants (many of whom are back for more having completed the challenge last year) it seems to be going down well.
‘These events can give you a strong understanding of how working with people in very intensive but unusual situations can bring out best and worst in people,’ says IoD director-general Miles Templeman, who this year is heading up to Scotland to fire the starting gun. ‘And that can give you a better understanding of how to work together as a team when you get back into the office. Everything I’ve seen about [the Challenge] suggests this is a very good way of doing that. Plus people seem to love doing it’.
Former England rugby international Rory Underwood, who’s an ambassador of this year’s event, reckons the teams will get a lot out of it. 'The techniques and skills you use in a business context are fundamentally the same as those you need to solve the kind of problems you get in the Challenge,' he told MT. 'But because it's a different environment you see things in a different way; you see how different people behave in different situations - how they react under pressure; how they interact with people; how they communicate; how they solve problems.'
Underwood, who now runs performance consultancy UPH (alongside Gulf War pilot John Peters and survival specialist Martyn Halliwell), is also heading up to Scotland to provide on-the-spot coaching - and to have a crack at some of the events himself. 'We're in the business of trying to help teams to be more effective and to release more potential, so it's a good fit,' he says. And since he scored more tries for England than any other player (and faced down a rampaging Jonah Lomu in his prime), we’re happy to take his word for it.
But of course the only danger is that stress-testing your team spirit like this might have the opposite effect – you may discover that your hitherto laid-back well-balanced colleagues turn into raving lunatics when the pressure’s really on. We’re not sure whether it’s better to discover this just before a crucial sales pitch, or in an isolated tent half-way up a Scottish mountain...