Whether we love it or hate it, the truth is that outward bound teambuilding isn’t the most environmentally friendly way to develop teams. Neither is it the most effective. Sure, some people have a whale of a time leaping from high branches like Tarzan, or finding the hidden treasure like Indiana Jones. But for many others it is an ordeal to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Putting aside the argument about its contribution to team effectiveness (which is heavily dependent on the skilful facilitation of instructors), outward bound activities are still what many people think of when they hear the terms ‘team bonding’, ‘team building’ or ‘team development’. But this causes major problems for teams, especially remote ones. That’s because travel to these venues steals productive time and depletes the planet’s precious resources. It adds to a company’s carbon footprint, especially when bringing together remote teams whose members may be distributed all over the country or world. And even if the team event is more sophisticated in its design and execution, the fact that people have to gather in a physical space to experience a team development programme inevitably works against any sustainability aspirations.
For some time now we have had adequate alternatives for business meetings. Communication platforms enable teams to meet online and conduct their normal business discussions. Some of these platforms have evolved through the use of avatar, VR, and 3D simulations giving the illusion of being together whilst logging in from different locations. And as the metaverse unfolds, who knows what that will look and feel like in the future? But team development is not just about talking, and none of the current platforms seem interested in expanding what they do beyond providing a virtual meeting space with varying degrees of glamour.
What is urgently needed is content and experiential activity that focuses on building strong and resilient teams. Only then, will we be able to replicate the impact of face-to-face teambuilding in a virtual setting. And thankfully, one organisation has started to create this.
Muster Genies is a new company growing out of an established training and development business. Its breakthrough web-based application could revolutionise the way teams access team training. That is because Muster not only provides a platform for communication: it also presents teams with multiple, mixed media, gamified activities. It is s designed to stimulate engagement, play, exploration, discovery, and effective development planning. This wholly sustainable vehicle doesn’t require any additional travel: team members log in from wherever they happen to be, and teams can set up short team sessions as often as they like. Distances travelled are limited to how far the home office is from the bedroom, and clothing below the waist is optional.
Sustainability can no longer be considered a novel thing. It must be much more than a badge. Every business, for its own sake as well as for the sake of the planet, must begin to factor in sustainable practices to all its decisions and operations. The Muster application developed by Muster Genies recognises this. It includes a Sustainability Tracker which records, and reports CO2 emissions savings accrued by the team through gathering in Muster. The data it presents can at first sight be shocking, until you realise that it refers to carbon saved rather than carbon actually consumed.
There will no doubt be others, but Muster is the first. It is at the forefront of new thinking about how best to support remote teams sustainably, throwing down the gauntlet for others to follow suit. It shows that it is now possible to give teams great experiences that stimulate high levels of team effectiveness without dangling them off cliff edges, or plunging them in freezing water, or drinking vast quantities of alcohol. And what is more, without inflicting great harm on the planet. All it takes is a bit of imagination.