Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Survivor: team building as a near-death experience

Second only to the company holiday party, there’s nothing I more dreaded during my days in corporate than the off-site team building exercise. Why, Pink Slip was ranting on the team building topic just a couple of months back. Sure, some of these exercsies were moderately enjoyable. But, other than the time I fell over backwards and conked my head playing volleyball, I can’t recall a single one that was a near-death experience, unless you consider boredom, embarrassment, and annoyance near death.

In any case, I was pretty appalled to read about a team building exercise involving almost drowning in a simulated plane crash.

This sort of training, of course, makes sense if you’re in a line of work where you might need to know something about aquatic survival. Which is how Survival Systems Inc. started out.

The company has instructed employees of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, the National Guard, the New York Police Department, the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Army, among others. (Source: NY Times)

All folks I’d want to know not just how to survive, aquatically speaking, but how to help us choking, gasping, flailing, panicking civilians survive as well.

Anyway, somewhere along the way, Survival Systems noticed that among the training side effects were better morale and self esteem. So they thought, what the hell, why not offer survival training as a team building exercise for the corporate world. They’re still in beta mode, trying it out on volunteers who don’t have to pay for the training. But it will soon be available for $950/person for those who want their employees to get more than achieve mere jollier morale and buffed up self esteem – the kinds of things you’re supposed to get automatically when you’re set with the task of building an helicopter with Tinker Toys. (This happened at one of the many team-building exercises I participated in. I wonder whether the folks at Sikorsky ever got to do this one. Or were they too busy learning how to survive the crash of the real-life helicopters they built themselves?)

The building’s crown jewel is a Modular Egress Training Simulator, a plastic and metal craft that can be arranged to resemble the cockpit of almost any helicopter or small plane on the market. A purpose­ built crane lifts it up and lowers it into the pool. Other equipment in the cavernous space can replicate the downwash from rescue helicopters, and generate rain, darkness, 120­ mile­ per­ hour winds, smoke and fire.

And I thought writing and performing a company cheer was a hellscape!

Only it gets worse.

The simulation starts with AC/DC “Thunderstruck” blasting, and a disco ball spinning. Think hellscape squared!

They don’t start folks out with the near death. They warmed up by jumping into a cold pool and, to the strains of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (that’s a lot better than AC/DC…), figuring out how to:

…stay warm while floating. It turned out to be: Assume a  carpet formation, arms linked, legs under the arms of the two people across from you.

For the board the life raft task, they played “Singin’ in the Rain.” Which would have improved my mood, except for the fact that you don’t get to wear a yellow slicker and dance around with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in a kind and gentle rain shower.  In this situation, as you try to get on the life raft, the conditions are set to “squall.

The next piece – the near-death experience – was definitely a near-death experience. And probably would have been a death-death experience if I’d had to go through it:

Finally, each person was strapped into the simulator, submerged and flipped. In this exercise there are three rounds. First: You reach for the window frame, undo your seatbelt, pull yourself out and swim to the surface. Second: Add a closed window to the puzzle. (You’d do the same in a submerged car, only you might need to break the window.) Third: Pretend your window is stuck and, by holding onto the seats and the console, cross to the adjacent window. An instructor is poised behind the participants the entire time, ready to whisk them to the surface if anything goes wrong.

No one has drowned – yet.

There’s no mention of heart attack or stroke death, however.


All I can say is, include me out.

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