Firewalking. Does it work for teambuilding? Quick answer: NO.
Firewalking is certainly an interesting activity and I would like to do it one day. It certainly represents a personal challenge to walk across hot coals, especially in front of all your co-workers when done in a business situation. I like to do extreme whitewater kayaking and bungie jumping (130 meters on the Nevis one in NZ!). But, I would never press anyone else into doing it and cannot see any team building happening in such an individual activity. And, like all teambuilding and outdoor training kinds of activities, does doing an individual firewalk really make for improved teamwork and is it a legitimate corporate expense?
The activity of Firewalking has a long history in the literature of team building and many organizations seem to think it generates benefits, and they are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on such events. But a recent NY Times article about a Swiss company’s “adventure” shows but one problem with such an activity:
“More than two dozen employees of a Swiss company were injured while walking in bare feet over hot coals, an ancient religious tradition that has become popular on corporate retreats.”
“In the latest case of the stunt going wrong, 25 employees of a Swiss ad agency were injured Tuesday evening while walking over hot coals in Zurich, officials said. Ten ambulances, two emergency medical teams and police officers from multiple agencies were deployed to help, according to the Zurich police. Thirteen people were briefly hospitalized.”
And is it even team building? Does teamwork and collaboration actually measurably improve or be sustained after such a glorious celebration of individual challenge? This is but one of these organizational disasters, Burger King had a disastrous event years ago and as I said in an older post of mine:
And I also still laugh at the Firewalking “training event” paid for by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in this “team building and personal growth” session. The result was that 12 people got burned and Burger King generated a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article of his and there were a ton of posts around “naming the event” in a couple of training discussion threads, as well as potential theme songs like, “Light My Fire” by The Doors (grin) ). You can read and enjoy: Dave Barry’s quite funny article here!
Firewalking can be a legitimate (and costly) personal growth experience…
( www.skepdic.com/firewalk.html )
but does it truly impact teams and help to improve company results?
One who suffered injury was Burger King’s vice president of product marketing. But, hey, she had no regrets, for she was filled with the corporate rapture. Walking across searing coals, she exclaimed, “Made you feel a sense of empowerment and that you can accomplish anything” (and she could accomplish that with only a few casualties and hospital and ambulance bills). (And I wonder how she is doing these days…)
So, my basic position simply asks, “Why?” Why do something that might work when there are known alternatives that DO work and that can link to specific desired and measurable corporate desired outcomes? Here is why I hate outdoor team building.
SO, let’s do LEGO! Many of you know that I have used LEGO images for many years and that I love that stuff. I run a Facebook website called “Serious Playing with LEGO – Facilitating Engagement with Play” and I simply love this kind of firewalking using the very dangerous blocks. Would it not offer many of the same challenges in a much safer and controlled environment? (I do not know how to give credit to the publishers of these two images so I simply connected them to the original source.)
And few remember the actual beach of LEGO caused when a ship apparently spilled a cargo of them near the UK a couple of decades ago. A ship lost tens of thousands of pieces and they floated up on a number of beaches, causing some potential issues around cleanup and similar. But it is one more example of a kind of LEGO challenge, it seems!
The article quotes:
“This washed up Lego means beaches are becoming impossible to walk on barefoot and the language on our seafronts is not suitable for young ears”. That’s the view of councils in Devon and Cornwall as millions of pieces of the foot crippling, expletive inducing plastic building blocks continue to wash ashore following a spillage from a boat in 1997.
There are a lot of much better alternatives to teambuilding events and I write extensively in this blog about facts to consider when thinking about outdoor training for a team building event.
Outdoor training events are not on my lists of good team building options for a variety of reasons, supported by my personal experiences and detailed in this blog and in this one about learning and development. I take a serious view when it comes to doing effective team building and focus on the real key to improvement as The Debriefing. Making the links between the activity and play relevant to implementing change and performance improvement is the key.
LOOK carefully at the costs and the risks and demands that your team building service provider offers to ensure that they can and will meet your overall desired outcomes for your important organizational development initiatives. People need effective engagement and collaboration improvement events given today’s isolation with all of the remote working environments. Choose carefully.
I sincerely hope that you find the information included herein useful for your decision-making about the kinds of team building and organizational development exercises and events that you look to run. With all the current issues around employee retention and leadership effectiveness, doing a powerful event to improve collaboration and overall organizational improvement is a very timely and necessary thing.
We sell a world-class board game and a virtual version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, first published in 1993 and used worldwide for exceptional team building and organizational events. Search this blog for a number of articles about how this game can support real teambuilding and organizational alignment.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.
You can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.
Here is a 2-minute overview of the virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk
Firewalking. Exciting, but does it build teamwork?