Team Building Horror Story -

Nortel employees had it easy.

Managers at Ericsson, the Swedish telecom company, were apparently hard pressed for a memorable team-building exercise for their international sales conference in Athens this February. They probably wanted something more than the standard fare: ropes courses, white-water rafting, and other extreme sports. So they turned to...hostage taking.

Unbeknown to salespeople on a corporate bus headed for Corinth, Ericsson had hired two men with masks and weapons to stage a hijacking. The exercise was reportedly designed to test the employees' cool under stress. But the performance was cut short by a meddling passerby with a cell phone who called the authorities. "Definitely, this was very unfortunate," says Ericsson spokesman Lars Ostlund. "The mistake was not giving notice to the police."

While most companies stick to torturing their workers by forcing them to hold hands and accomplish pointless tasks--preferably while blindfolded--others have gone to extremes. Unfortunately, these exciting games have put some team players on the disabled list. In England in 1998, for example, insurance company Eagle Star sent 13 salespeople walking across a bed of hot coals on the advice of a management consultant. Guess what? Seven burned their feet, two badly enough to require hospitalization. Eagle Star says it has learned its lesson and now sticks to more conventional bonding exercises.

Of course, for most companies the worst that happens is...absolutely nothing. Samuel Coral, president of Magellan Global Management Resources, says he hasn't seen one company turn itself around by going on a rafting trip. "It's like saying a couple is having trouble, and they play golf one afternoon and afterward they feel better," he says. So why do companies go for these programs? Maybe it's the 100% tax deduction for training programs. If you take your workers camping just for fun, it's only a 50% entertainment deduction. Build trust by hijacking their bus, and you've got yourself a write-off.

Copyright © 2000, Time Inc.

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