Outdoor training is an innovative formula for creating deeper relational links among elements in the same institution. Tasks, games, barriers and obstacles are points of departure and arrival: they are means for showing qualities, a medium of learning for dealing with lack of success, overcoming the barriers of failure, to minimise errors, take conclusions from misunderstanding and potential conflicts, to empower greater understanding, to share individual and collective responsibility, to deal with success, to widen the capacity to generate complicity and achievement, to increase the spectrum of collaboration among people in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, which facilitates fitting into team spirit. It was with this aim in mind that the first Outdoor Training Event was organized in the FMUL in November 2007.
So, the editorial team invited Dr. Isabel Aguiar, a member of the organisation of this project, for a short interview. We ought to state that Dr Aguiar stressed that she would grant this interview not on a personal basis, but in name of the team that organized the Projecto Outdoor 2007.
1. How did the idea to hold an Outdoor Training event at the FMUL come about?
The idea came from the need to bring people together and to improve informal communication between them. One of the aims was to improve the formal channel through an informal channel. When there was, about two years ago, a diagnosis of the non-teaching staff of the FMUL, I was upset to discover that the results pointed towards a feeling on the part of people that showed that they felt disconnected and disaffected from the institution, and also from their own colleagues. Indeed, the motto of the outdoor event – “Join In” – had this aim precisely, to make people join together and recreate ties and feel that they are all a part of the FMUL.
2. What was the aim of an Outdoor training day?
To “Join in”. That is, to facilitate and improve informal communication, with a playful/training character.
3. How would you assess the capacity for mobilization and incentive to participation in this first edition?
A campaign was carried out with the aim of getting participation. The presence of many collaborators was achieved. A feeling of “I’ll go” curiosity was managed, and the fact that they were placed in teams in which both the Office Secretary or other Division Heads were present shows that we can participate together with some incentive. We all work in a team and in a playful manner.
4. Did it live up to expectations?
It went beyond our expectations. The people who took part in the organisation were initially worried about not being able to transmit the idea to other colleagues. However, we had about 49% of participations. We thus concluded that our “appeal” got to people. It even went beyond what we expected, and above all it made us think that it was really worth it, due to the feedback we have had in the form of comments at the end of the event and through the visible enthusiasm one could see.
5. Why learning through an outdoor training event?
The main aims of outdoor training are: to draw out a strategic plan, to reinforce team bonds, to show the organisation and coordination and show leadership skills. The most important element is without doubt the group (group spirit, teamwork); what is individual represents only an effort for the group. The individual works for the group, the team. The only fault was the company chosen: they transmitted the idea of major know-how, and yet the passing of the positive experience of the learning was not conveniently achieved. After the event there was no explanation of what the defined aim was, or what was achieved. Few people understood that it was a training event, and that in fact important concepts were learned for their day-to-day relationships here in the Faculty. There was no assimilation of the training results in accordance with what was achieved. That is, it was achieved, but the learning process was not transmitted.
6. What are the advantages of a training event of this kind?
Increasing people’s participation – firstly making people be aware of the group, secondly granting them capacities to contribute to a collective aim. For the first aim the outdoor experience makes one improve awareness that we do not work alone, allowing the setting up of a group awareness. And this type of training achieves something that no other one manages – the awakening of sensorial aspects, of coordination, of experience itself. There is no recourse to academic skills, to age difference, to limitations; everyone is together, whether they are higher technical workers, auxiliary staff, bosses, or 20, 30 or 60 years old. And while we are together, working in a team, we know we have an aim, and we know that everyone is there to achieve it. It is important for there to be this awareness; it is important to learn from these events.
7. Do you think that the people who participated notice a reflection of this in their day-to-day activities?
It was noted immediately. In the first two months people would go past each other in the corridors and talk about the experience; people who only knew each other by phone met on the day of the event, and their relationship at work changed for the better. It brought people together a lot.
8. What is your best memory of the experience, the best moment?
The best memory is the involvement that the older people had. People who had never had the chance to participate in this type of activity, more timid people, who thought they wouldn’t be able to participate, seeing that they became involved, and contributed positively and managed it. It was indeed a great surprise, and the best memory. After the event we asked people to contribute with their opinion about their participation in the activity, and comments appeared – called “echoes” – very good and very positive. And in fact that was the aim, for people to be capable of feeling good, and even with some difficulties in their daily lives, they can achieve moments like this. And it is up to us to provide these experiences.
9. Do we work better as a team outdoors?
The advantage of these activities is that people are “forced” to work with different people to those they work with usually. The interpersonal relationship is very good in a group environment, communication becomes easier, tasks are shared and these activities help to stimulate individual self-esteem. People had to establish bonds, and they were all on the same level. All of these activities stimulate people’s participation and involvement. It is a form of motivation.
10. The faculty has about 200 non-teaching collaborators. How can we have them all socialising and learning at the same time? Can we count on more experiences like this?
We need greater collaboration from those responsible for the several different areas and services in order to motivate people. Regrettably there is still a clear separation between teaching and non-teaching staff, but these activities start by the management becoming aware that there is an important training component in these events. However, there are always those who refuse to participate, for all sorts of reasons. But it was also obvious that thanks to the event there were other successful activities later on.
11. What can our colleagues expect from the 2008 event?
An even better one, with quite a few surprises.
Interview carried out by:
Raquel Moreira (email@example.com)
Rui Gomes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Isabel Aguiar