How do you measure the success of outward bound courses once you're back in the office?
Considering the high cost of outward bound training courses, it is important
that organisations get a good return on their investment. Using outward bound
programmes can be an effective way to get rid of the everyday distractions of a
busy office environment and bring fresh perspectives on team-building,
motivation and leadership to the table.
However, these schemes will only be effective if the lessons learned can be
used in a work context. Any outward bound course should be designed to
compliment the organisation’s strategic goals and require ongoing evaluation of
the practical application within the workplace after it is over.
Research by the Chartered Management Institute shows that management learning
and development (MLD) in any form can have a positive impact on organisational
performance and productivity. The findings showed that organisations investing
in MLD experienced improvements to their financial performance, the quality of
their products and services, their ability to attract and retain the best staff
and the relations amongst employees.
However, these types of benefits can be expensive. Further research found UK
companies spent an average of £1,056 per year on the development of each of
their managers. This cost must be justified, as any other, in terms of what
return it will generate for the organisation.
With this in mind, the importance of aligning training programmes to the
strategic goals and visions of the organisation becomes a key factor and outward
bound courses are no exception.
Providing these factors have been thoroughly considered, outward bound
training can be highly beneficial. Today’s business market is more dynamic than
ever before and external courses such as these provide managers with an
opportunity to learn how to cope with management and leadership issues in an
environment they are not used too.
In addition, our research found that, contrary to the old myth, good leaders
are made, not born. They need a combination of innate ability, job experience,
in-house training and external courses and qualifications, such as outward bound
programmes, to achieve their full potential.
Make an informed decision
There are many companies offering outward bound courses so selecting your
provider can be a challenge. However, there are a number of criteria that they
should cover. If training is going to compliment your corporate objectives,
course providers should be asking about these goals upfront. They should then
tailor the day’s activities accordingly. The course provider should also be able
to demonstrate how the skills generated on the course can be applied in
Ensuring the skills learned on outward bound training courses are applied to
daily activities is one of the biggest causes of contention for employers when
it comes to investing in these programmes. Providers may claim their courses are
memorable and deliver sustainable business benefits, but many receive criticism
because they are difficult to apply in a practical office environment.
However, it is important to remember that these programmes are designed to
address more generic management capabilities. So rather than teaching
individuals how to deal with a very specific customer complaint or give product
presentations, outward bound activities should aim to build core management
skills. Activities should encourage individuals to draw upon fundamental
leadership competencies, such as supporting members of their team, resolving
problems and inspiring trust.
Testing the effects
There are various ways to identify the training needs of individuals and
organisations to ensure that outward bound training courses can address the
areas of most need. Ideally, this analysis should be done in conjunction with
the outward bound training course provider and include elements such as
appraisal reviews, staff attitude surveys, business performance indicators,
individual training requests and talent management audits. These will reveal
areas of skills weakness to determine the content of the programme.
So, for example, if the results expose a communication problem or an over
reliance on email rather than speaking to colleagues face-to-face, the day’s
activities should include tasks for which verbal communication is an essential
Alternatively, if the problem lies with conveying messages more clearly,
tasks might require that participants do not converse at all, but are forced to
find alternate means to give and interpret communications in order to complete
the challenges set.
Based on these training needs, key areas of measurement can also be put in
place so the results of the course can be evaluated when it has been completed.
Without appropriate success indicators, it is impossible to see if the course
has fulfilled its initial objectives.
Like any other form of training, the results of outward bound programmes
should be evaluated carefully. There are a number of ways this can be achieved
but all should be based on the individual and organisational aims set out when
designing the content of the course.
Going back to our example of improved communication, the course could be
rated by reduction in errors because of instructions being given and absorbed
more clearly and concisely. Alternately, it might be rated by an improvement in
customer satisfaction, which can be assessed in a variety of ways, from the time
taken to resolve a complaint to feedback on questionnaires.
Whatever the means of evaluation, it must be done on an ongoing basis. So if
a manager reports that an outward bound course has improved their leadership
skills, it is important to establish how this applies in practice. It is also
necessary to revisit these achievements on a regular basis to keep the skills
fresh in the individual’s mind and assess if the training has had the desired
Appointing managers with a mentor to talk through this on a monthly basis is
a good way to ensure that lessons learned are remembered and interpreted into
the managerial skills and competencies needed on a daily basis.
Get your money’s worth
• Establish clear aims and measurables before investing in outward bound
• Choose a training provider that looks to understands your market and why
the activities on the day should align with the organisation’s corporate
• Interpret learnings from the course into managers’ daily activities and
• Evaluate the results on an ongoing basis to ensure that skills and
competencies from the day have been made full use of
Jo Causon is a director of the Chartered Management