Do team-building exercises help IT employees work together more productively?

By Gael Core, ITworld.com |  Career

Hanging out on a limb isn't Karen Wilson's idea of a good time, but at href="http://www.galileo.com">Galileo International in Rosemont, Ill., IT managers
are not only asked to hang out on a limb but also scale trees, ford imaginary streams,
and find the way out of forests. You might wonder what that has to do with managing an
IT department. Plenty. Those along with other strategies are becoming more commonplace
for fast-paced IT departments focused on building close-knit teams. From community
service efforts to traditional hands-on managing styles, companies are taking a fresh
look at the importance of fostering leaders.

Working together effectively or not can make or break a project, costing companies
tremendous amounts of money. And a bad relationship with a manager or coworker can send
an IT staffer packing for a position with another company. "One of the biggest reasons
an employee leaves the company is usually very localized -- maybe it's a manager or
coworker that they don't get along with, " says Deborah Coughlin, senior vice president
of human resources at Computer Associates in
Islandia, N.Y.

To improve teamwork and teach leadership skills, Galileo International, an online
travel company, uses outdoor education. For three days IT managers face challenges at
Outward Bound, an outdoor leadership school in Leadville, Colo., with the understanding
that the experiences will make them better leaders and team players on the job. "The
best time to break through old management habits is to be out on a limb, suspended by a
one-inch cable, 30 feet in the air," says Mark Laurin, Galileo's director of global
human resources training.

Laurin enrolled 12 of his managers in a program with Outward Bound last July and
plans to continue the project with other managers each year. The idea is to take
managers out of their frame of reference and put them in a wilderness environment where
they are challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally, says Laurin. Coupling the
wilderness experience with peer feedback, employees have a chance to examine how they
react in stressful situations and, in turn, they come away with how their behavior
directly effects others.

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