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OUT OF THE BOX AND INTO THE SPA

by Reid Champagne

The E-business revolution will change the way managers manage. Yet, building a successful team out of this new breed of managers will still be just as important as it was in the past, if not more so. What can a CEO try when flipcharts, overheads, and role-playing don’t work anymore?

Whether you’re a CEO of an incandescent e-business or a more traditional cubical-and-executive-washroom firm, one of the problems that remain on both your plates is how to get either your renegade entrepreneurs or climb-the-corporate-ladder management group to think and act like a team. You’ve tried the traditional methods, such as the "My Way or the Highway" approach, the arm around the shoulder "Benevolent Mentor" approach, and the "We’re Going Off Campus to Learn Team Building Skills From A Noted Consultant" approach. Not only did none of those approaches build the team you had envisioned, but also you continue to see a steady stream of managers depart to companies with names like whateveryouwant.com.

If you’ve reached a point in your planning and thinking where you’re willing to try just about anything to achieve your team building goals, then you may be ready to think about this: Total immersion of your managers into a state of indulgent luxury they have never experienced before.

        Say what, brother?

"The idea is the polar opposite of the military experience," says James V. Calabrese, an executive with Arthur Andersen L.L.P.. "In the military, it is the extreme stress of preparing for battle that builds officers and soldiers into a well-oiled fighting machine, or team.

"The glue that binds that team is what’s known as esprit," Calabrese adds. "It is a special bond that comes from an experience shared at an intense level."

That goes for any experience shared at an intense level, too, Calabrese believes. In other words, it’s not necessary to hand out uniforms and send your mangers to boot camp to prepare for war.

"The intense experience of indulgent luxury can be just as effective, without having to shave everyone’s heads," quips Calabrese. "There’s a natural tendency among people who share that intensity, not only to want to share their feelings about that experience with each other, but the experience itself results in a special bond being created - an esprit – that makes all the participants feel they’ve learned something unique about the others they would not have learned otherwise. And that something is what will make that experience endure long after it has occurred."

Calabrese makes reference to the teachings of motivational guru, Abraham Maslow in emphasizing his point: "Maslow preached that for management to be truly enlightened, there can be no dominance-subordination hierarchy in the jungle or in this case, the business arena. If there is, then goal sharing and achievement of objectives becomes unattainable." Calabrese adds, "The Japanese have been practicing this philosophy for years, opting to handle business decisions on non-competitive venues like the golf course where there is parity among all individuals, rather than in the board room where the environment is not so conducive to an honest expression of ideas."

But before your natural skepticism and your natural inside-the-box paradigm dismisses all this as just some wild-eyed New Age mumbo jumbo, consider the fundamental dynamic at work here.

"It’s really just simple relaxation therapy," says Brian Shipley, president and CEO of SSPA Inc., a firm that specializes in customizing high-end luxury getaways to the as-yet-undiscovered paradise of the Dominican Republic. "Putting your managers in a setting of maximum relaxation and ease is like opening the windows of a house on a fine spring day."

Shipley says the idea of using a luxury getaway as a team-building tool came to him after observing what happened to the groups he has put together so far.

"I’ve seen it happen time and again already," Shipley continues. "I’ve taken groups of individuals here from all walks of life. People who would not find two words to say to each other back home, leave the DR after a few days with promises to get together later on to share their pictures and memories over the hand rolled cigars they brought back with them. And most importantly, they promise to stay in touch long after the trip is over."

The logic at work here is to capitalize on the basic theory of synergy, that being the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Individuals who bond, developing an esprit de corps, will be more inclined to help each other and ultimately be more effective collectively on the business battlefield. The sports analogy serves as an appropriate example. Teams win championships not only because they are talented but also because they have developed a closeness which allow each member to optimize their performance through sacrifice for the success of the group.

What Shipley’s SSPA has done is to simply take your average vacation planner and take it up a few notches.

"Actually quite a few notches," Shipley adds with a wide grin. "I will put people into magnificent oceanside villas, 12,000 square feet or more, valued at upwards of $10 million, complete with full housekeeping and kitchen staff on duty 24 hours a day."

" They will dine like royalty on seafood caught fresh that day, or enjoy a pig roast and live floor show put on for their benefit right on the grounds of the villa."

"They will play golf on what Robert Trent Jones himself privately admitted was his greatest achievement, the 7,000+ yard Playa Grande, which winds itself along and over the steep cliffs overhanging the Atlantic Ocean.

"Golfers in the know have compared Playa Grande to Pebble Beach, without a hint of exaggeration in their voices," Shipley admits

And if golf isn’t your game, how about a few sets of tennis on the only oceanside grass tennis court in North America?"

"It’s Wimbledon right in your backyard," Shipley says of the court at CaboFino, perhaps the most elegant of all the villas along the DR’s coconut coast.

And if neither tennis nor golf floats your boat, then certainly you can find a way to unwind and open up in one of the many outdoor spas and swimming pools located on the grounds of most of these villas.

"The important point to remember is that we can customize your experience to just about any level of luxury you can imagine," Shipley says. "And beyond your imagination, too, if you wish."

And that is the key to the success of this experience as far as team building is concerned Shipley believes.

"By giving your managers an experience beyond their wildest imaginations will give them something unique to share and talk about maybe for the rest of their lives." Shipley believes.

"And sharing that is what will bond your team with the esprit you, as their leader, have been dreaming about. Over the course of time, the non-quantifiable closeness developed between your key executives through this wonderful experience will pay tremendous dividends to your company’s bottom line," Shipley adds.

"To say nothing of coming back home with a tan that will be the envy of everyone else in the office," Shipley says, smiling through a deep one of his own.

"Oh yes," he says. "I accompany every group I book just to make sure every detail is handled and every expectation is met."

So forget the flip charts and consultants. Developing your managers into a top-notch management team may simply be a gentle, warm ocean breeze away.

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