Tuesday October 16, 2012
Team building for a worthy purpose
By DANIEL QUILTER
Team building no longer just entails pushing boundaries and forging team spirit. There has to be a worthy purpose, too.
WE can all think of a time when we have been on a team building or bonding session where we had to go through repetitive motions – such as standing in front of our team members and saying one fascinating fact about ourselves, or safely removing a large container from an imaginary radioactive waste zone.
These activities can be fun but they have become predictable and do not fully achieve the aim of bonding the team. Why should the scenarios be imaginary? Surely a team will benefit much more and perform a task more seriously if the scenarios are real and consist of genuine causes?
Ecoteer and The Star’s “Treasured Island” initiative is changing the face of team building in Malaysia – it is “team building with a cause”. This year, three groups of employees from Star Publications (M) Bhd and several lucky readers of The Star spent four days at Pulau Perhentian, participating in team building sessions and at the same time, supporting Ecoteer’s community project on the island off Terengganu.
In all team building programmes, several key elements are deemed essential – team work, leadership, identifying the strengths of individuals, stretching your limits and pushing the boundaries. The programme conducted at Perhentian not only encompasses these elements but also has a purpose, and promotes a cause – to increase environmental awareness of turtles and corals, and help the communities of the island, both above and below the water surface.
A total of 35 employees from Star Publications (M) Bhd made trips to the island in April, June and September. Joining them were nine readers, selected based on their interest and enthusiasm in marine conservation and volunteerism work.
One of the more successful and fun teamwork activities conducted at Perhentian was the “Turtle Life Cycle Quiz” where participants organised a turtle camp with educational activities for the school children of SRK Pulau Perhentian. The children are Ecoteer Ambassadors who have been selected for the camp based on their active participation and interest in the school Environmental Club.
The group members brainstormed and tapped on their creative talents to design fun games with small educational tasks to represent the different life stages of sea turtles. Besides getting the chance to showcase their creativity, the group activity got everyone to speak up as each participant had to contribute an idea and was assigned to lead a particular segment of the activity – it was a great way to push the meeker ones out of shells.
“It’s exciting to do the activities with the children, and we get to learn from them as well. At the end of the day, everybody gained a greater appreciation for the environment and marine life and learnt how to make a difference,” said participant Mohd Shahirul Faiz Mohd Sharum.
One of the children who participated in the turtle camp has vowed to not eat turtle eggs again, a practice that is common in the village. Being involved in conservation efforts such as collecting and reburying turtle eggs from nesting turtles help reinforce the message of conservation. It is a well-known fact that key messages are always more deeply ingrained if people are involved in actual efforts rather than learning from books or imaginary scenarios.
At Perhentian, it is when the participants and children, after waiting for hours, see a mother turtle struggle up the beach and painstakingly dig a hole to lay her eggs, then observe her fussy effort at covering and camouflaging her nest (a process that takes four to five hours), that everyone appreciate the effort it takes for a new generation of turtles to be born, and realise the importance of not destroying this amazing cycle of life.
A platform to showcase or discover one’s hidden talent is one of the most refreshing aspect of good team building activities. This rings true in the Community Garden project on the island. Mohd Sobri Endot, a quiet, ever-smiling engineer from the building property services department who was on the island last month, showed a few useful, hidden talents. Sobri has a huge wealth of knowledge about agriculture as his parents were farmers. His advice and tips certainly won him new respect, not just from the Ecoteer team but also his colleagues.
At the community farm on the island, started by Ecoteer to encourage self-sufficient farming among the islanders, Sobri held court and issued advice on crop arrangements and planting, the right fertiliser to use, and tending to sprouting plants.
Participants must also do the jetty jump, a sort of initiation ceremony to become one of the “Ecoteer Village People.” Many of the participants cannot swim or have a fear of heights, hence taking that leap from the over 3m high jetty into the turquoise blue sea forced them to face their fears and pushed them out of their comfort zone – while doing something fun at the same time.
Advertising and business development general manager Chin Seow Ping conquered her fears and enjoyed the thrill so much that she made multiple jumps. “The jetty was high and the jump was a real challenge. It’s a good way to challenge your fears, especially when you look down and it’s eight feet down. You just have to believe you won’t drown when you jump in. The group had lots of fun, doing more rounds once they overcame their fear.”
The programmes at Perhentian were not just about having fun and personal development. Besides environmental causes, the programmes aimed to improve the livelihood of villagers through the introduction of new income sources and community work.
Learning from others
In July, Ecoteer hosted for the second year, a group of Sixth Form students from Alice Smith International School in Kuala Lumpur. Before coming to the island, the students had raised RM5,000 and this was used to fund a trip to the island by the Setiu Women Entrepreneurs Association (Pewanis) from Kampung Mangkok in Setiu on the mainland.
The purpose of their visit was to inspire the island womenfolk to start a Community Tourism Group to promote Malay culture, hence also giving them an alternative source of income. The discussions held during the visit stirred the interest of eight local women, who have since formed a group, tentatively named Kampung Pemanis.
Last month, the group gave a demonstration on making the traditional kuih onde-onde for volunteers from The Star.
The village women overcame their initial shyness and chatted happily with the urbanites. Everyone was left happy after the one-hour cooking session – not only did they get to enjoy the rewards of their labour, the locals received a revenue of RM200 while the participants learnt a new skill.
May Gan, a reader of The Star who was selected to join the trip, has fond memories of the kuih-making session. “The village ladies burst into their traditional songs and had us join them in some hip-swaying dance moves and of course, we tasted the delicious kuih which we also had a hand in making,” said the former lecturer who now runs her own e-learning business.
It is hoped that these sessions continue and become more diverse to support the livelihood of the local women, many of whom only receive a monthly salary of RM400 to RM500 a month, if they work at all.
Interacting with your colleagues outside the office environment will certainly create closer bonds. And the experience at Perhentian gave just that. Chin, from The Star’s advertising department, admitted to not knowing many of her team members although she has worked in the company for over 20 years. “Most times, we only see each other in the lift and we don’t know which departments they are from beyond saying ‘Hi’.”
However, she said the few days spent on the island sharing rooms and facilities, groaning through the early hours performing turtle watching duties, preparing activities for the school club, sharing funny moments such as wearing the sarong, which was a first for some of them, have created friendship and bonds among colleagues. “These days we greet each other from afar with huge smiles and a genuine ‘How are you doing?’. That is priceless,” said Chin.
At Perhentian, the traditional recipe of team building programmes has been revamped. Global concerns, environmental awareness and community work have been built in to deliver more than a message of “building team spirit” and “challenging yourselves”.
Ecoteer has embraced these challenges by offering team building programmes which create better staff interaction and more meaningful projects.