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Escape artists: diverse companies in Mexico look to outdoor corporate retreats for teambuilding results.

Can you envision flying through a Mexican forest next to your company's vice president? If you answered yes, you are one of the growing number of corporate clients following the outdoor management retreat trend. Corporate retreats involving adventures such as zip-lines and rafting in Mexico are the answer for many executives looking to hone their leadership skills and help their upper-level employees operate more efficiently as a team.



Half-day to multi-day programs all over Mexico are already popular with multinational companies for their measurable leadership and teambuilding results, and Mexican companies are now joining the fray. Not only is a day of sailing, kayaking, rock climbing or obstacle and ropes courses exhilarating, but it creates a real-life example of teamwork that consultants can use to teach companies how to achieve better results.

"Working teams aren't always teams, no matter what management calls them," said Manuel Cruz, general director of Mochilazo, an alternative tourism agency in Mexico. "Managers want real teams that share a commitment, purpose and approach. They want their employees to strive for something greater than any individual member could achieve."

Accordingly, Cruz said that people contact him because they seek training in a multitude of areas: communication, leadership, innovation, integration and motivation.

Cynthia Kaplan, an executive coach and search consultant for Crossborder Coaching, in Mexico City, takes corporate groups ranging from a dozen to 60 participants on a wide array of outdoor retreats as part of a comprehensive management training session. She first puts executives through a diagnostic phase using communication and behavioral tools to identify employees' strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, she implements outdoor activities to bond co-workers by improving their level of communication. In a classroom setting, Kaplan then uses examples from a day of kayaking or outdoor adventure to pinpoint each individual's characteristics and train them to be more effective managers.

"In a sailing environment, teambuilding and leadership is a great metaphor because in sailing, you need a leader, a captain who everyone listens to, but everyone's role has to be defined. It is a wonderful way to bring out those values of teamwork and leadership," said Kaplan.

Mexican companies, though they were originally not the primary market for such retreats, are increasingly turning to such activities. Andreas Weigelt, general director of Aventuras Piraguas based in Cuernavaca, specializes in outdoor training. His primary clients are multinational companies based in Mexico such as Henkel and American Tower. However, Weigelt trained a group from Pemex, a sign that Mexican companies are realizing the importance of management retreats.

Aventuras Piraguas courses range from outdoor training sessions--a two or three-day rafting trip in Veracruz, a zipline course or rappelling--to an indoor event or combination of analysis, outdoor training and subsequent "reflections." Weigelt's company customizes each class to fit a corporation's needs, often answering a manager's request to improve internal communications or better the group's cooperation with other departments or external clients.

"Clients want to have fun, but they also want to get something out of the experience," said Weigelt. "The most rewarding part of my job is moderating a team's training process outdoors and seeing great positive changes afterward, which they never would have achieved indoors."


Veronica Carrillo, Human Resources manager at American Tower, agreed with Weigelt. She attested that her co-workers got to know one another during a three-day outdoor obstacle course better than they would have in their usual, formal office setting. She told BUSINESS MEXICO that the casual nature of the course and experience far outweighed past indoor lectures and teambuilding exercises.

Luckily, the options for unconventional corporate retreat programs are plentiful. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a 40-year old institution specializing in outdoor and leadership skills, expanded its traditional curriculum to include customized corporate programs catering to groups averaging from eight to 12 with two or three instructors. Depending on what the company wants, programs are designed for two to 30 days in any one of 13 locations worldwide, including the Baja California Peninsula.

NOLS courses for business specialize in "expedition leadership": setting common goals and using resources to achieve them. In an outdoor environment, expedition leadership requires using food and fuel efficiently and moving members of the group in the same direction. However, Bruce Palmer, director of Admission and Marketing for NOLS, said expedition leadership training applies to a business environment too.

"When people think of expeditions, they think of big outdoor mountaineering types of things. But the fact is, if you look at how you get anything accomplished, you first set the goals, make sure they are realistic, use all of your resources wisely--in a business setting, it's financial and human--and then you achieve the goals. It's very transferable to any kind of environment," Palmer explained.

NOLS' corporate clients include Fidelity Bank and Trust, First Interstate Bank, MBNA and the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

For companies based in Mexico seeking programs closer to home, Mochilazo, an alternative tourism agency, specializes in balloon rides in Tequisquiapan, about an hour and a half from Mexico City, and rafting trips in Veracruz. Balloon packages average US$200 per adult including insurance, meals and taxes, and companies can choose the duration, from one to seven days. If employees prefer something more vigorous, groups can raft the Rio Antigua-Pescados in a tropical environment followed by rappelling and a temascal, an indigenous sauna.

Getting away from the daily routine of office life and spending a few days breathing clean air produces fresh ideas, a new perspective and group bonding. Outdoor retreats provide managers with a creative approach to teambuilding and are quickly catching on in Mexico.

For more information:

Crossborder Coaching

Mexico City: (52-55) 5540-5459

USA: (903) 744-6282


Aventuras Piraguas

Mexico City: (52-55) 5905-5432

Cuernavaca: (01-777) 372-0251



Mexico City: (52-55) 5239-5485

E-mail: or

National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

USA: (307) 332-8800

COPYRIGHT 2005 American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico A.C.
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Title Annotation:LIFESTYLE
Author:Gleason, Megan MacKenzie
Publication:Business Mexico
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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