An Extreme Twist on Team-Building

Tired of the same old activities designed to create a spirit of trust and teamwork among your employees? Survival Systems USA has an extreme experience to offer that could literally teach your workers how to sink or swim together.

The Groton, Conn.-based safety and survival education provider has taught underwater egress training and water survival techniques since 1999, delivering instruction to, among others, employees of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., the New York Police Department and the National Guard, as the New York Times recently reported.

In imparting survival skills to those who might have to use them on the job, “we’ve seen residual effects along the way: improved morale, self-esteem, capabilities people didn’t know they had,” Survival Systems USA President Maria C. Hanna told the Times. Until recently, she said, “we’ve never stopped long enough to say, ‘You know, this is something that can appeal to a market in a different way, using the tools from aviation to help people develop themselves.’ ”

The company has begun putting those tools to work in hopes of attracting corporate customers searching for drastically different team- and morale-building exercises.

In November, for example, Survival Systems conducted a one-day aquatic survival training program for a group of three university students, four personal trainers and the owner of a paving company, according to the Times.

These individuals—who ostensibly had no work-related reasons to undergo such training—spent the first part of the six-hour program jumping from a 14-foot platform into an indoor pool. With life vests inflated, they were then given a matter of minutes to find a way to stay warm while floating. Another task required those taking part to work together to board an inflated life raft under the direction of one member of the group.

Program participants spent the next part of their Saturday strapped into Survival Systems’ Modular Egress Training Simulator, which the Times describes as “a plastic and metal craft that can be arranged to resemble the cockpit of almost any helicopter or small plane on the market.” Meanwhile, other pieces of equipment duplicated the downwash from rescue helicopters and generated rain, darkness, smoke, fire and winds of up to 120 miles-per-hour.

Once inside the simulator, these brave souls were submerged and flipped into a pool as part of an exercise that includes three rounds. First, participants must reach for the simulator’s window frame, unfasten their seatbelts, pull themselves out and swim to the surface. The second round adds a degree of difficulty to the task, by closing the aforementioned window. In the third scenario, individuals must pretend their window is stuck and escape by holding onto the simulator’s seats and making their way to an adjacent, open window.

An instructor remains nearby at all times, “ready to whisk [participants] to the surface if anything goes wrong,” the Times points out, adding that “though no one has drowned during the training, the primordial fear remains.”

The same article notes that the curriculum for this program is still being fine-tuned, and this particular group was offered the training for free, in exchange for their feedback. The experience, however, will soon retail at roughly $950 per person; a price that Survival Systems says is in line with that of its other one-day programs.

Greg Drab, owner of Advantage Personal Training, has sent multiple employees—including the four trainers taking part in the November session—through the program at no cost, but sees the $950 as a bargain.

“You get to see how people handle stressful situations,” Drab told the Times. “This unifies the team.”