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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Human Resources Bond in The Wild

A tarp slung over a small tree in the middle of a field covered the nine-member Sanochki team. They were instructed to stand in a circle and give a compliment to the person to their left.

"Your eyes and your smile are beautiful!" said one member cheerfully to another, who then proceeded to tell her other neighbor how smart and talented she is.

Six other teams were spread across the field along the frozen Moscow River at Serebryany Bor. In all, there were about 80 people, mostly women who work in human resources departments, from some 45 companies who had signed up for "team building." The project was organized by public relations company PR Passat, which specializes in getting corporations out of the office and into the wilderness for outdoor training.

Though the day was arranged as a presentation of team-building methodology to company HRs, such events usually involve a single company and are held in the summer. In those instances, said organizer Alexei Simakin, one goal is to let bosses see employees in a new light.

"People show abilities that they cannot show in the office, where they are part of a hierarchy system," he said.

Thursday's event in sub-freezing temperatures amid a steadily falling snow and brisk wind, was offered for free, in the hope that participants would return to their respective firms and encourage co-workers to sign up for a summer outing.

The activities ranged from verbal to physical, with a dash of mental.

The activities ranged from the verbal to the physical, with a dash of the mental.

One resembled a volleyball game, but with more than one ball and net, while another involved a rope strung in a checkerboard design between two poles, with the goal of getting everyone through the squares in a specific way.

Organizers intended to show that a successful completion of each exercise depended more on working as a team than on any individual's physical or intellectual strengths.

"Success depends on your mood," said Yelena Krikova from LUKoil, who was a part of Semechki, the smallest and most successful of the teams, according to its members.

The idea for the activities came mostly from Simakin, the special events coordinator for PR Passat who is also writing a dissertation on team building.

"The exercises are based on the idea that a team has to work out one single algorithm, there must be a joint effort in order to figure out a problem," he said.

Before solving any exercise, a team had to come up with a plan. Execution of the plan required participation from all, with some people shouting, some lifting, others moving.

"None of the exercises could be resolved by a single person," Simakin said. "One way or the other, the whole team has to follow the plan."

The sense of "teamness" didn't spread to everyone, according to Alexei Latkov, training coordinator in the human resources department of real estate company Hines.

"I think that we didn't achieve our final purpose — I do not think that we really built a team," said Latkov, part of Sanochki.

"The exercises were helpful just for people to get to know each other and to communicate a little bit informally … but they were not team-building exercises," he said.

The day was split into two parts: training and entertainment, in that order, to the disappointment of those participants who were more ready to eat and drink than jog through a foot of snow.

The Maslenitsa celebration did not come too late, with hot wine, tea, vodka, sweets and the traditional bliny. Folk singers in traditional dress greeted participants and visited the activity sites for more serenading.

Though the few dozen pairs of valenki, or felt boots, were not enough to go around, the mood stayed positive even before refreshments were served. Warming her toes in front of the single heater available in a tent, Bank Avangard's representative Marina Mirovana expounded on the merits of such an event.

"At first I didn't like it because it seemed nonsense, with people pointlessly running back and forth," she said. "On the other hand, if you think about whether you could put this methodology into practice, it could actually benefit people.

"And if you run you feel warmer."

Participants had to walk the last meters from the site when buses got stuck in the snow, but the day ended in usual back-of-the-bus rowdiness, with rounds of songs and leftover drinks and desserts passed around.