Team building at $10,000 per person

February is just a few months away and planning for the tenth annual Eco Seagate team building event is in full swing. Haven’t heard of it? That’s OK. It’s extreme team building with an extreme price - the "mother of all team building events."

Each year, Seagate Technology spends $2 million for 200 employees to spend a week hiking, biking, kayaking, and adventure racing in the mountains outside of Queenstown, New Zealand. Do the math - that’s $10,000 per head. Ten thousand smackeroos. Could it possibly be worth it?

On the first four days of the five-day event, the participants test their physical and emotional limits with seventeen hour days of grueling athletics interspersed with business sessions, motivational speakers, and fanciful dinners. On the fifth and final day they must set aside their exhaustion and put all their remaining stamina to the test during an all-day endurance race.

When you pull disparate individuals together into a team and push them to their limits, regardless of any breath-taking scenery - and we'll readily admit that Queenstown is one of the most beautiful places on Earth - you need a return on investment (ROI), even if it is “just to have fun.” Since Eco Seagate takes employees from around the globe, it’s reasonable to expect that participants will get a new perspective on teamwork while bonding with people they don’t know. But that may be about it. When asked if this crazy team building event would embolden the employees, the company CEO admits that he doesn't know. Huh? Two million bucks a year, nine years running, and no one's taken the trouble to measure its impact?

In the end, $2,000,000 represents just five percent of the company's forty million dollar training-and-development budget. But whether it's two million bucks or two hundred, Seagate's stockholders would be justified in questioning the event's return on investment. CEO Bill Watkins says the event "helps build a more collaborative, team-oriented company." How? Is it bringing new skills to the party that they can use in the workplace and in their personal lives? Is it more effective than a twenty-five or fifty dollar per head scavenger hunt? Is it four hundred times more effective?

As a player, sign us up! (Do you hear that, boss?) As a company, we seriously wonder how is it possible that a one-off outdoor event can provide $10,000 per person worth of new capabilities, particularly given the alternatives in the marketplace.

Buy more Seagate hard drives. Team building needs you.

Want to read more? Check out the Fortune Magazine article.

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