Can going commando deliver cost-effective management training, asks Liz Morrell

Retailers are no stranger to team building management training and when 16 members of Shop Direct’s operating board went on a training course, they assumed they were in for more of the same.

But this was a little different. It was led by former Marine Commando Greg Pye and involved employing what he says are the best bits from the military - discipline, timing, structure, team work and communication. “It’s not an army or inflatable assault course or race, it isn’t a day getting drunk at the races or playing golf. There’s no Powerpoint presentation and flip charts are rare,” he says.

Pye says he launched Go Commando a year ago with the aim of delivering effective management training at a fraction of the cost of traditional team building activities. For Shop Direct, the management team attended a day’s hotel-based training session followed by a day in the mountains of Snowdonia: “There was no phone signal and it was cold and wet,” says Pye.

Shop Direct Group group people director Jacqui Humphries says the different approach to training quickly led to new ways of working. “The need to solve challenges in a competitive environment broke down the hierarchical structure very quickly. This enabled individuals to contribute in areas that weren’t always evident back in the work place,” she says.

The day started with a series of military-style activities aimed at developing communication, group cohesion and mutual understanding of strengths and weaknesses within the team. These exercises were delivered without a boutique hotel in sight and involved problem solving in poor conditions, engaging rapid thought processes, group navigation and communication exercises.

Humphries says the unusual nature of the training appealed to staff: “They enjoyed the variety of the course and the physical challenge they endured and valued seeing colleagues display skills and behaviours that were not always evident in our everyday working,” she says.

A bespoke programme was designed specifically for Shop Direct to improve existing bonds within the board, create a ‘common purpose’ approach to problem solving within the senior team and to promote motivation and self belief outside the confines of the office. Pye says: “They left with new bonds and respect, a clear business vision, renewed motivation and some funny memories. They went from a team that seeks approval for actions to independent thinkers, empowered and resourceful in their own right,” he says.

Humphries agrees: “It was the start of the journey to building a more effective executive team. We have seen individuals feeling more confident to challenge back in the workplace. The journey continues and we are developing our leadership capabilities throughout the organisation,” she says.

The Course Benefits

The no-nonsense courses focus on raw communications - there are no phones, emails and so on n It break downs personality barriers

  • It changes relationships
  • It develops and strengthens bonds
  • It creates lateral thinkers, not ‘Yes’ men or women