Seagate employees bond over white water

The philosophy of improving employees' business performance by giving them tough physical teamwork exercises is often derided, but Bill Watkins, chief operating officer of disk company Seagate swears it delivers results.

The philosophy of improving employees’ business performance by giving them tough physical teamwork exercises is often derided, but Bill Watkins, chief operating officer of disk company Seagate swears it delivers results.

He brought 200 Seagate people out to Queenstown at the end of last week for a tough nine days of water-rafting, mountain biking and rappelling (descending from rockfaces on ropes). One aim is to encourage them to see the value of teamwork, he says.

In business, it’s comparatively easy to encourage a strong bond with colleagues in a small start-up company, he says, but harder in a long-established one like Seagate. A strong sense of the team encourages employees to persevere so as not to let their colleagues down.

The exercises are unfamiliar to most of the staff, more accustomed to working with their brains, and this encourages a willingness to admit ignorance and a lack of skill and consent to be advised and helped, Watkins says. “If you do team training in their own work environment, it doesn’t work so well because each of them is too much of an expert to say ‘I don’t know’.”

The physical activities took place in the afternoons, with the mornings given over to talks from live speakers on teamwork, the drive to excellence and such techniques as visualisation, to form a clear picture of the desired end-result.

Seagate has been doing the exercise for three years, at the inspiration of Watkins, who is an enthusiastic team racer, on foot and mountain-bike.

Asked for evidence that it has benefited the company, he points to an improving bottom line. The company delivered consolidated revenue of $US1.741 billion and net income of $122 million for the quarter ended December 28, 2001, the second of its 2001-2 financial year. Seagate, he claims, now leads the market for the first time in desktop and notebook disk drives.

“I honestly believe [the type of training delivered in Queenstown] was a factor in that performance.”

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