Outward Bound's Urban Program Challenges NY Bankers

Matt Shelley, a financial analyst at Bankers Trust, spent a recent weekend in New York City climbing rocks, playing ball, and scrambling his way through a tricky alpine rope course.

This burst of activity was part of a program to help professionals develop teamwork, leadership, creativity, and risk-taking abilities.

A new spin is the pairing of bank employees with disadvantaged urban youngsters -- a pairing that may score points with Community Reinvestment Act evaluators.

"We are anxious to support our employees as volunteers, particularly in the revitalization of communities of the down-trodden," said Page Chapman 3d, an Outward Bound alumnus and senior vice president of Bankers Trust.

The skills acquired during an urban course relate directly to business goals because bankers get a better idea of "what's out there in the community," he said.

Long Way from Wall St.

The recent New York City course, in which Mr. Shelley participated, "forced bankers out of Wall Street," said Linda Booth, a program director for the New York City Outward Bound Center.

"It taught lessons in the inner city, where help is needed most," she said. "Bringing together disadvantaged minority teenagers with professionals in an environment where trust and teamwork are essential fosters long-term commitment to the community."

Mr. Shelley agreed. Since his participation in the program, he has gotten involved as a volunteer at a shelter for the homeless and he continues to act as a mentor to the teenagers he met on the adventure weekend.

Meeting Challenges

More important, he said, he has learned how to cope better with challenging situations.

"From now on, I will have a greater respect for teamwork and for the capabilities of each individual," he said.

Mr. Shelley is but one of hundreds of bankers who have participated in an Outward Bound urban weekend. His experience is typical of the Outward Bound urban weekend.

"Bankers Trust buys into this concept because it helps build leadership and enhances personal development," said Mr. Chapman.

Wilderness Programs

Banks that send their people into the wild include Bank of Montreal, Citicorp, First Interstate Bank of Colorado, and Chase Manhattan Bank.

"By participating in a wilderness experience such as rock climbing and white-water rafting, the person gets dramatic proof that limits are largely self-imposed," said Ms. Booth.

According to a recent study by the Alexandria, Va.-based American Society for Training and Development, however, managers have mixed feelings about the long-term effect on job performance of outdoor training. Some human resources executives call it a fad.

Empirical Data Rare

The study also noted that having clear objectives, excellent personnel, and extensive evaluation are important, but that only 10% of outdoor training programs offer empirical data to support their value.

Lauren DiScipio, a spokeswoman at Outward Bound's Greenwich, Conn., headquarters, acknowledged that most evaluations are limited to anecdotal feedback.

However, Ms. DiScipio noted that Outward Bound employees now work with the participants' organizational development and human resources staff to develop a plan and come back two months after the training to see if goals were met.

No matter what the human resources experts think, the participants seem to be believers.

"You dare to do something you've never done before," said an investment banker. "With rock climbing, I had to overcome my fear of falling, to trust someone I hardly knew to help me get down. You push yourself, succeed, and build self-confidence."

Ms. Marlene C. Piturro is a freelance writer based in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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