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Friday, November 24, 2006

Away Day

Group pic
Today was XM's Away Day, a day when we take off from the office for a time of team bonding. This year's event was held at Bintan Lagoon Resorts, with activities organised by Focus Adventure.

I shared a cab with a colleague to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. From there, all of us took the 8am ferry to Bintan, followed by buses to the training ground within Bintan Lagoon Resort. In what they call the "dialogue room" (but is just like any other meeting room), we were given the usual spiel about "learning through experiencing" and "we want winners, not losers". After a brief tea break, our training began.

One half of the company went for the outdoor activities, while my half stayed behind for the indoors one. We were then split further into two teams for the three indoor activities:

1. "Keypunch"
Behind a closed door is a set of numbers, 1-25. Each member in the group must touch a number in sequential order, and everyone must touch a number at least once. However, surrounding the numbers is a rope/"magnetic field". Whenever someone is inside the circle, no one else can enter it nor point inside the circle. Each group is given three tries (later four), with the objective being to get the lowest time from when it enters the room to when the last person exits. If any rule is broken, then the team has to press the numbers again from 1, and 10 seconds is added to the time.

My team's strategy was that each one was assigned a number to press. That worked somewhat well for the first round, though we fumbled several times. Though the facilitator was surprised, we took our time to familiarise ourselves with the game. First round: over two minutes. But we halved that in the second round.

In the third round, we found that not only had the rope been removed, but some numbers were missing as well. The missing numbers stumped us, but we recovered quickly. (Someone attributed it to me for making us move on to the next number.) And though we stumbled once, we still made it out under a minute. By the fourth round, our time was 35 seconds!

Moral: Situations change, and we have to adapt to these changes. Also, if both teams had worked together to exchange strategies, then everyone would have benefitted.

2. Diamond frame
We had to balance a diamond frame using a small pail as the base. Then team members had to cross through the frame to earn points, with different paths earning between one and three points. The objective was to score as many points as possible. Altogether, we were given 20 minutes.

We predictably started with trying to score the three points, which meant carrying someone through the upper portion of the frame. When that proved difficult, we switched to scoring as many points as possible, no matter how little they are. In the end, four people got across, scoring 6 points for the team.

Moral: When a strategy proves untenable, we must be able to relook at our priorities in order to "win".

3. Minefield
Each team is now split into three groups. We have to collect Lego bricks from across a room to construct a little object per group. However, if anyone touches a black brick, we lose whatever pieces we have collected. Also, we have to collect the bricks while blindfolded.

Predictably, we chose to locate the bricks we needed, and then try to bring them back. Of course, with 3 groups in an enclosed room, the loud shouting drowned out our instructions. I suggested strongly that we should just collect bricks without caring about what they were, but that was shot down.

Towards the end of our 20 minutes, the other two groups had formed their objects. And what happened then was that we collaborated so that they would help us collect bricks for our object. Which turned out to be exactly the desired outcome because we were supposed to work as a team to construct the three objects.

Moral: Though we come from different departments, we need to work together as one unit to "win".

So those were our indoor activities. After lunch, we proceeded for the outdoor one, which involved climbing a 25-metre tall tower. As we looked on, many girls and a few guys said that they would never make it. Those who had already completed it (from the other half of the company) said that it was challenging, which just made it seem more daunting.

After wearing our harnesses and helmets and listening to a short safety training session, we proceeded with our climb in groups of five. My group was the fourth one up, with me as the middle member. As we went up, we had to cross certain obstacles. The first one was a bridge comprised of narrow planks. That was easy compared to the next one: crossing a wooden log about five metres across. We made our way slowly, sliding our feet across the log.

From there, we had to go across a rope net. We had to wait here for the earlier teams to move further. It turns out that the next obstacle was to cross a wooden bridge that had a half-metre gap in the middle. One member of the team before us had trouble crossing it. His legs were shaking so wildly that the facilitator joked, "Before climbing, please remember to turn off your vibrator." That got all of us laughing, though I doubt that relaxed that particular person.

My team made our way across that bridge pretty quickly, then rested in a metal cage. We were about halfway up already. But we had to wait a long time here. The first team was at the last obstacle, which was to climb a rope net to the top. Unfortunately, they had a particularly heavier person, who was unable to climb further. So his teammates and a few facilitators had to help to pull him up. Once he was up, everyone applauded.

The next obstacle for us was a rock wall. We had to wait there for an earlier team to clear their obstacle, which involved jumping over a metre-long gap in a metal bridge. For my team, we overcame that obstacle by taking really big steps. I thought that it would be like jumping across a drain, but at more than 20 metres, that would've been a very deep drain!

Finally, we climbed up the rope net to the summit. From there, we took turns on the flying fox down. I wanted to shout something corny while coming down, like "I'm the king of the world!" or something along the lines. But in the end, I didn't... Ah, okay, I chickened out. Just before pushing off, I looked out at the distance and realised that I was very, very, very high up. My mind was blank the moment I pushed off. I finally did manage to let out a loud "whoo!", but on hindsight, that was thoroughly unsatisfying.

BTW a measure of geekness is when you want to say "flying fox" but end up saying "Firefox"!

Altogether, the climb too nearly three hours, though we estimated that we spent nearly half that time waiting. Someone remarked that it was badly planned, because the Indonesian facilitators kept moving us on even when the earlier groups were delayed. Also, the Singaporean facilitators spent the entire day conducting the indoor trainings, though I thought that was fine because of language.

To round up the day, we watched some video clips of our time, then sang "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (which I thought was absolutely cheesy!), then collected our certificates of participation.

We then proceeded to Bintan Lagoon Resort. Since I wasn't staying overnight, I didn't have a room. I waited with a few others till 7pm, when we then took a bus back to the ferry terminal to catch the 8:15pm ferry. After the hour-long ride and losing an hour, we arrived in Singapore at 10:15pm. I promptly made my way home to rest.


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