A recent management development programme I ran, on building high performance teams, saw participants discussing those types of activities that support the building of team effectiveness, and those that don't. "Not another bl**dy raft build" was pretty much the whole group's reaction to traditional team building events; participants in this type of activity can struggle to find relevant learning outcomes. Some might argue that they can actually damage team performance - splitting the group into two camps; 1) "it's a day away from the office, it'll be fun" or 2) "over my dead body, what a total waste of time and money, I'm calling in sick". Not the kind of response or outcome that managers were hoping for.
This kind of traditional team-building activity does have its place, but I do believe that people need to be operating outside of their comfort zone in order to learn more about themselves and about their colleagues. The challenge here is that individual 'stretch' zones are all different and what may be a challenge for some will be a walk in the park for others.
At one extreme we have those who relish adventurous events that have spin off benefits for others- in doing the Kinabalu Challenge in Borneo I raised £3,000 for the youth development charity Raleigh International (you can see my video diary of the event here.) Six months later I took a client team on the same challenge and they raised over £10,000 for The Anthony Nolan Trust.
On the other hand a consultant I recently discussed the jungle challenge with said "I can't think of anything I'd rather not do, that's my idea of hell". Is it really necessary to put people through arduous physical discomfort for them to learn something useful about themselves, or how they work in a team?
I've recently taken over the reins of an event where teams are tasked with the nearly impossible. In one day, participants are challenged to write, and professionally record four original songs, fundraising as much as they can for their nominated charity (record so far is £28,000 in a day), create a marketing campaign, music video and documentary. Using a hand-picked team of exceptional business coaches and musical facilitators we then deliver feedback on observed behaviours, so there are real learning outcomes for participants. The album is then made available on iTunes with all profits going to the nominated charity.
Feedback from these events has been universally positive. If you are looking for ways to develop a high performance team, make a real difference and achieve the perfect 'stretch' for your people (not "another bl**dy raft build") then do get in touch.