Experiential Learning in the Desert

Part I

It was early morning when a group of fifteen high potential employees from Capital Market Authority boarded a bus for the desert.  The group chatted excitedly as the bus drove along the smooth highways, then bumpy dirt roads as they grew closer to their destination.  Ahead was three days and two nights of learning, challenges and transformational experiences.

After a couple of hours, the group arrived at Outward Bound Oman’s Desert Learning Centre, located deep in the Shariqiya Sands desert.  With no village or town in sight, and limited internet connection, the group was physically and virtually removed from the distractions of everyday life.

After a tour of the state-of-the-art centre, the group settled in for the first session of the trip – a team alignment exercise run by New Metrics team coach Elisabeth Van Loon-Muller.  The session gave the group a chance to voice their expectations and objectives for the days ahead, as well as creating a system of team accountability for sticking to these objectives. 

After a simple but hearty lunch, the group moved outside for the afternoon team building session facilitated by Outward Bound Oman.  The activities were designed to challenge the team dynamics and shed light on uncertainties around roles and responsibilities, communication, and leadership. After each activity, the team discussed what they had just experienced, reflected on what worked and what didn’t, and tried the activity again.  They learnt that without clarity on roles, clear and aligned objectives and effective communication, they would fail to complete the task at hand.  After learning from their mistakes, the team was always successful on their second try.

Sunset was a time for individual reflection.  As this time approached, each group member would find a spot to sit alone, write in their journal and reflect on the day while watching the sun slip behind the sand dunes.

After the sun had gone down it was time to prepare dinner.  Everyone had a role in the process, from setting up the plates and laying out the food to cleaning up afterwards.  Dinner, like the other meals, was made from the freshest local ingredients sourced from nearby villages.  On the final night, Outward Bound Oman treated the group to a goat cooked in the traditional Omani shuwa style to celebrate the memorable few days.  

Then it was time for a final debrief around the campfire.  The team shared their insights and swapped stories as the fire crackled and a sky full of stars shone overhead.

The following days followed the same format, team coaching and conceptual learning in the centre’s training room followed by practical team building exercises outdoors among the dunes. This combination enabled the group to take part in true experiential learning – theory cemented by action.  

Before long, it was time to pack up and leave the desert to go back to everyday life.  It had been a transformational few days for all.  The group was forced out of their comfort zone both individually and collectively, the status quo was challenged, capabilities were reimagined, and people were brought closer as a team, as colleagues, and as friends.

A few days later, after settling back in the daily routine of work and home, New Metrics ask team members to share how the experience impacted them. 

“The program was a life time experience where you get in contact with your inner person, understand him and get him directed to the acceptable system designed around. The practical part was very interesting in terms of relating it to theory which created deeper understanding of behaviours and positive reactions to them. I believe adopting program’s output on selves and then surroundings would facilitate communication and thus productivity at work as well as in life.” – Mohamed Al Zadjali

“Even though it was a strange idea to conduct a training in the middle of the desert, I was excited to participate as I’m always a fan of trying new things. The training was unique, unusual and interesting. We got the chance to learn through fun and we were encouraged to go deep in ourselves and share our feelings and emotions. I believe this program helped us to know how we can use emotional & social intelligence more effectively in our work environment and how we can express and share our thoughts in a better way.”  – Talal Al-Harrasi

The trip marked the first collaboration between New Metrics and Outward Bound Oman.  Watch out for the second installment of this blog post coming soon about New Metrics’ latest desert centre trip, this time with an all-female group.