The idea of facilitating learning for managers by taking them through an outdoor experience came to India in 1989. I have been fortunate to witness the growth of this field since that day. These 21 years have seen this idea grow into an industry by itself.
It draws its roots from the Theory of Experiential Learning. This theory itself has various forms and variations but fundamentally it states that people have the capability to make meanings and learn from experiences. A simplest example would be - you could learn about an elephant by reading a book, or by going to a zoo or actually spending time in the forests watching elephants. Experiential learning depends on the last two kinds of learning.
There have been furious debates about the transference of learning between the experience and the person. It is largely believed that it does not happen automatically and the person must spend time to reflect upon the experience. Further some theorists also propound that this refection must be facilitated by someone else.
That forms the basis of a majority of outdoor development programs today.
It has been a commonly held belief that these programs are good for team-building only. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, a large majority of these programs do address the need for making a team effective, but that's only a part of the picture. My guess is that around 60% of the programs come under the category of team-effectiveness. (It is another matter that if you really dig deep, no two team-building programs are exactly similar, but that's another matter.)
These programs can be, and indeed have been, used for a variety of other applications such as

1. Leadership development
2. Reaction to change
3. Stress management
4. Fostering strategic thinking
5. Enhancing creativity
6. Project management

I remember going to the first ever such program in 1989 as an outdoor safety expert. For the first few years, my role remained just that. To ensure that all participants went back alive! As I fixed ropes over cliffs for them to rappel down, or set up clues in the forest for them find later, I often wondered what all this had to do with management development. Slowly but surely, my interest moved from the 'hardware' part of these programs to 'software'. That led to a movement from being an outdoor safety expert to a facilitator/trainer. Two significant steps that aided this movement for me were my internship in group process work with ISISD (1999-2001) and more recently, internship in Organizational Development with Sumedhas' IAOD (2009-10).

It has been experiential learning for me too. All the way through.
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