You're invited to a bonding

William Hague has said that he's taking all his MPs away for a weekend so they can get to know each other better and learn to work together. Can that be wise?

So the Tories, having completed their downsizing operation in May, have moved on to chapter two of the management textbook. William Hague has planned a bonding weekend, all ensconced happily together in a country hotel, learning how to work better. Some of our MPs in the last parliament never spoke to each other, said one incredulous conservative manager. He might have added, but didn't, that it was because they hated each other.

But now the spirit of McKinsey is abroad at the top of the party. William Hague did time at the American-owned management consultancy as did other old boys, notably Archie Norman, the new MP who turned Asda from a basket case into a success story. What has worked, or may have worked, for the Bank of England, Asda, Burmah Castrol and Oftel is bound to to the Tories a power of good isn't it?

Before taking in the details of such bonding weekends, take pleasure in imagining the participants, Ann Widdecombe bonding with Michael Howard, Ken Clarke with Bill Cash and so on. Those are noted feuders, but politicians in general are not noted for loving one another, especially when they are in the same party.

"I've always fancied a weekend in a hotel with William Hague. We've never even had a conversation," Billericay MP Teresa Gorman told one newspaper yesterday. Though another is quoted as saying: "I'd rather spend a weekend up to my neck in muck than with Teresa Gorman." "Bloody ridiculous idea" and "American psycho-twaddle" were typical responses. A challenge indeed, then, for the young reformer who, by all accounts, has been following the McKinsey ethic since entering politics. He has taken members of his private office on morale-building weekends away and, on another occasion, even took them rowing on the Thames. So much for his private office - but can it really work for his party? Not only do many rarely communicate, but by its very nature politics is a world away from business. There is the push-pull of party orders vs constituency interests and the pull-pull of personal ambition. "The big issue is just who exactly do you report to when you come to parliament - the party, or your constituents," observes Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. "It is in an MP's own self-interest to vote against [the] party line when not doing so might jeopardise future local election prospects." Even in a successful team you find people who don't adhere to a common goal. [The] trouble is in politics, there's many more of them.

Few would deny the need for some sort of initiative. There's nothing the electorate likes less than watching a party tearing itself apart - which is just what the Conservatives did in the run-up to this year's general election. But can disarray amongst a group of politicians really be successfully tackled by management theory and consultancy tools?

Team-building initiatives have become commonplace in British business, championed by McKinsey and other management consultants who advocate time away from the office to "bond" with colleagues. At one end of the scale (not McKinsey's) are outward bound-based trips invariably run by former sportsmen and women or, worse, members of the SAS. The idea is the group of managers become "the company". "It's like a petri dish - participants have tasks to complete which become `the company's' business. At the same time, they must analyse how `the company' is working as an entity," explains one senior company executive.

"There's usually an element of something physically risky - a small amount of rock climbing, or abseiling, for example. Some people find this easy, others don't. The point is once you're roped together you have to confront and work around others' weaknesses, or a situation where someone refuses to go on. It's almost like group therapy."

No wonder Mr Hague's plan was greeted with incredulity by many older MPs who might have had a vision of such activities in their heads - not to mention the corpulent contingent. The prospect of Kenneth Clarke abseiling down a cliff face or Cecil Parkinson paintballing sends shivers down the spine.

Mr Hague, happily, has more cerebral pursuits in mind. Perhaps his MPs may like a little role playing? Exercises like "Describe your colleague as a plant/animal/item of clothing". What they would like most (if they have to go) are the comfort tactics favoured by governors of the BBC (another McKinsey client) who periodically retreat to the corporation's five-star country seat to discuss redundancies and budget cuts over exquisite wines and fine cigars. Sadly the Tory outing is probably not so lavish. Effective? Maybe (depending on whose side you're on). Insensitive? So it's a country hotel, group work on specific projects, no spouses but casual dress. And politicians will be required to make a contribution to the cost.

So will it work? One potential problem will inevitably be the common characteristics of the participants - it takes fierce ambition, egocentricity and drive to get into parliament. In other words, not the characteristics of your typical team player. However, Dr Nick Georgiades, principal consultant at management specialists NGA and a former director of human resources at British Airways, sees no reason why it can't help.

"The definition of a team is a group of individuals who collectively determine a course of action to achieve an objective," he says. "Simply throwing 20 cabinet members into a room does not a cabinet make. They have to be able to work together and behave like any other team. Given the encouragement and the right guidance, they can."

Besides, a key figure in the proceedings will be Archie Norman. The significance of this comes down to Mr Norman's achievements at Asda, where he built unprecedented staff co-operation and morale through a range of initiatives including compulsory name badges, a "Tell Archie" scheme for staff feedback and by encouraging executives onto the shop floor. Mr Norman, who insists the Tory love-in is "William's initiative, not mine", admits it has his full support. "Coming from my background, obviously I have ideas how to manage and motivate and inspire people. And these ideas are as relevant in business as they are in politics," he says. "Only in the world of Conservative politics would it be considered unusual for the party to meet together and talk."

Quite. But Mr Hague should be warned. Opinion is still divided on whether such away-day initiatives deliver a lasting effect - or whether participants simply revert back to their bad old ways when they get back to the office. And worse, those participants who praise the experience reveal a hidden danger. Often, the chance to consider better teamwork and clarify objectives and goals goes beyond the professional and into the personal. A number admit to changing job shortly after getting back to work with a clearer sense of vision of what it is they, rather than the organisation, actually want to do. Just how the Tories' remaining MPs respond remains to be seen. But watch this space for future career developments, with one or two of their number turning to alternative careers - supermarket management, perhapsn

Further reading from Virgin Net

McKinsey & Company

Find out what management consultants actually do for a living. And if you like the look of it, you can apply for a job without leaving your computer screen.

Department of Trade & Industry

Part of the DTI's Business Support activities is a project called Managing in the 90s, which contains some very useful notes about teamwork and organisation.

Ideas on Teams and Teamwork

The full text of IBM's Annual Leadership Development Handout from 1992, all 38 pages of it. Includes sections on Characteristics of Effective Teams, and Leaders vs Managers.

Leon Harrel's Old West Team Building Adventure

American businessmen are famed for their odd ideas about work, but "The Teambuilding Program That Utilizes A Platform Of Horsemanship And Cowboy Skills" could be their oddest idea ever.

The Independent Online

The definitive newspaper on the Internet, with all the latest news, sport and entertainment.

Winner of What PC? Best ISP of 1997 Award

Virgin Net helps you to find the things you want on the Internet.

For a one-month free trial, call free on 0500 558800

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering