Going to extremes for the company

Trainers brave the South Pole - and all in the cause of management skills
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Anybody struggling to come to terms with the return to normal work this week should spare a thought for Lisa Cusack. Last night the training manager with the health services company Bupa flew out to South America to join an expedition to the South Pole - all in the name of gaining insights into leadership development and team building, writes Roger Trapp.

Many companies - including Bupa - have sent their staff off to adventure centres where they have supposedly developed valuable interpersonal skills while building bridges and abseiling down cliff faces. But, as Ms Cusack admitted, "this is a bit more gruelling".

Though she and seven other stalwarts from such organisations as Tandem UK and Standard Life will be travelling during the South Pole's summer, she is still expecting the going to get rather tough. Temperatures will be in the comparatively balmy region of -5 degrees C, but the wind-chill factor could make it feel considerably colder. Moreover, the eight will be confined to a 16.5-metre boat for the duration of their four-week trip with the Robert Swan Foundation, an organisation set up by the polar explorer Robert Swan to study the icecaps.

Ms Cusack, who is responsible for the training and development of Bupa's sales people, said that her interest in "the behavioural side of people" inspired her to take up Mr Swan's challenge and become the first person to be sent by her company on a journey of this kind. Pointing out that none of the group had met any of the others before, and that there was therefore every chance of some not getting along, she said: "I'll be looking at the characters of all the people and seeing how they all interact."

With each person allotted only limited space for clothes and personal possessions, she is expecting it to get tense at times. The work - gathering data on the links between pollution and the melting of the icecaps through monitoring penguins and sea lions - will require great teamwork in harsh conditions.

"We'll give and receive feedback and there are bound to be low points as well as high points," said Ms Cusack. Despite not having done anything more adventurous than help sail a friend's boat across the Solent, she is confident she will come through the experience intact.

Bupa is among the organisations paying for the trip because it is convinced that Ms Cusack, who is normally based at its office in Staines, Middlesex, will return with valuable insights she can use in training sales consultants and managers.

For her part, Ms Cusack is certain that the few weeks away will change her outlook on life and assist her in helping the sales people become more effective in bringing in the revenue on which the company depends. Though she is due to be in contact with her colleagues via e-mail twice a week, they will obtain the real benefits when she rejoins them in February, laden with fresh thoughts on managing different personality types, personal and leadership developments and performing well in difficult conditions. "There'll be an awful lot of lessons we can learn," she said.