Home' micenet eMag : micenet October 2018 Contents Ah,team-building.Dueinpartto
The Office - and its pervasive
depiction of an over-zealous
boss and eye-rolling employees
– quite a lot of us view it as, well... cringe-
worthy. For precisely this reason, I was
stopped in my tracks a few months ago by
news of a corporate team-building company
celebrating 30 years in business. Could you
imagine 30 years of dealing with reluctance?
And apathy? And patiently tending shrinking
violets until they bloomed into bastions of
corporate enthusiasm? This introvert certainly
couldn’t. I had to talk to these people.
Of course, as is often the case, upon making contact with Sabre Corporate Development, I
was proven wrong on two counts. One, with a hearty dose of integrity, thirst for innovation and
a few sneaky beers when things go awry, corporate team-building can be enjoyable and
rewarding. Two, unfavourable team-building depictions aren’t limited to Ricky Gervais and his
awkward brand of good-guy management.
“Brooklyn 99, The Big Bang Theory, the list goes on,” says Talan Miller, Sabre’s founder.
“If only these fails didn’t happen to teams for real, but sadly, they do, when the wrong
approaches that don’t suit the people or their aims are deployed.”
Such knowing words could only be uttered by someone who’s seen it all – and it’s safe to say
that between running his first group exercise as a teenage employee of the Gold Coast War
Museum and now – Talan’s come close to it.
Way back in the sepia-toned 1988, mullets were the norm, the Maroons were gearing up to
take out the Origin series and Sabre’s first corporate group exercise was held at the Sheraton
Mirage Gold Coast. Born from a desire to extend the museum’s service in hiring out military
In light of Sabre Corporate Development turning the big 3-0, our digital
content editor caught up with its founder... and discovered that we all really
need to lay off the Amazing Race knock-offs.
NEWS | LAURA BRADLEY
PIONEER TURNS 30
A corporate team taking part in the
event that started it all, ‘Strike Force’.
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equipment to film producers, Talan and museum owner Vic Coote developed the ‘Strike Force’
event, an exerting mix of commando raids, team games, obstacle courses and, occasionally,
pyrotechnic blow ups of competitors’ products.
“It was a unique approach,” says Talan.
“The combination of experiential learning and team-building with theatricality and fun, and the
authentic staging and equipment, made it stand out from the ropes courses that were the main
alternative back in the day.”
As the 80s became the 90s and the Maroons gave up their hitherto reign, things continued to
look up for Talan and his Sabre prototype. Word spread like wildfire, and early clients such as
Woolworths began recommending Strike Force to companies including Coke, Nestle and Pepsi.
The media also took notice, with The Derryn Hinch Show, Today Show and The Bulletin each
waxing lyrical about this unorthodox-yet-effective team-building approach.
In 1993, Talan bit the bullet and officially established Sabre Corporate Development, a
company which now has offices in Australia, USA, Malaysia, Germany, the UK and Hong Kong.
The intervening years have played out as a montage of change and adaption for Sabre, with
the company expanding its offering to include creative indoor options and its owners teeing up
with competitors to provide Belbin behavioural profiling - a standard to measure workplace
impacts - to a wider audience.
However, such is the way with every epic tale, Sabre has had to overcome obstacles that
extend beyond its rope ladders and climbing apparatus. Talan identifies 9-11 and the
consequent air strikes as a particularly trying time for the business.
“It hurt... The overnight slowing of the MICE market hit that part of the business as it did
everyone else, but luckily for us, other aspects of our business that were pitched at the higher
end/learning and development sector were slightly less impacted.”
This distinction between the team-building goals of the MICE sector compared with those of
internal senior managers is the veritable bee in Talan’s bonnet.
Sabre’s founder describes the perceptible shift from outcomes-oriented programs to ‘cheap
and nasty’ alternatives with a focus on recreation and showmanship.
“The spectrum of client aims has broadened over the years with senior level clients seeking
‘classic team-building’ with outcomes in the workplace being the aim, while others seek purely
theme-driven activities for MICE,” he said.
“The advent of reality TV combined with the Google factor created a rash of easy to sell TV
show knock-offs, for example Survivor, The
Amazing Race and MasterChef.
“As with any other field of endeavour,
basing something almost entirely upon the
creativity and formats of others tends to
lower the bar, and so these parodies
contribute, perhaps, to greater cynicism of
the value of team-building.
“Sophisticated approaches are those
tailored to draw out and address certain
behaviours and real-world scenarios that will
actually improve business performance or
team dynamics in a pragmatic way at work.”
So... what’s the standard-bearer in the
realm of team-building’s solution to this
entropy? Provide a bit of everything, and
match it to the client’s brief.
“It depends what the client’s paying for.
“Pure fun? Pure fun with some outcomes?
Strong focus on outcomes?
“For the higher end, we use Belbin
behavioural profiles and reports to measure
“If pure fun is the aim, then the measure of
that is that they had fun and stayed safe.”
When pressed on the secrets to Sabre’s
longevity, Talan ever-so-humbly credits the
training and experiences offered to him as a
young man in the Australian Army. (We have
a sneaking suspicion it has a lot to do with
his hard work and agility, too).
With a knowledge of team-building
extended beyond a British sitcom, and my
suggestion of a Bachelor-themed group
exercise stashed firmly in my back pocket,
I concluded my exchange with Talan Miller,
team-building pioneer and extraordinaire.
Three decades is a mean feat in an
industry so prone to change, and with plans
to greatly expand the creative team and the
development aspects of the business, we
look forward to seeing what Sabre comes up
with next. m
A Kon-Tiki event in Hawaii
for a multi-national client.
The one, the only, Talan Miller!
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