In 1305, having executed William Wallace in London, Edward Longshanks had to plan how he would run Scotland from afar.
Rather than do this from the capital, he took his court to Sheen Palace in Surrey to receive the Scottish commissioners, thus in effect instituting the first strategy away day.
And it’s that time of year again, when companies start thinking how best they can build team spirit, and make planning the year ahead seem fun.
Sometimes it’s a morning in an airless room with a flipchart and coffee that tastes like it’s already second-hand. Other times it’s a week’s residential course in a hotel with a free bar, fording streams and abseiling down rock-faces.
Usually there’s at least one exercise that leaves you very, very confused.
You can’t get away from them. Some are even quite useful. But it’s worth knowing what you might be in for in advance, so here’s a run-down of some of the things you might encounter.
The alternative retreat
You are sitting cross-legged for the first time since you were five. Your knees are on fire. You can hear sitars and you’ve started wondering if you’re allergic to incense.
You’re not even sure you have a spirit animal. Does she dress like that all the time? At least it’s lunchtime soon. Oh god, please don’t let it be lentils.
Death by PowerPoint
Matthew was supposed to talk for five minutes about his department’s strategy for 2019 – which means he is currently overrunning by approximately 17 minutes.
But it’s his appraisal next week and he can see Ellen, his line manager, scribbling furiously on her pad. So he ploughs on, borne on wings of eloquence. He is nailing this. Ellen is more than satisfied. She has drawn a brilliant cat.
The Trust Exercise
George has no trust issues. George is an ebullient extrovert, the office joker, a fellow of infinite jest, and a prat. Nevertheless, he has been told to close his eyes and fall backwards and his two colleagues will catch him.
George will realise that Emma and Charles know he started those rumours about them as his head bounces off the parquet floor.
Touching the void
As an amateur rock-climber, Neil instantly spotted that the ropework on the bridge his team is constructing to get them from one plinth to the next was not up to scratch. He has insisted on retying it “properly”.
Two sprained ankles and a broken wrist later, it is apparent that Neil is not an “amateur” as in “does it for fun”, but in the sense of “not very good”.
Born to file
Pete is having a brilliant time. Following a briefing from an ex Special Forces sergeant with a thousand-yard stare, he was given a paintball gun and sent out into the Sussex woodland. He is crouched in a culvert, invisible thanks to the camo paint smeared across his face. He is the darkness and the silence. He is a killing machine.
Pete is not entirely sure how this will help in the cut-and-thrust world of cost accounting. But in there, it’s their rules. Out here it’s him.
Laura was captain of the rounders team at Benenden. Laura was president of the rounders society at Exeter. Laura’s team is going to win. The game has been going on for three hours.
The important thing to remember is that this will bring you all together. It’s possible that this will happen in the pub afterwards when you list who you wanted to shoot, in order.
But, you know, there’s no substitute for the bonds of shared experience. And, after all, wasn’t that the point?