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Great Resource for Training Budget Data: Corporate Learning Factbook


CLFB 2011

As a part of my research, I wanted to take a broad look at how companies in the U.S. are spending their training budgets.  I came across the work of Bernsin & Associates who publishes a yearly report “The Corporate Learning Factbook 2011: Benchmarks, Trends and Analysis of the U.S. Training Market.” This document has a lot of good data on the trends in corporate training.  The study found that the technology sector led the rebound in investment in corporate training spending in 2010, increasing spending on learning and development an average 16 percent more than in the prior year.  Increases in spending were also made by healthcare, retail and manufacturing firms while, not surprisingly, banking and government were among the sectors continuing to scale back their programs (average cuts of four to six percent).  

I found the following very interesting: Thirty percent of U.S. companies spent money in 2010 on informal learning tools or services, with large companies making some of the biggest investments. In closing I'll highlight this quote from the report that will help guide the next stages of my research: "Companies generally recognize that most learning is informal and learner-initiated. As a result, many forward-thinking L&D [learning and development] organizations are shifting their focus away from company-driven, formal learning programs to support the natural flow of learning across the organization through social and informal learning environments."  For more information about the report, a link to the executive summary can be found by clicking here.

The Start of a Research Internship at Group Experiential Learning


Where are the best sources on the web for information on leadership development and experiential learning?  What is the current state of the market for these services?  I will be looking for answers to these questions as I start my MBA research internship with GEL this semester.   As my research progresses, I will be sharing the information I find through this blog with the goal of starting a go-to reference page for leadership and teambuilding focused experiential learning information.  I hope to connect with both the providers of these services, and the companies and organizations that engage these services.  And along the way, I’ll be posting my findings as a thank you to the people who are helping me with my research.  

Quick background on me- I am currently finishing the last semester of my MBA at tcw boat resized 600he University at Buffalo.  Prior to that, I received first-hand exposure to the many dynamics of leadership through five years as a congressional aid on Capitol Hill, and from three years as chief of staff to a community college president.  I look forward to sharing those experiences, and learning more about leadership education through this blog.

LivingSocial Adventures: Rocking The BoatWorks Challenge


Recently I have been working on a series of sailing team building events in partnership with LivingSocial Adventures. These events utilize GEL’s BoatWorks format which has been customized into a half-day experience for members of the Living Social community, people with a passion for doing fun things with fun people.  

On September 17th and 18th, 80 LivingSocial Adventurers joined GEL at J World Annapolis in the first of these exciting programs.

LivingSocial BoatWorks in Annapolis

Primarily first-time sailors, the four person teams had a fantastic time both on land and out on the water where they were introduced to sailing. With their coaches providing guidance and advice, our rookie sailors quickly learned the ropes and then attached the BoatWorks Group Challenge as a fleet. The challenge requires each team of four to communicate and collaborate with the other boat-teams as they race the clock through a nautical obstacle course.  The gang was a competitive lot, and they knocked it out of the park, putting together, after some fits and starts, some of the top runs we've seen this season.

While we didn't debrief as we would for an intact or newly formed corporate team, lots of folks commented  on how much they learned about team work and communication. 

You can check out photos from all four sessions on the GEL Facebook Page. In addition a slideshow featuring some of the best photos from the Sunday event has been put together by LivingSocial's professional photographer Michael Procknal.

Another weekend of LivingSocial BoatWorks Adventures will be coming up on October 22 and 23 and there are a few spots reserved for "friends of GEL" who've been wanting to check out the program.  Visit the event page, and do give me a shout via phone or email if you'd like to join in the fun. 

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Announcing Stand Up Paddle Boarding Programs


I bought a stand-up paddle board recently as part of my ongoing effort to pass my Level 3 Ski Instructor Certification Exam. Mike Hafer, the assistant director of the Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski School and a member of the PSIA National Demonstration Team had advised me to spend the summer working on fitness and balance in order to conquer the exam.

Stand up Paddleboarding

Paddling has been fantastic. I have been amazed at how easy it is to learn. I didn’t fall in the water at all, but the best part has been the people I’ve met out on the waters of Richardson Bay.

It seems I’ve been doing some team building of my own, meeting a lot of fellow paddlers and kayakers. One person I met was Leigh Claxton, a local yoga and stand-up paddleboard instructor, who’s created some pretty unique classes combining yogo and paddling. Yes… yoga, on a paddle board!

Leigh and I discussed the adventure racing programs that GEL has done in the past and kicked around ideas for combining paddle boarding, kayaking and hiking with geolocation–style scavenger hunt.

Separately, a good friend of mine who runs a Lululemon store in the East Bay asked me if GEL had any experiential programs at a lower price point than our BoatWorks or RaceWorks sailing programs. A win-win idea was born!

If you're interested in our organizing a program like this for your group visit the Stand Up Paddle Boarding Adventure Races program page and fill out the info request. Or feel free to call or e-mail me directly.


Did you get hooked on sailing during your team building program?

If you caught the sailing bug when you went sailing with me or another member of the GEL sailing team, there are some great opportunities to get out sailing this weekend. It's the Eleventh Annual Summer Sailstice, a celebration of sailing coming up this weekend, June 18/19.

Just sail2 resized 600



I'll join the organizers in inviting you to sail, race, or cruise and join sailors worldwide during the longest sailing weekend days of the year.  Launched in 2001, Summer Sailstice was created as a holiday uniting sailors in a global sailing festival.

To participate, simply sign up at and then go sailing on the weekend of June 18/19.  The website allows you to post your sailing plans, create and promote a sailing event, invite others or see what other sailors are doing in your area.  Host a race, arrange a cruise or just go sailing for the Sailstice holiday to connect sailors across the seven seas.

By signing up, you're also eligible to win prizes donated by Footloose Sailing Yachts, Hunter Marine, West Marine, Hobie, Offshore Sailing, Woodenboat and many of your favorite marine businesses.  Prizes include a one-week BVI charter with the Footloose Sailing Charters, a Hobie kayak and over 400 other prizes.  Sign up early and plan to get together with friends and family to celebrate life under sail on June 18/19.

We're supporting Sailors for the Sea, an environmental organization enlisting sailors to support healthy oceans.  When you sign up, you can 'check the box' to help save the seas as you sail by contributing funds for every mile sailed.

Sail Locally, Celebrate Globally and join the whole world sailing!


Lady Gaga won't be leading high performance team building adventures


On June 2nd, an Economist's Schumpeter blog posting The Angel and the Monster compared and then annointed Lady Gaga and Mother Teresa as "leadership icons."

The subtitle asked readers not to laugh, but it was hard not to, and a bit hard not to cringe as well. Many of the people who commented online expressed some outrage around the comparison, our culture of celebrity worship, and the "leadership industry" itself.

I have to agree, for a couple of reasons.

  • The comparison of Lady Gaga to Mother Teresa was weak, citing things like how they both changed their names, both comforted and identified with outsiders, and both built global brands and operations. 
  • Next to nothing in the posting spoke about how Lady Gaga actually leads her organization, but instead focused on how she's built her personal brand and connected with her fans. In my mind, that's not leadership, it's excellent marketing.
  • A focus on personal branding and charisma ignores so many other tools leaders use in the service of the people on their teams.  Lady Gaga may be an excellent leader, but how she is with her employees is invisible in the posting.
  • The piece also slams Jack Welch as "a hard, old fashioned boss" and suggests that modern workers "might not put up with him", but would love working for someone who wields charisma as well as Gaga.
I've made my affection for Jack Welch known in my post about his take on developing leadership skills, and I'll continue to describe him as a visionary who invested in, developed and yes, challenged his people to achieve as leaders themselves.

Bottom line? Don't send me any wav files of Jack singing... I'm listening to Lady Gaga on Pandora as I type. 

But, no, in spite of what I'd label a "Gaga for Gaga" case study by Jamie Anderson and Jörg Reckhenrich of Antwerp Management School and Martin Kupp of the European School of Management and Technology, I won't be signing up to hear her speak on leadership until the Economist publishes something that gets beyond charisma.

That's my rant for the day, it's time to get back to planning our Taste of BoatWorks leadership development program coming up in Annapolis on June 29th. If you'd like to see one of the ways Jack's company does leadership development and team building, I'd invite you to join us.

Taste of BoatWorks Sailors

BoatWorks Team Building Thank You and Video



I'm just back from Boston where GEL and Courageous Sailing hosted an adventurous group of individuals, all interested in how we use custom sailing programs to develop high performance teamwork and leadership skills.

The group incuded managers and executives from:

  • AlphaGraphics Boston
  • Bennett & Associates
  • Brossi Construction
  • Corinthian Events
  • Destination Partners
  • Harvard Business School's Leadership Initiative
  • McGraw Hill
  • Rockland Trust
  • US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics
  • YPO

I'd love to thank everyone for participating and for some great comments about how BoatWorks compares to more mainstream flavors of team building and management training.

Please do add any more comments or suggestions here, and I'll look forward to working with you all again in Boston soon! 


PS... A few photos from the day are now posted near the bottom of the event page.  If you have some of your own, please do post them on GEL's Facebook page!


Match Racing: Leadership or Team Work?


Olympic Match Racing from Match Race Center on Vimeo.

This is a great video showcasing match racing and it graphically demonstrates why I like the sport so much.  It's "sailing on steroids" and requires better team work than any other racing format.  Because the races are so short, and the battle can be decided in the first four minutes, a team that's not completely in sync will get it's doors blown off.

When you hear skippers talking to the media after a match race, you realize that winning isn't about leadership. Without fail, the helmsperson will mention her team as the primary factor in the victory. 

Fund-raising for the campaign, building the team, preparing the boat, organizing practices, and setting goals for the events leading to the Olympics require as much leadership as any other endeavor.  But execution on the water depends far less on "real-time" leadership than it does on cohesiveness and a steady flow of information between highly skilled individuals, each in clearly defined roles.

I've heard some skippers say "I don't know why I'm doing the talking... all I do is drive!"

GEL back on board as Official Supplier of Leadership Development


image of Olympian Graham Biehl during GEL/USSTAG Regatta

I'm very proud to join the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics in announcing that we've renewed our partnership to help American sailors bring home medals in the 2012 Olympic Games. 

Here's the text of the official release, which also highlights our upcoming events in Boston on May 26th and Annapolis on June 29th.

From: Dana Paxton
Sent: Monday, April 25, 2011 1:54 PM
To: Katie Smith
Subject: USSTAG news: Group Experiential Learning Renews Partnership



Group Experiential Learning Renews Bronze-Level Partnership

Contacts: Dana Paxton, US SAILING, 401-683-0800 x615,

Jay Palace, Group Experiential Learning, 888-435-8326 x23

Group Experiential Learning Renews Partnership as Official Supplier of Team-Building and Leadership Development

Portsmouth, R.I. (April 25, 2011) – Group Experiential Learning (GEL) has renewed its bronze level partnership with the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics (USSTAG), US SAILING announced today. Initiated in 2009, the relationship marked the first official team-building partnership for USSTAG, and since that time GEL has delivered high-impact team building and leadership training experiences for USSTAG sponsors.

The US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics is made up of the country’s top athletes in each of the 10 Olympic and three Paralympic classes who train together with the common goals of winning medals at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Weymouth, England.

As part of the partnership in 2011, GEL will introduce some of USSTAG’s non-endemic sponsors to the sport of sailing, while offering sailing veterans the opportunity to sharpen their skills and enhance their teamwork on the water. Many GEL events will feature participation by USSTAG’s Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.

"We take great pride in helping USSTAG with sailing programs which support team members’ Olympic and Paralympic dreams and the business objectives of USSTAG’s other sponsors. The relationship also provides special opportunities for our own clients to sail with and simultaneously support the athletes,” said Jay Palace (San Francisco, Calif.), President of GEL. 

GEL will host two introductions to their signature program “BoatWorks” in a one-day complimentary experiential sailing program for leaders and HR professionals. The first “Taste of BoatWorks” will be held on May 26 in partnership with Courageous Sailing Center, in Boston, Mass. On June 29, the second “Taste of BoatWorks” will be held in partnership with J World Annapolis, in Annapolis, Md. At both locations, participants will be introduced to GEL’s facilitated leadership development program offered across the country at various US SAILING-accredited Keelboat Sailing Schools.

Later this summer, GEL will team up with the Courageous Sailing Center to organize a special introduction to sailing and racing for USSTAG’s title sponsor AlphaGraphics. Franchise owners from the New England area will sail side-by-side with USSTAG members on the Charles River. The afternoon of racing will strengthen relationships and give participants a unique glimpse into the training, preparation and focus required to win medals at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We are excited to continue and enhance our relationship with GEL,” said Katie Smith (Newport, R.I.), USSTAG’s Commercial Manager.  “We had a very successful event in Naples, Fla. last year where AlphaGraphics executives and franchisees got the opportunity to race with Olympian Graham Biehl (San Diego, Calif.) and gain insight to the teamwork and challenges involved with racing.  GEL did a phenomenal job translating the passion for sailing into easily accomplished onboard activities. It was a very positive experience for everyone involved.”

For more information about the Boston or Annapolis “Taste of BoatWorks”:

May 26 - Boston Taste of BoatWorks Program

June 29 - Annapolis Taste of BoatWorks Program

About Group Experiential Learning

Group Experiential Learning (GEL) helps organizations forge high performance teams, develop leaders and enhance relationships with key clients through active, outdoor experiential programs. GEL is based in San Francisco, California, and delivers its services across the U.S. and in select international locations.

About the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics
The US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics is managed by the United States Sailing Association (US SAILING), the national governing body for the sport of sailing and sailboat racing. The top boats in each Olympic and Paralympic class are selected annually to be members of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. US SAILING supports these elite athletes with funding, coaching and training. The title sponsor of the team is AlphaGraphics; other sponsors include Rolex Watch USA, Atlantis WeatherGear, Sperry Top-Sider, LaserPerformance, Harken Team McLube, Trinity Yachts, New England Ropes, Group Experiential Learning and Bow Down Training.


Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, US SAILING is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country. For more information about US SAILING, please visit: For more information about the US Olympic Sailing Program and the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, please visit:

Jack Welsh's take on developing leadership skills


The idea that you will get better at things that you emphasize is a universal concept, and one that especially applies in the area of leadership development.

One business leader who placed a great emphasis on developing leaders was former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch. Christopher A. Bartlett and Meg Wozny examined Welch's approach in great detail in an HBS case,  "GE’s Two-Decade Transformation: Jack Welch’s Leadership."

Welch not only required the top executives at each business unit to identify future leaders, but he made coaching, training and developing them a performance metric carrying practically equal weight to financial results.

One paragraph from the HBR article which leapt out at me highlights how Welch continued to invest, and actually increased spending when a major corporate focus was cost cutting.  Sound like the environment we're in today?

"A key institution that Welch harnessed to bring about this cultural change was GE’s Crotonville management development facility. Welch wanted to convert Crotonville from its management training focus and its role as a reward or a consolation prize for those who missed out on a promotion to a powerful engine of change in his transformation effort. In the mid-1980s, when he was cutting costs almost everywhere else, he spent $45 million on new buildings and improvements at Crotonville. He also hired some experienced academics—Jim Baughman from Harvard and Noel Tichy from Michigan—to revolutionize Crotonville’s activities."

Welch’s emphasis on leadership development is one of the major reasons why GE posted a 23% total shareholder return per annum during his twenty-year tenure, and underscores the importance of investing in people.

This is especially true today, as many companies have reorganized their business units since the 2008 economic downturn, and may be asking employees to do more work with less resources. This environment requires more rather than less collaboration between business units.  Cuts in layers of management have increased spans of control, but leading a larger team requires ratcheting up soft skills dramically and effectively communicating a vision to members of a team, who are fired up to execute with little top-down supervision.

I'd wager that most of the companies that have thrived in the midst of our recession are led by individuals who have successfully shared a vision, focused their teams on collabaration and continued to invest in their people.

Turning back to GE, the organization is still a powerhouse years after Jack Welch's retirement.  And of course, it just so happens that GE has utilized GEL's BoatWorks program in the forging of a new group in the organization.  The video below provides a taste of their experience.

Visit our BoatWorks Service description to learn more, or ask us for help designing a custom initiative for you.

Information from Christopher A. Bartlett and Meg Wozny’s GE’s Two-Decade Transformation: Jack Welch’s Leadership, published by the Harvard Business School, was used in this post. It can be purchased by logging onto the Harvard Business Review’s website, which is linked here.

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