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Reflecting on over 30 Years of Team Building and Development

Image: A recent office clean-up reveals over 3 decades of brochures.

2018 marks 30 years since Sabre’s first corporate event driven entity ran a short session at the Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast. It’s been fascinating and nostalgic to reflect upon the journey that we’ve had so far.

From a one-man band dipping its toes into the emerging team building market in 1988 with military themed events to the far more sophisticated entity that exists today, the Sabre team has had a lot of fun and also learned a lot.

Very early days at the Gold Coast War Museum:

Image: Early 80's big guns and obstacles at the back of the War Museum. Rudimentary but fun.

Sabre’s first events actually evolved and occurred in and around the Gold Coast War Museum at Mudgeeraba from around 1982 - 1984. A young teenage Talan Miller (Sabre’s Founder) joyfully worked there with his high school job as a Museum Guide, public display presenter and Paintball referee.

He and Museum owner Vic Coote gradually formed a partnership to design and deliver solutions for hiring Museum weapons, uniforms and vehicles to the emerging Gold Coast film and television industry and also special events.

This entity was known as Movie Militaria for the film work, and Adventure Conventions for the special event work. In the midst of this exciting development emerged a number of corporate clients seeking military themed activity and team building solutions.

The early events were a theatrical and exciting mix of surprise comedic commando raids, team games, obstacle courses and paintball. This formula solidified into the ‘Corporate Strike Force” event, which not only inspired many other events but is still used today.

Once Talan had undertaken Officer training with the Australian Army the programmes that he had designed and delivered in his spare time gradually became more sophisticated. They were staffed initially with good mates form the Army when their schedules permitted.

As the 80’s turned into the 90’s this part time business that was picking up corporate clients on an opportunity basis only then started to benefit from healthy word of mouth referrals. Early clients like Woolworths recommended the unique Strike Force approach to brands like Coke, Nestle and Pepsi.

Sabre was also very fortunate to be approached in 1989 by our dear friend Dr David Marriott, then Belbin Distributor for Australia, who introduced us to the Belbin Team Role Model. This was to become a crucial part of our success and longevity as a team building provider.

It was time to decide whether to keep this operation as a small one-man band with some skilled mates being dragged in occasionally, or to bite the bullet and pursue it as a full-time business.

Expansion and diversification in the 1990’s:

Image: Loving the 90's, a big Sabre team with 'Terry The Totem' in Fiji.

A handful of local movie gigs (including the US TV series of ‘Mission Impossible’, an early Russell Crowe war film ‘Blood Oath’ and various TV shows and ads) with the occasional team build started to turn into a flood of business. Print and TV media also gave coverage to the unique Strike Force event.

The national Bulletin Magazine, local papers and then the Derryn Hinch Show and Today Show (amongst others) did stories on the ‘Corporate Warfare’ on offer by then Adventure Conventions which was gradually transitioning into Sabre Corporate Development. Talan’s then girlfriend Meg (now wife and co-owner of Sabre) who he met as a fellow Army Officer, started to become more engaged with the running of the business. This was a potent enabler of its ability to grow and diversify (as Tal is not necessarily the best at the admin side of things).

As the volume of events and staff grew so too did demand from early clients for repeat events with different styles. An early client and friend to Sabre John McSpedden of Castlemaine XXXX said “guys, we loved the Strike Force but what’s the next style of adventure that you can design for us?”.

He and other clients spurred us to design new themes, games and challenges to help us retain some key clients year after year.

As the 90’s progressed we started to work increasingly for clients inter-state and then eventually overseas in hard to take locations such as Fiji, Hawaii, The Bahamas, Singapore and the UK.

Being engaged by Astra Zeneca to help with a two-week global management development programme in the mid 90’s saw us meet Chas Sewell of Dryll Management Development from the UK. He was running one of the UK’s top team and leadership development facilities in North Wales and the friendship and collaboration between him and Sabre helped greatly to challenge and up-skill the growing Sabre team.

Sabre began creating a bigger range of more sophisticated business games and indoor options to diversify what was an already impressive range of mostly outdoor adventure-based approaches.

The growing range of intellectual property, business and team building games started to make it viable for Sabre to explore inter-state staff and offices. International licensees who could operate selected approaches in their own markets were also created.

Maturity and added sophistication in the early 2000’s

Image: Diversifying into more strategic programmes and indoor approaches

After a decade or so of trial and error, hard knocks and some good advice from a growing network of friends and partners, Sabre started to increase in sophistication. The higher end of the team building market began to draw the company upwards from dependence upon what was starting to become a more cluttered classic team building market.

Intersecting with clever and innovative global partners like Catalyst and Afterburner at this time also enabled us to see different aspects of the team building market through lenses other than our own, and to better value the core capabilities that the Aussie brought to the industry.

This growing confidence was an enabler for an increasingly diverse range of approaches that started to genuinely straddle everything from pure fun to serious team and leadership development.

Increasing use of Belbin profiles and reports also gave us more of an appetite to stretch ourselves beyond the purely activity-based approaches to far more insightful and lasting team development programmes.

The advent of Reality TV shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race combined with the Internet / Google factor saw a flood of simple to run and cheap team building options arise world-wide.

This quickly changed the nature of the team building market, and forced us to move in different directions to simultaneously cater for the ‘cheap and nasty’ end of the market level when required to do so, whilst also cultivating our longer-terms goals to work at higher levels with greater quality and originality.

We were fortunate to time our forays into the more sophisticated approaches with what became a genuine decline in the levels of discrimination and quality within the MICE market for team building products.

2010 to present – ‘Serious Fun to Serious Outcomes’

Images: Sabre and Belbin are a powerful combination.

Having survived all of the usual perils and pitfalls of business, as well as major external events that impacted the classic team building market such as airline strikes, SARS, 9-11 and the GFC, Sabre had truly solidified its longevity.

Local and overseas partnerships expanded the range and types of clients that we were working with, and also saw us increasingly entrusted with quite high-level teams and leaders.

An enhanced ability to match not just experiential learning, but also the Belbin profiles and reports to real-world outcomes saw Sabre enabled to work along the spectrum that ranges from purely fun conference events to meaningful consulting with C-Suite teams.

A growing relationship with Belbin created the opportunity to become first a Regional Representative and now Sole Australian Distributor for all Belbin products and services.

As the Belbin side of the business expands, Sabre still continues to provide a broad range of conference and incentive level activities and events for groups of all sizes.

Sabre now operates Australia-wide as well as internationally either via its network of licensees or key members travelling for international clients such as The United Nations and European Commission and various corporate headquarter teams.

Sabre's clients include prestigious corporate, government, defence, education, NGO and charity organisations. Sabre has delivered events and programmes all over Australia as well as in NZ, Europe, The Middle East, Asia, The Pacific and the USA.

A huge thanks to the Sabre team, many of whom have been with us since the very early days as well as the many clients, venues, agents and friends who have supported us to this point.

Here’s to many more years of fun and helping our clients!

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