High ropes course useless for dysfunctional teams

high ropes course team building and leadership

Why Ropes Courses are not the proper fit for your Team Building and Leadership Development program.

Obesity makes many adult and child participants unable

A climbing wall, challenge course, and a high ropes course are a challenge to many as well as a safety risk. These high challenge elements were created to help people build their self-esteem and believe in themselves to “push past their assumed limits.” When participants who are unable to hold their weight and fit into a harness fail to participate, this develops an enhanced negative self-image.

When a participant is peer pressured by work mates and school peers to climb a telephone pole and can barely make it off the ladder. This does not help the self-esteem or self-confidence of this individual. It does just the opposite reinforcing the view of failure.

I have seen employees devastated, and students hang their head in shame after a ropes course experience.

How is that building a team culture, when you humiliate your team members?

Ropes course are individual: Person vs. Element

Many Ropes Course facilitators work hard to create programs that are team oriented. The majority of facilities do not have the proper setup and staff to make these elements team active. One or at the most three people are being active on the ropes course, while you have the rest of the team sitting and watching.

Generally, you will have some participants cheer most people lose interest, and this takes away from the team process. The only active time is often 10 to 15 minutes on the element and 3 to 4 hours of just sitting on a bench eating snacks and gossiping about each other.

How is this Team Building, when the majority of the team is not engaged in any activity at all?

Concerns about Hostile Work Environment and Peer Pressure among classmates

Team members feeling forced to climb a rock wall or zip line off a platform. This is a concern for Human resources departments and school guidance counselors; we live in a litigious society. Great team building facilitators create a “Challenge By Choice” environment. They let participants know that they choose how far they wish to go in the element, and it is alright to choose your personal level of comfort.

When the CEO of the company is watching or your teacher, your entire class, the girl you have a crush on. While encouraging you to climb a 60-foot climbing tower and you are about to wet your pants out of fear you start to think, “can NOT doing this effect my future, possible promotions, who my friends are, how others will view me? If I do not succeed will I be in the out group?

Flashbacks of the Cool Kids Lunch table and the table for the outsiders is NOT team building!

Team building is meant to make everyone feel and behave like an insider. Participants feel bullied and a significant amount of peer pressure to perform on ropes courses. If you are passed over for a promotion or a date by someone who did climb the 60-foot tower, it makes you think, “is this why I did not get the promotion? Is this why teams pick me last? Is this why I am being treated differently? Is this just re-affirming how classmates and my teacher feel about me, that I am small, obese, weak.

Unfair, hostile work and classroom environment lawsuits, can your organization afford one?

Poor Facilitation of experience,

The ropes course becomes an amusement park of wasted opportunity.

When you hire a team building facilitator and go to a Ropes Course (Challenge Course) for a team building day, interview the facilitator working with your group. You ought to treat this person as you would any individual coming to you wanting to be hired by your organization. Do not trust that because they work for a college or a well-known conference center that they are going to deliver on your teams’ needs.

Ask for references, follow up on the recommendations ask people in the community.

Additionally, what I have seen companies do is the Bait and Switch technique. The facilitator you are speaking with, and meeting with who is creating your team building program is not the one that runs the program on the event day.

They send an intern, would you hire an intern to lead training for your company? Would you hire an intern to teach your C-level executives about leadership?

With poor facilitation a Ropes Course becomes an amusement park with long waits, bad weather, overpriced crappy food, and an annoying guide [team building facilitator]. Afterwards your team is asking why did we do this?

Ropes courses have their fit with team building, leadership development

When properly facilitated any experience can be metaphorically tied-back to the student and work life.The challenge for the consumer wanting a ropes course (challenge course) experience is to have realistic expectations of what can be done.

What team members should realize is that there are great team building activities out there that do not require a ropes course, that push your limits mentally and physically and allow the team to use all its power to replicate and solve work and organizational problems.

What it takes is a paradigm shift in the thought process of the ropes course facilitator and the organization wishing to participate in the ropes course experience.This paradigm shift is the realization that teamwork requires all of the team to be present and active for a return on investment in the workplace and classroom. Be an informed consumer of your team building needs and realize that success comes to those who choose unconventional paths for team building.

A great team building facilitator takes the time to get to know your group and gives the team leaders open and honest feedback about what is best to accomplish your team goals. Realize that you do not need a ropes course or a climbing tower to make a breakthrough in your leadership and teams’ potential.

What you need is an environment that creates dialog to see where the path you are on is taking your team.

Push past the comfort zone and change your view on what team building is and you will find success!


6 thoughts

  1. hi Michael

    – fell upon your posting on the ´linkedin.news´

    and, my own view on the use of high ropes courses for team activities seems to be fairly close to yours …

    – yes, it takes a lot of attention and preparation to create a common, positive learning experience for a heterogenous group of participants – … which usually means that anything of 15+ particpants constitutes a heterogenous group …

    – high-ropes courses may be an excellent choice for a homogenous, ambitious group with high emphasis on high-performance and the breaking of boundaries.

    – however, an average group of particpants is seldom of this kind …

    – so, what can be done to change this type of courses from individual challenging, boundary-breaking experiences to positive and succesful activities for an entire team can be :

    1. Be careful when setting the proper framing of the participants, i.e. the learning environment which is presented, prior to the activities
    2. Add emphasis on models for team dynamics, and the different, valuable roles of people in a team.
    3. Use only the activities as an experiential metaphor for the group dynamics, instead add emphasis on the team communication created when applying the metaphor
    4. Use a proper mixture of high-ropes and low-ropes activities
    5. Use the principle of ´challenge by choice´, important …

    – also, if you haven´t been around it already, inspiration for the facilitation of ropes courses may be found in ´the bible´ for ropes courses :
    – "Cowstails and Cobras II", by Karl Rohnke, 1989, see – http://www.pa.org

    dann s.

  2. May I reiterate:

    "A great team building facilitator takes the time to get to know your group and gives the team leaders open and honest feedback about what is best to accomplish your team goals. Realize that you do not need a ropes course or a climbing tower to make a breakthrough in your leadership and teams' potential. What you need is a great environment and open dialog to see where the path you are on is taking your team."

    Our understanding of team building can be the first thing to get in the way of successfully building our team. One must remember that a tool is only as useful as its user is skilled.

  3. Tom I do know that and the article is a learning tool for discussion in programs just like yours and mine. I lead rope course programs.
    I wonder – What are the antithetical views to my article?

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