I hate being picked up. Yes, I’m an adult but it may have more to do with control than age. So when I found myself being hoisted five feet in the air, threaded headfirst through a manmade web as part of a team building experience at Tamarack Adventure & Retreat Center, I braced for the worst.
But it was fun. Really, really fun.
Once in my team’s hands, I didn’t worry about my weight or breaking my neck. I didn’t fret over injuring someone. Instead I felt almost weightless and perfectly safe.
Trust is a powerful thing. It’s also the foundation of successful teams and strong leadership. Communication, respect, collaboration and responsibility are also fundamental attributes of high performing teams. In the four hours the Brogan Team spent at Tamarack Adventure & Retreat Center this winter, we worked these skills silly—both figuratively and literally.
Our Tamarack guides, Jess and Tyler, kicked off the morning’s events with a short hike through the camp’s densely forested trails. They rounded us up at a village clearing for a game of rock/paper/scissors meets simulated balance beam, wrapped in enthusiastic fans and supporters In addition to learning how flexible your team members can be, the point of this exercise is to experience the roar of the crowd. (It feels really good, especially when your peeps chant your name.)
They divided us into two tidy groups of 12 and we went our separate ways for a couple hours. Tyler led my group deeper into the woods where a thick rope hung from a tall tree. Five or six feet from where the rope knotted near the ground stood a circle of eight, vinyl record-sized tree slices. Our job was to get every team member to the slices without touching the ground after leaving the rope.
The challenge was draped in a story that involved rabid monkeys, a science experiment gone awry, apocalyptic climate conditions, all complicated by mandatory silence. After crushing the task (thanks in part to the climbing rope that a teammate had stowed in his backpack), Tyler took us through two more group initiatives.
We reunited with the other team at a climbing wall, roughly 12 feet tall and smooth to the finish. The final group challenge was to evacuate all participating members over the wall to safety before a platoon of towering alien penguins reached our fortress. Everyone was required to participate actively, though no one was required to scale the wall.
In fairly quick order, the team had selected candidates to be human step stools and the first pair of arms to hoist climbers within reach of the top of the wall. Like the other group initiatives, the exercise demanded communication, trust, cooperation and courage. One of our team members had a terrible fear of falling. During an early challenge, she sang her way through her fears. When she began to doubt her resolve, we drowned out her reservations with cheers. The final tally: Brogan Team, 24; Mutant Penguins, 0.
Before hiking back to the parking lot, Jess and Tyler gathered us in a circle to review the morning’s events. Teamwork and trust were central themes. Some discovered new attributes like leadership and risk-taking in colleagues they’d worked with for years. Many were proud of their individual accomplishments and freely credited the team for their support and encouragement. Everyone enjoyed the outdoor setting, deep enough in the woods to escape the confines of an office and reach of cell phone towers.
“It was a great office bonding experience,” said the president. “We had so much fun, laughed a lot, and got to enjoy a beautiful day outdoors.”
“It got us outside and out of our comfort zones so we can come together,” said an account team leader.
“It was a really fun way to get out of the office and problem solve in a unique way,” said a copywriter.
“Pick me up!” said the director of strategy.