Sample Low Ropes Program
Part 2: Facilitator
The following story is the second half of a two-part discussion regarding low ropes sequencing and programming. Like the first story, this story is written in first-person but from the perspective of a facilitator this time as he leads the low ropes program for the group introduced in Part 1: Participant. In other words, this is Jim’s story.
My first contact with Ronald came in the form of an inquiry via email. He had heard of other companies using our programming to implement group cohesion and bonding and was interested in sending one of his marketing groups through our program. I work at a specialized, team-focused adventure center that caters programs to the needs of clientele groups by offering alternative team building experiences by use of high and low challenge course activities. He liked the productivity of his group but wanted a more open, community environment in order to maximize on project efficiency. He told me he really wanted to focus on teamwork, bonding, and communication. His thoughts were that by creating an atmosphere of team-players with open communication, project efficiency would follow as well as a sense of community and belonging.
I immediately replied to Ronald’s email and told him I would be more than happy to create a program tailored to his group goals. Later that week, Ronald and I met up for coffee and discussed in more detail his specific group goals as well as details of group size, personalities, and amount of time allotted for the program (6 hours). I gave him copies of my company’s participant waivers (medical, indemnification, and liability) and asked for them to be returned prior to his group’s arrival. This way should I find any medical conditions that might conflict with activities, I can alter my programming ahead of time.
After coffee with Ronald, I returned to my office and began brainstorming activities that would be appropriate for his group. On my large whiteboard, I began listing various ice breakers, team initiative challenges/games, and low rope elements. In order to fill the six hours, I planned on having three back-up activities for each section of the program in the event of unexpected alterations to the plan (group flies through activities, environmental factors like weather or bees, group is really struggling to complete a task and is beginning to fall apart, etc.). The name of the game during pre-program planning is flexibility because there are so many factors affecting the execution of a program.
Two weeks later, I arrived at Ronald’s office ready to begin working with his group for the day. We went downstairs to the lobby to meet his group and the first thing I noticed was how quiet they were. They were huddled together but nothing more than forced small-talk seemed to be taking place. I could tell they were apprehensive and nervous about the day…apparently Ronald had not shared with them what the day would hold.
We boarded the bus and began the fifteen minute drive to my work place. On arrival, I introduced them to my company and site. I also told them more about myself in order to get them feeling more comfortable with me as their leader for the day. Once my introductions were over, I handed them each a poly dot and told them it was now time for their introductions seeing as I did not know their names (I did on paper from the forms they turned in, but I wanted to match the faces to the names). I told them that their introductions would be slightly different than mine in that theirs’ would be in the form of a game called an ice breaker. The first ice breaker I introduced was Group Juggle because I have found that specific ice breaker to be an all-around good warm-up game. Not only do I learn group members’ names, I also get a chance to see the group dynamics in play and can also decide if the next activity I had planned would be a good follow-up based on what is already occurring within the group. Plus, groups love Group Juggle. They love challenging themselves to juggle as many objects as possible.
The next ice breaker they played was Have You Ever. This is a good game for opening people up and allows members to learn more about each other.
At this point in the program, I began noticing a couple of people stepping up as leaders. Their leadership style was very dictatorial which seemed to be bogging down the quieter ones in the group. There were also a couple of people who really weren’t buying into the program. With this in mind, I switched up my next activity to one that emphasized equal participation, teamwork, and communication: the Human Knot. I use a variation that involves participants holding on to bandanas instead of holding hands…it helps with those who have personal space concerns.
After the Human Knot, I noticed the few who were not buying into the program seemed more engaged as they treated the activity as a group puzzle. This set up my next team challenge perfectly. Now that I had everyone on board and actively participating, I introduced them to the Chocolate River. The Chocolate River is great because it requires teamwork and communication as well as a good dose of strategy to complete the task. The group took a little bit to get their strategy down-pat but once they figured out a method that worked well for them they quickly completed the challenge. I was very proud of them and took the opportunity to have a quick debrief with them about the activity and the day up to that point. They agreed they needed to work more on their communication but felt pretty good about their teamwork. I used this information to introduce them to one more challenge before getting to the low rope elements: Tarp Turnover. I picked this activity because it also requires communication as well as coordination. The group did fairly well after about fifteen minutes of trial and errors.
I had a pretty good feel of the group dynamics by this point of the program and felt comfortable transitioning to low rope elements. I had three in mind, with one specifically designated as the closing activity because it would bring together everything we had been working on the whole day. The first activity, Islands, is another strategy and problem solving activity that helped build on teamwork and group awareness/planning. The second activity, Nitro, required more physical activity than the others but I knew my group could handle the challenge based on what I had observed throughout the day and what I knew about the physical limitations that were listed on the medical forms.
By this point of the day, the group had finally realized the importance of working together and were ready for the closing activity: Three Peaks. The actual low ropes element is a life-size version of the popular math puzzle, Towers of Hanoi. In order to make the element more challenging, I divided the group into three smaller groups. I made sure to put all of the talkers in a group that would become mute. Then I put all of the quiet people in a group that would be required to verbally instruct the others. The third group became the active group that physically completed the task as instructed by the other two groups. This is a great challenge that really establishes the need for clear communication and teamwork. By the time I brought the group to this activity, they were ready to put all of the communication and teamwork skills they had learned and built up throughout the day to the test. As a result, they completed the activity with flying colors.
This final debrief time not only addressed thoughts and concerns about the Three Peaks activity but also addressed the day as a whole. I had them think of ways they could take what they learned back to work with them. Then I had them write down how they would implement these skills at work. They ended up writing their own set of workplace goals. Ronald, who had been observing the group throughout the day was really impressed with how much his group had progressed and grown throughout the course of the day. There was an obvious, unifying bond in the group that had grown through working together and participating in all of the activities of the day.
It was time for the group to head back to their office and as they boarded the bus they continued to thank me for leading them for the day. They had a great time and learned a lot about themselves. I have since received personalized thank-you letters from many of them as well as a follow-up phone call from Ronald thanking me for working with his group. He said the workplace environment had completely changed after they returned from my program. He couldn’t be happier with how things have changed and said he would be contacting me again soon to arrange another program for his acquisitions group.
Stay tuned for the Story Debrief…where I will explain in more detail how to program a low ropes event like the one presented in the story.