In a secluded corner of East Carolina University’s Main Campus, there is a classroom where timbers span lava flows, students watch for whales, and team members are lost forever.
It may sound like something out of a Hollywood movie, but it is far from fiction. Located on six wooded acres at the Blount Intramural Complex, the Campus Recreation and Wellness Team Training Center Challenge Course is a unique resource used to teach the lessons that can’t be taught with PowerPoint.
The TTC Challenge Course is designed to transform groups of individuals into teams. Upon arrival at the Blount Intramural Complex, groups are greeted by Campus Recreation and Wellness staff members called facilitators. The facilitators then lead the group to the nearby intramural fields where the Challenge Course begins with simple games and team building initiatives intended to get the group members communicating and thinking creatively. The field games ensure that groups are prepared for the more rigorous mental and physical challenges that lay ahead on the Challenge Course.
After field games, the group is taken into the nearby woods to the approximately 20 low elements that comprise the second part of the Challenge Course. The low elements are man-made obstacles designed to strengthen communication skills and problem solving within groups.
“Some [low elements] are rather easy and we’re going to start the group there, and then we’re going to build up to some of our harder elements,” said Eric Gardner, leadership and team training specialist for Campus Recreation and Wellness. “But each one is distinct from one another, they’re unique. So groups get to do something new each time, and it’s a new challenge.”
Some low elements are simple exercises requiring little or no physical exertion. The element known as the teeter-totter is a large wooden platform with a fulcrum as its base. The objective for the team is to balance the teeter-totter with all team members standing on it. It is not a difficult element, but it does require a high level of communication within the group, as well as the ability to both lead and follow directions.
Safety first! A Challenge Course facilitator
belays a climber on the alpine tower.
Other low elements are more stressful, both physically and mentally. The wall is a twelve-foot-tall structure without any ropes or handholds, yet the group still has to find a way to get every member of their group over the wall and onto the platform above. It requires physical and mental strength, and builds upon the communication and leadership patterns established in previous exercises. The TDC, or team development course, is a series of elements set up in a linear fashion that tests a team’s ability to achieve multiple objectives.
With all of the low elements there are objectives to achieve—scaling the wall, balancing the teeter-totter—but the goal of each exercise may be far different. It is the manner in which a group achieves (or fails to achieve) the objectives that is more important than the objectives themselves.
“We are always talking about the process out here at the Challenge Course,” said Gardner. “End results are important, but I’ve seen groups do pretty well with an end result, when the process wasn’t very good. [The facilitator] is going to talk about the process with them, and they’ll come to the realization that ‘Yeah, we did it, but it was kind of ugly. We didn’t come together to accomplish the goal in the right way.’”
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