The Team Training Center Challenge Course

The “right way” can be different for each group and it depends on the goal the group was trying to achieve. The process, or manner in which the team worked together to reach the objective, is paramount because it is what the Challenge Course is designed to strengthen. If a team gets the teeter-totter to balance, but they did so only because one team member dominated the exercise, and the actual goal of that exercise was to increase communication between group members, did the group really achieve its goal?

MBA students work together to lift a group
member through a rope web on the Challenge Course.

The flexibility of many of the elements on the Challenge Course is an important reason the course is so effective. The facilitators learn about their group during the field games and they use that knowledge on the low elements to push the group if they need to be pushed, or to pull back on some of the exercises if they feel the group isn’t operating at a sufficient level. Some ways in which facilitators can alter a course element is to dictate that a task be done in complete silence; vary the number of props, such as boards or ropes, a group can use to accomplish an objective; or create imaginary scenarios that affect the group’s ability to fulfill its objective.

Metaphors and imaginary scenarios keep the low elements fun and to increase the focus of the participants. It is one thing to tell a 20-year-old college student that he can’t touch the ground. It’s another to tell him that it isn’t the ground at all, but actually molten lava, and if he were to fall into it, he’d be gone and his team would have to accomplish the same goal with one fewer person.

“It’s a lot more perceived risk than real risk. And we can start talking about those real risks and those real consequences. These aren’t just logs and planks, we’re going to apply these metaphors to real life,” said Gardner.

It takes communication and teamwork
to overcome the obstacles on the low-element course.

It should also be noted that not every scenario is life or death. Some are just for fun and give a mundane task like standing very still on the teeter-totter a little more excitement. In the scenario the facilitators call “whale watch,” groups pretend that the teeter-totter is actually a boat in the ocean that they must keep very level and still, so as not to scare away the whales. It may sound far-fetched, but it works because facilitators use the field games to establish an atmosphere of fun and role-playing early in the day, which allows participants to take the scenarios seriously.

“We call our staff ‘facilitators’ because they facilitate the process of these individuals and groups coming together and improving their teamwork, trust, and communication,” said Gardner.

Facilitators are made up of both ECU students and community members. Student facilitators are usually associated with a major or course of study that deals with group dynamics, like the marriage and family program, recreational therapy, or organizational development. Not surprisingly, a number of retired ECU faculty have volunteered as facilitators at the course as well.

Depending on the length of the program, groups will follow the low elements with what are known as the high elements—the alpine tower and giant swing.

Standing 50 feet tall, the alpine tower is the culmination of the Challenge Course experience. Participants climb the tower using a variety of elements including swinging logs, ropes, cargo nets, and ladders. Elements range from easy to incredibly difficult. The increased physical demand, height, and problem solving required to plan an adequate route up the tower, combine to make the alpine tower the ultimate challenge.

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