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Do Your Homework

A challenge course can mean many things. Generally, it is defined as a series of noncompetitive activities involving obstacles or encumbrances, designed to allow participants to build positive social interaction and self-esteem. An obstacle course and a ropes course are two types of challenge courses. The latter can be built close to the ground, which is called a low ropes course and is usually monitored by spotting. A high ropes course, often built 20 feet or higher from the ground, uses static or dynamic belaying to ensure safety.

Here are questions to ask camp or conference center staff when selecting a facility that will provide you with a professional, value-added experience.

• Does your lead facilitator have experience working with groups like ours? The skills necessary to effectively lead a corporate group, for example, are more complex than a junior high group and require the facilitator to have a higher level of maturity.

• What steps does your camp or conference take to provide for participants’ safety? Perceived risk of challenge-course activities is often high, but actual risk is low because of the safety systems in place. Even so, the facilitator should have training in first aid and CPR. Camps should secure and review your group members’ medical histories prior to arrival so staff can screen participants for preexisting conditions that may place them at risk.

• How do your facilitators ensure that our group’s team-building goals are addressed? A needs assessment should be conducted prior to your arrival so your experience will address your goals.

Empowered for Unity    Printer friendly page

How camp challenge courses can build your team

by Tim Kidd, Ph.D.

John* came to the challenge course with a vision for his new store. At the end of the day, he addressed his department managers.

“My highlight for today was to step back and watch each of you shine during all the challenges we faced today. You were amazing! My vision for our store is to provide families outdoor equipment at a good value so they can spend quality team together in God’s creation. With each of us working together at the store like we did today, I feel confident we can have a positive impact on families in our area.”

Such stories of personal insight and renewed commitment to serve others are abundant among those willing to invest time, energy, and re-sources to build team unity through participation in challenge-course experiences.

Equipped to Move
Successful coaches know that practicing skills between games is imperative if they want to win, so their teams spend much more time practicing than competing. As corporate America embraces the competitive advantage inherent in high-performing teams, increasing numbers of managers have ventured beyond the concrete canyons to spend time in peaceful settings on challenge courses practicing teamwork with their associates.

Since the early 1960s, ropes courses have been used to help groups become better equipped to work together. Aircraft cable has replaced hemp rope as the construction material of choice on some elements, and these team-building sites are now more commonly referred to as challenge courses.

Today, about 550 organizations that are members of Christian Camp and Conference Association—more than half—provide challenge-course programming year round for guests of all ages. The settings afford a place of refuge that’s insulated from daily demands articulated through vibrating cell phones and computer pop-ups.

Team Power
Any group with a sincere desire to become a more effective unit will benefit from a team-building experience. Whether your group comprises church members preparing for a missions trip, corporate employees developing a product, or high school athletes warming up for a new season, time spent on a challenge course can empower your team.

Camps’ professional staff members are committed to guiding groups toward realizing their goals. Quality facilitators can conduct needs assessments in advance with your group’s leaders to identify appropriate objectives and tailor a program to meet your needs. Learning objectives might include increased levels of trust, improved communication skills, and enhanced mutual accountability.

The facilitator can creatively incorporate scriptural themes, such as the fruit of the Spirit, reinforcing biblical principles into challenge-course experiences. Your group can often choose between one-day team-building events and multi-day team retreats, incorporating optional recreational activities that can build on the challenge-course program.

Learned Behavior
If group unity can’t be taught, it certainly can be learned, and a challenge-course experience is an ideal setting. When group members recognize others’ unique talents and skills and commit themselves to trust one another to put forth their best effort toward accomplishing a common, significant purpose, increased unity often results.

Success in completing course tasks relies on each member’s full participation. While there’s a physical aspect to these initiatives, there are appropriate roles for each member to embrace. “Challenge by choice” encourages personal decisions regarding degree of participation while asking participants to step out of their comfort zones.

The power of these initiatives lies in the intentional reflection time—the debriefing—that the facilitator leads after each activity. Participants discuss what occurred, reflect upon the significance of the experience, and transfer learning to other life areas, especially related to the group. Facilitators often encourage members to identify metaphors from their experience that reveal new truths.

When you arrange for a challenge-course experience for your group, you’ll discover the insights that God may have waiting for you and your team as you learn firsthand the meaning of group unity.

* The name in this article has been changed.

Tim, a team-building facilitator for more than 20 years, has taught outdoor ministry students at John Brown University since 1999. He holds a graduate degree in divinity and a doctorate in educational studies.

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