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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Team-building tools effective, November 10, 2006, 2D.

Effective and productive teams work together well.  Effective teams are composed of members who trust each other and who collectively work together overcoming problems and difficulties in pursuit of their goals.  Important skills like communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, influence, teamwork, and leadership are needed for groups to perform at their maximum.

Groups and teams are made up of individuals—the two cannot be separated.  Confidence and a desire to excel in individual members typically results in groups that are confident and willing to achieve high levels of performance.  Through the success that they gain accomplishing individual challenges, members support, encourage, and prompt their teammates on to higher levels of performance and confidence.

It should be the goal of every manager and organizational leader to have teams that perform well and that are made up of members who trust and support each other.  Such teams can be developed within organizations through on-the-job experiences and/or in-house training programs.  Training can also occur in a variety of off-the-job arenas.  One popular and successful program for developing critical teamwork, leadership, and organization skills is through outdoor ropes challenge courses.

Typically, ropes challenge courses have two sets of activities—low elements and high elements.  Low elements challenges include activities that require individuals to work together to solve and complete assigned tasks.  Helping team members across a self-constructed bridge, arranging members by birthday while standing on a log, and guiding teammates on blindfolded trust walks are some of the activities that help promote trust, cooperation, and teamwork.  For groups that are more adventurous, ropes challenge course facilitators can guide teams through trust falls (where members fall backwards off of a small tower into the arms of their teammates) or activities that involve getting teammates up and over a wall.  Low elements activities foster and promote teamwork, trust, communication, problem solving, and other important group and leadership skills.

High ropes challenge course elements involve leaving the comfort of the ground to individually climb up and traverse telephone-like poles and cables 30-40 feet up in the air or climbing a tower and rappelling back down—while securely harnessed to safety lines.  The challenge for individuals on high ropes elements is to mentally overcome the anxiety that comes from being off the ground.  The rewards that individuals receive from completing high elements challenges include a sense of accomplishment from succeeding at something that seemed difficult, overcoming fears, and stretching personal limits and expectations.

The Abilene area is fortunate to have several nearby ropes courses.  Camp Tonkawa and Camp Butman, both right outside of Abilene, have high and low elements courses as well as the Texas 4-H Center in Brownwood and the Big Country Baptist Assembly in Lueders.  Abilene I.S.D. maintains a local low elements course.  For an unusual, fun, and “out of the box” teamwork and leadership development experience, consider taking a group to a ropes challenge course—you will find it well worth the time and energy invested.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved