If you want to know how well your team works together, maybe you should try a little play.
That’s the lesson Jean Benoit hopes corporate groups will learn when they use Laurentian University’s new Tango Tower challenge course. Benoit is the manager of the university’s outdoor centre and the tower and puts together corporate training packages for the new tower.
The tower opened this spring and stands 50 feet off the ground. It consists of several sides with different obstacles on each: ropes and rope ladders, giant tires and wooden beams. Getting to the top is no easy feat physically or mentally, but there are accompanying challenges and activities including giant teeter-totters, low ropes, and space to simply run around.
The tower has been used for student field trips, bachelor parties and children’s birthday parties, but Benoit said corporate groups have become his favourite.
“It’s nice to get out of the office to do something different. They spend so much time with these people, but it’s always work-related,” said Benoit. “They’re just like kids — directors and important people, — it’s great to see them running around.”
While sessions for students or children are more focused on perseverance, self-image and self-esteem, corporate sessions hone in on the participants’ professional characteristics and feature teambuilding exercises.The sessions still feature fun and play, but the end goal is improved work relationships and environments.
Benoit said the one of the ways the exercises help coworkers is by giving them an experience to relate over, and that experience is getting out of their comfort zones, whatever that may mean to the individual. Their approach is based on the concept of “challenge by choice,” there is no pressure to complete any activity, and participants are encouraged to challenge themselves only to where they feel comfortable.
“People have different comfort zones. For some, they have to go to the top; for some people three feet off the ground is out of their comfort zone,” said Benoit. “We just want to get the team to have common ground.”
They also develop targeted outcomes to specifically build on something a business might want, like a challenge that gets the group to solve a dilemma to promote discussion and communication, having a team support a single climber as they ascend the tower to encourage trust.
Stephen Vrbanac and his team at Weaver Simmons took to the tower in June, and Vrbanac said it was a hit.
“The hope was to provide our staff with an opportunity to interact out of an office setting. We didn’t have very significant expectations in terms of teambuilding activities; however, the activities we engaged in were very effective in terms of having a good time an driving some positive outcomes,” said Vrbanac. “There were opportunities for staff to show leadership and an opportunity to work together on different tasks.”
“I think the climbing was the highlight — I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. It’s a lot harder than it looks,” said Vrbanac.
He said the team has good memories of the experience and would recommend it to other groups.
“It gives people an opportunity to interact and see each other as more than just fellow professional colleagues and makes for a healthier work environment,” said Vrbanac.
Benoit said they’ve had mostly local corporate groups, but some from North Bay, Gore Bay and Timmins have made use of the facilities during the downtime of a conference or convention.
The sessions cost $25 per person, and there needs to be a minimum of 12 participants.
Benoit said they will continue to grow their corporate offerings, with courses in canoeing, hiking and other outdoor activities geared towards teambuilding. But at the moment, demand is high and the tower is booked through September.
Fortunately, there’s always next year, and that’s what many visitors realize too.
“We’ll see you next year — that’s what people say when they leave,” said Bemoit.