Adventure TeambuildingMarch 1, 2016

How Physical Challenges Help Teams Finish Strong on the Job By
March 1, 2016

Adventure Teambuilding

How Physical Challenges Help Teams Finish Strong on the Job
Working as a team, rafters navigate the rapids in New River Gorge in West Virginia. Credit: Adventures on the Gorge

Working as a team, rafters navigate the rapids in New River Gorge in West Virginia. Credit: Adventures on the Gorge

Tools of the successful corporate meeting planners and teambuilders in the 21st century often include several cans of bug spray, sun screen and possibly a few tubes of Bengay.

While traditional, indoor activities still serve a purpose in bringing co-workers together for better understanding and productivity, more and more companies are recognizing the benefits of getting outdoors and getting physical to motivate their employees.

Indeed, in some circles, the term “teambuilding” is passé, reflecting a corporate culture that may be out-dated and out of touch with its employees. As more millennials enter the workplace, it is more important than ever to develop activities and events that make the concept of teambuilding about something else entirely.

A number of recent studies and reports indicate that millennials are not the self-absorbed, technology-addicted generation as many had originally identified them. They are individuals who appreciate interpersonal relationships in the workplace and beyond, who recognize the value of their community.

Combined with a continued emphasis on wellness in the workplace, an event that combines components of teambuilding, community service and energetic activities can serve multiple purposes for employees and their supervisors.

Teambuilding With a Purpose

That’s one reason Harry Moseley, chief information officer at the New York office of KPMG, an international audit, tax and financial advisory firm, pushed for a greater company presence in the 100-mile America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Although quite scenic, it’s equally challenging both mentally and physically.

“Cycling for LLS is all about mental and physical endurance. … We are then able to bring that to work and apply it when we encounter a project, a challenge or a large task at hand.”
— Harry Moseley 

The cycling team has 15 members based in the New York and New Jersey offices who train together on a regular basis throughout the year. In the winter months they take indoor spin classes together. When the weather is appropriate, they are out and about all over the tri-state area.

Team members’ ages range from about 30 years old to 60 years old. Some are training for their first endurance cycling event and others have years of training and experience. More teams represent other KPMG officers around the country. The cycling teams raised $52,000 in 2015.

“Cycling for LLS is all about mental and physical endurance, and our regular training sessions allow that endurance to become a part of us,” says Moseley. “We are then able to bring that to work and apply it when we encounter a project, a challenge or a large task at hand. It also helps us be goal-oriented and work better as a team.”

That cycling is both an individual and team sport translates well to the teambuilding aspect of this charitable event. Pacelining, a common technique in competitive cycling, requires the team to ride in a line so that the front person encounters the most wind resistance and therefore saves energy for the rest of the team riding behind him. Pacelining can increase a rider’s efficiency by as much as 30 percent, meaning the team, when working together properly, can go that much farther and faster.

“During the ride, we rotate who is in front of the paceline, each sacrificing a little bit of our individual energy for the benefit of the rest of the team,” Moseley says. “It helps us finish faster and stronger, and helps us realize that sometimes a little individual sacrifice can go a long way in helping a team accomplish its goals.”

Riding alongside the KPMG team are cancer survivors, family members of those affected by cancer, people who know and fully understand their purpose in participating in this event. It becomes an emotional experience for everyone involved that lasts long after the ride each June.

Such experiences easily translate to the workplace: goalsetting, teamwork to approach a challenge at hand, individual sacrifice for the greater good.

And here’s a story that Moseley likes to share about a conversation he overheard between a coworker in the office and a rather young employee who had participated on the ride. “It was amazing. I was riding next to one of our partners up this nasty hill, and guess what, he was panting and sweating just like me.”

Moseley likes that the cycling event bonds people in the company and makes everyone just a little more approachable. “This makes people realize we are all the same, and whether you are a senior or a junior at a company, we are all human.”

Most employees pay for their travel to the Lake Tahoe event and combine it with a family getaway, therefore no one at KPMG is responsible for coordinating travel or other details for this important corporate function. The LLS organization assists in shipping bicycles and other arrangements on the ground in Nevada.

Multiple Choice Activities

For a number of years, employees at Numeric Investors in Boston were treated to a pleasant, but passive activity like a day-long cruise in the waters around Boston as a reward for their hard work. But looking to offer more invigorating activities, this past August, Numeric’s President Shanta Puchtler suggested that office manager Sophie Lakew reach out to Jeanne Rummel at Great Freedom Adventures for fresh ideas on teambuilding and rewarding employees.

The result was a choice of cycling, kayaking, walking and sailing in the scenic coastal community of Newburyport, about an hour north of Boston. In order to keep the office open during the week, the 74-person staff chose one of two days to participate. They also were permitted to choose their activity.

“From my perspective, getting staff to decide what they wanted to do and then have them change their minds was the biggest challenge, but everyone was quite excited at the opportunities, so it really wasn’t that much of a problem,” says Lakew, who is assistant to the president.

During the hour-long bus ride from Numeric’s office in the Financial District of Boston to Newburyport, employees participated in get-to-know-you type activities where everyone opened up about hobbies, favorite vacation destinations and quirky family habits. Although such activities are common low-tech teambuilding techniques, it had been several years since these staff members had taken part in such an experience. The anticipated bonding and mutual understanding were almost automatic and readily apparent.

Once in Newburyport, the bus dropped participants at various locations to begin their adventure. Great Freedom Adventures made all the arrangements for bikes, kayaks, guides, maps, etc., and a predetermined rendezvous point for lunch.

Although some chose a strenuous day, such as the 23-mile bike ride, others walked, talked and rested on the beach. After lunch on the waterfront, the group then boarded a sailboat for an afternoon of relaxation, conversation and snacks. Everyone was back home in Boston by 7 p.m. so that evening family time was not interrupted.

When planning an event as physically active as Numeric’s outing — especially when employees go in different directions — it’s important to bring everyone together in the end: Continue to have a little fun with an informal awards ceremony or an activity that continues sharing between the various entities. It’s important to end on a high note.

“We had such a stressful year that we wanted to allow everyone to have some fun and relieve the stress,” says Lakew, and according to her boss, Shanta Puchtler, the schedule worked well.

“It was perfect for fostering camaraderie and team bonds and for giving everyone a chance to have fun doing these outdoor activities,” says Puchtler.

The summer outing was so successful that Numeric’s Boston office has hosted smaller events throughout the year. A monthly Trivia Night with food catered in the office at the end of the day or a FAB outing — Friday Afternoon Beer — continues to solidify the bonds that developed in a kayak or on a bicycle last August.

“It opened everyone up to the idea that the people they work with can be a lot of fun,” says Lakew.

Similar activities could be well-received for company family days, but for an effective teambuilding experience, the event should be during the week and with employees only. Spending time with colleagues out of the office is the goal.

“When planning a meeting like this, you have to plan for a range of ability levels based on the physical condition of those you’re working with,” says Rummel at Great Freedom Adventures. “We always have at least two guides with each cycling or kayaking group so that one person can move ahead with the more energetic participants and another stays with the more leisurely participants.”

A “sag” wagon or support vehicle is always nearby to connect with anyone who needs assistance or just tires out. And with any outdoor activity, a back-up plan in case of inclement weather is a necessity. Keeping it energetic at an indoor fitness facility is a must.

Connecting With Nature

The New River Gorge in West Virginia is one of the most scenic and adventurous destinations in the eastern half of the United States. More than 50 miles of the New River are protected as a National River, one that carves the deepest and longest canyon in the Appalachian Mountains. At more than 875 feet above the river, the New River Gorge Bridge is one of the highest bridges in the world, from which people rappel and base-jump. And, not for the faint-hearted, there are guided Bridge Walk tours on a narrow catwalk 851 feet above the river.

Adventures on the Gorge is the company that makes these daring activities happen for individuals and corporate groups. Among the adventures are white-water rafting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, caving, zip lining and stand-up paddleboarding.

A financial advisor in Cincinnati has been bringing his coworkers to this part of southern West Virginia, just four hours away, for nearly 40 years. He likes the wilderness experience here and the comparisons that can be made to their work investing other people’s money.

“When we’re rafting, everyone gets a paddle and everyone is responsible for helping the guide get us through the rapids,” he says. “It’s the same thing with investing. We are the guides, but we need to make sure our clients have a paddle in the water and help us go where they need to go.”

These are concepts the financial group discusses when they gather for dinner at the Paddle House, one of several lodging options in this national park community. Plenty of meeting rooms and gathering spaces, indoors and out, can accommodate any degree of formality the company requires.

A new 5,000-sf conference center is expected to open in August 2016. With a variety of small group meeting spaces, the conference center’s design reflects the architecture of many national park structures with a woodsy interior, timber-frame elements and accordion windows that will allow meeting attendees to feel like they are a part of nature even when they are meeting inside.

Not every visit this financial advisor makes with his team members is as high energy as white-water rafting. He finds a great deal of benefit in separating the group into smaller groups of just two or three individuals and finding a quiet spot for fishing.

“Cell phones don’t work here, and sometimes we don’t even talk to each other,” he says. “We watch deer come to the river for a drink of water; we hear birds that we’ve never heard before; and just listen to the sound of the leaves blowing in the trees. It’s magical.”

The Cincinnati financial advisor chooses Adventures on the Gorge because one phone call results in the planning for all activities, meals, lodging and other needs, coordinated under one bill. He also recognizes that West Virginia as a destination is less expensive than destinations within a similar driving distance from their home base.

“Even when the economy was tight, we didn’t cut this activity, because I believe it is some of the best money we can spend all year,” he says. “When people have time to spend with each other, when they connect with common experiences and Mother Nature, it manifests itself in decency and respect.”

Not every company will see immediate changes, but this financial advisor has been participating in outdoor teambuilding for so many years, he knows that it works. “It’s a gradual process for some individuals and some offices, but I always note that we function better after we’ve been out together.” I&FMM

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