Thursday, 11 August 2011

Tales of the Team Building Day

Now, we’ve already built a strong team that work well together so for us it shouldn’t really be called a “Team Building Day”. It should be called “See-your-team-mates-outside-the office-and-what-they’re-really-like Day”.  Needless to say, we all became closer and it was a worthwhile day to strengthen the team, but boy did we have fun as well. 

We decided to book a day of team challenges and tasks with Priory Events in a wonderful spot in the country in Nutfield, Surrey. Our first task was to keep our fingers and toes crossed the whole of the day and night before, wishing that the torrential rain would clear and that the sun would reign and cast its rays on the fields and rolling hills of Nutfield. Mission accomplished. It was a glorious day. 

We failed on the second task: finding the right place. However, we did ALL end up at the same incorrect spot so in the spirit of the day at least it was a team effort. 

We followed the smell of sizzling bacon and went in our cars on convoy to The Barn where we were divided into our teams and briefed on the day. Rest assured the smell we followed was bacon sandwiches and not a pig rubbing in tanning oil with its trotters and basking in the scorching sun. (I apologise to vegetarians now)

The first (real) task was an icebreaker in which we had to pass each member of the team through a loop of rope. Apparently we could do it in 1 second less than the number of people on the team. So for a team of 5, we should be able to do it in 4 seconds. We deal with complex problems every day, but this blew our minds. How on earth where we going to do it? I know you’re meant to encourage your team members in scenarios, but the first suggestion on our team (and I shall mention no names) was utterly ridiculous. There was no way that if we sat on each other’s shoulders and passed the rope over two people at a time that it would work, especially bearing in mind that we’re a bunch of people working in a technology company and certainly not gymnasts. I didn’t want anyone to die (although this almost happened again, read on to find out how…) and another minor worry was what our insurance would cover and wouldn’t cover if we accidently formed a noose with the rope and inadvertently strangled a staff member. As we’re now in the Magic Circle of Team Building Events, I can’t share with you how we did it but with the whole team working together we managed to complete the task in 2 seconds less than the number of people. 

Then it was the Nuclear Reactor challenge. The aim of this activity was to place the highly sensitive core (plastic tube) inside the nuclear reactor (barrel). The core’s alarm was triggered if moved suddenly or tilted too far. The layout of the activity has an inner, & an outer square. And there are items the group can use to get the core into the nuclear reactor. 

Right, they told us all that information beforehand. What they didn’t tell us was that when you’re in the outer square, building the contraption to somehow deposit the core into the reactor in the inner square, you’re blindfolded. So, only two people were in the outer square at one time in the dark and the rest were guiding them. Now the lesson learnt here was that it is very hard to guide someone when no-one knows what the solution is. There were so many items to choose from yet we knew there was a simple solution. That was the most frustrating thing. That and the fact that most children succeed in this task but only a small percentage of adults do. The time was up and we were on our way to building Sputnik but the core still sat next to us. The simple solution incorporated two pieces of rope and an elastic band that has been tied to a jug. Most adults think that the elastic band and the jug have to be used as one. As soon as we were told, there was a Mexican Wave as everyone lifted their hands and smacked their forehead. 

A few slurps of tea and we were back out in the fields. This time we were building bridges. We all thought we build Bridges as our business, albeit migration Bridges, and if there’s any task we should be able to succeed in, this was it.  Turns out, it wasn’t so easy. I won’t go into the details of the task, but this really showed us that we had to decide on a plan of attack as a team and then if the plan was revised, it had to be communicated to the whole team. Something I know we do in the office, but in the field, literally, it all fell apart; as did Team 2’s bridge. Team 1 was slightly better but a little unsteady. Confidence knocked and worrying that if the floods came we wouldn’t even be able to build a bridge never mind an arc, we went back to the barn for lunch. 

There was sense of determination in the afternoon as we gathered for the brief on the next activity: The Satellite Challenge. Great I thought -we’d already built Sputnik in our previous task. We were in our two teams and armed with sat-navs and a list of waypoints and sent off into the Surrey countryside to find different clues and collect various items on the way including something beginning with K, which kept me thinking “K, K, K…” the whole of the task. I desperately wanted caterpillar, cone, clump-of-mud all to begin with K. Team 1 had a lovely stroll over the meandering hills and down country lanes finding the different clues. I’m sure at one point butterflies were dancing round us. It was a peaceful walk to walk off lunch and we chatted and laughed. The only moment we really sped up was when we discovered we’d walked onto the shooting range. It only felt like a slight twist in our Famous Five adventure and then we were back on track. Team 2’s, who had slightly different waypoints, trip was less like an Enid Blyton novel and more like something out of Lost. 

Treacherous terrain, nettles grabbing at their ankles, hiking up and down hills, mysterious bits of rope leading them to the clues… It was amazing that we all got to the same area at the same time, looking for the penultimate clue.  Both teams kept quiet about finding our clues as we walked surreptitiously back to the car park – the known end point. We could see Team 2 across the field and the turened to walk behind a dividing hedge. They were slightly ahead and so we seized the opportunity to gain some ground and so we started running back to the car park. But they spotted us as they emerged into the clearing and started running too. The race was on. Team Building? Screw them, we were getting in first. Sprinting over the fields, the Chariots of Fire music started only interrupted by shouting on at our team mates to run faster (I can only apologise, I was caught up in the moment). Team 1 won the task and gained a head start on the next task but it didn’t help us at all as Joe explains… 

The funniest part of my day was the transport up the hill section where we had two sets of huge ski-like paddles which had foot loops and handles. Each team had 5 members on the skis and we had to march our way up the slight hill. I found this hilarious due to the fact the Ajay on the other team was falling over every couple of seconds and the fact that me laughing was putting Fiona off. The more she shouted at me to stop laughing the harder I laughed. I ended up laughing for the whole duration of the task but of course we still won! Needless to say Ajay spent more time on the floor than he did on the skis.

Now, the finale task was the most adventurous. The stakes were great and the risks were high. We were the Pirates of Priory and we had to reclaim some treasure which was the other side of the large pond. Yep, it was the good ole raft building challenges where teams pull together the skills they have learnt from the day to build a raft and then fly their flag to the other side of the pond get the key and come back to a hero’s welcome as their team claps and woops them in so that they can run to the treasure chest and open the box. Soo, didn’t quite work that way for us. 

Both teams worked out a plan. We communicated ideas and bound the barrels and wood together to make a raft. I was chuffed when the instructor told us ours looked “structurally sound”. Turns out, it’s not the quantity of rope you use, it’s how tightly you tie it. We put our raft in the water and Ajay (who eventually realised he had put on a child’s lifejacket) and I were the nominated and willing members of Team 1 who followed the raft into the pondweed and sludgy waters. We were on the raft for about 4 seconds when it started to dismantle. Now, if a Team Building day doesn’t bond you to your team mates, untangling them from rope as they see their life flash before their eyes will do. So moral, of the story – bond with your team mates but don’t bond them to the raft. 

Meanwhile, the other team had put their raft into the water. Fiona, our Product Delivery Manager for training, showed a different side by firmly telling our apprentice Joe not to be a wimp and get his trainers wet.  Alex and Derek had jumped in and mounted their upside down raft. It seemed to work but not as buoyant as one might expect a raft to be.  So instead of a dash to the key, Alex and Derek punted over to other side at such a pace, their team member’s sitting on the bank almost forgot about them. Team 1 built an “emergency raft” (no emergency biscuits available – The Apprentice fans will get this) with the help of the instructor which was finished just as the other team came back to “shore” and opened up the treasure chest. All that hard work for nothing; I took the raft out for a spin anyway. 

A couple of people wet, a few burnt and all smiling. It was a brilliant day and although not a model team building day, we definitely grew closer as a team.

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