Enhance Your Team Building Efforts with Portable Ropes Courses

By Cheri Torres


The absolute best and surest way to teach somebody something is to provide a metaphor or in some way link the new concept to an already known concept. Teamwork can be quite abstract for individuals who have spent their lives living by such limiting beliefs as "I've got to do it myself if I want to be successful," or "It's a dog-eat-dog world."

Historical models of rugged individualism and fierce inner-corporate competition have given way to the appreciation that we are interrelated and that each of us effects the ability of the whole to thrive and grow. Such understanding has paved the way for organizations to recognize the need for teamwork-within departments, within projects, and within an entire organization.

The challenge remains-how to retrain the mind to think "team" instead of "me." This is where a low ropes course is worth its weight in gold! A low ropes course is a set of experiential activities designed so that the whole group must work together-communicating, trusting, supporting one another, thinking creatively, planning, and following through-in order to succeed. Low ropes activities are fun and typically non-threatening. People of all ages and abilities can participate equally.

Skilled facilitation following each activity is what supports the lessons of teamwork. After completing an activity the whole group has a shared experience of what it means to work as a team; they have the experience and the knowledge of what worked and what did not. During the debrief, carefully crafted questions lead participants to fully understand the impact of their learning. They are encouraged to draw parallels to the workplace and make the connections directly to their relationships with colleagues.

An example might help.

  • The challenge: The team must cross a polar ice cap. Their only means of transport are two huge skis with ropes attached. They must go as one group.

  • The experience: They must move in unison, each team member lifting and moving each foot at the same time; one uncooperative person and they do not go anywhere. (Imagine seven people all on one pair of cross country skis!) A leader must emerge, one that can give clear concise directions that everyone understands and agrees to follow; if everyone is shouting directions, no one knows what to do. As the team goes through the standard stages of group dynamics (forming, norming, storming, and performing), they eventually rise to the challenge and move with precision across the floor or ground.

  •  The reflection: The debrief focuses on the skills and techniques they used to succeed. The discussion finds the team clarifying good leadership qualities, emphasizing the value of cooperative effort, sharing communication styles and needs, and recognizing the value of trust and support.

  • The Application/Transfer: After the issues have been discussed, the team then begins to talk about how these topics are related to the workplace, how they can implement changes at work based upon their experience. Specific commitments and team plans may be made regarding how they will work as a team. They may decide how they will implement certain projects, specify revamping of an office procedure, or come to a group agreement about how they will communicate and cooperate. Where this goes really depends upon the outcome you are after for the group; that is what guides the application stage.

A ropes course is an experiential learning tool; people learn body, mind, and spirit. They get the lessons at the cellular level, which is what is needed if true change in behavior is needed. Skilled debriefing helps group members reflect on their previous limiting beliefs and see how teamwork can support their dreams and aspirations.

Traditional ropes courses are found in the woods, they consist of cables and beams strung between trees or telephone poles. Teams travel to these stationary sites for their ropes course experience. There are also professional portable ropes courses, which offer all of the same benefits with the added bonus that these courses can be done anywhere, anytime. Professional train-the-trainer programs are offered so that you can learn to facilitate your own portable ropes course or programs can be structured for your organization by skilled adventure facilitators.