Yesterday was the ROPES Course team building activity with Valencia Honors. The mix of the day was a total of five major activities/elements thrown in, with a few smaller icebreaker activities interspersed throughout. I had the pleasure of going as a participant. The day started about 8:30 in the morning as bus pulled up to Valencia’s West Campus.

The facility was a short distance away, which to me, I would have thought originally that it would have had to have been much further outside of Orlando. Upon arrival to warm up the group of 22 students including myself, the facilitators had the group form a circle and proceeded to have us run through a few hand signs. (Without starting out explaining why). The first was ‘little’, with the thumb and index finger. The next were two hands on top the head, hand open, palm out, forming ears to signify bunny. The next element was a good strong walk, with hands moving, followed by scooping with the left or right hand like you were grabbing something, then finally the opposite hand came over and bopped it.

After being shown the concepts, then it was revealed the reason for those hand gestures.  As a group, keeping in sequence, sang, with gestures

Little bunny Foo Foo
Walking through the forest
Scooping up the field mice
And bopping them on the head

We went around several times, with those that might be needing work (slacking on singing or on the gestures were called into the middle to lead the group). The next warm up exercise was each member of the group split into partners, and the goal was to connect body parts, upon the third body part being called, (the group was made into an odd number), go and find another partner. The goal not to be the odd man out. At the end of that exercise, the group was properly warmed up, and ready for the day of exercises to begin.  The other elements of the day, I would say teach practical leadership principles, experientially.  Our total group of twenty two was divided into two groups of 11. The first element for my group was Islands in the Sea. We were given two boards, one long, one short with the goal of moving our entire group from the starting island, over several other islands, to the final island. The rules were along the lines of no Jumping, running or stepping on the grass. Once you started you could only make contact with the boards and you had to move those boards from position to position. (The islands were also varied sizes). The key aspects, that would be taught by this exercise specifically are key to being both a good leader and a good follower, being able to solve problems, come together as a team and work for a common goal. This includes good listening skills. Since you couldn’t bring your entire team out to a single island at any given time, those who were still hanging back, were spotting and encouraging those actively working on solving the puzzle. Those on the islands, would have had the decision to just completely disregard anything that was said by anyone else, or listen and consider and try to see if that solution would have helped solve the puzzle. Given time constraints, we didn’t complete the exercise, but I think by the end of the allotted time, the strategy was right, execution was where work was needed. Slowing it down and work through it.

The next exercise, was one of the high elements  (or higher). Climbing a Rock Wall. I’d be interested to see how many of you would think, that how is climbing a rock wall, a team-building, leadership training group activity? Since we were in a scenario where only one person could climb the wall at any given time.  Doesn’t that make it a personal challenge, of you against the wall? I have to say, after going through it not really. While it doesn’t require the same type of group cooperation as some of the other exercises. Directly involved in any individual climbers attempt, would have been two facilitators and three other students. One of those other students would have been assisting with a facilitator in getting you off the ground and helping to spot directly at the bottom of the wall, The other two were part of your belay team, one helping to anchor the primarily belay, the other helping to pay out the line. The other seven members of the team were cheering you on, suggesting potential handholds, and over all encouraging you, whether you made it to the top or not.  I think this exercise, really does emphasize, how with team work, even if it isn’t direct involvement, almost anything is possible, even if it was just you alone, you’d give up.

I know personally, it was not an easy task. Since I did have two false starts (having to come back down because of a loose helmet, and exhaustion on the second attempt) before resting awhile, and making it to the top. I am really glad that I did do it, and thankful for the support of my team :). I know in someways on the drive home, I was remembering one of the stories I had heard at Catalyst. The speaker was talking about when he was younger, and he went hiking with his father and his brother.  They made it to the visitors center at Mt. Rainer, for someone his age, it looked very attractive, and he really didn’t want to spend the work, or face the fear to climb the rest of the way higher up the mountain, so he asked his father to let him stay in the visitors center while the older brother and father went up the mountain, further. As the day progressed that visitors center got smaller, and smaller, the cool interactive displays, lost their luster in his eyes. On the ride home, the brother and father were chatting about the adventure and experiences they saw. The speaker realized by giving into that fear, of not trying, he really lost out on the experience.  I know the Spring before last, I had a similar experience, even though much shorter, on a honors trip to Universal. After that, I decided it wasn’t something I enjoyed either. I will admit, I do have a slight unease with heights, especially unenclosed heights, nor am I the most physical person in the world (and yes, since my body is telling me that QUITE LOUDLY today), but I did make it to the top :). Pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, right on the edge of my limit. That’s an accomplishment, that wouldn’t have been possible without, having a team to support and encourage. It would have been too easy if it was just me, to decide, nah I am fine without having the experience.

The Final element before lunch was as  group, without using our hands or arms move a Hula Hoop off and over a wooden pole and cones.  (probably about 10-12 feet total). With three simple rules including the not using the arms to move the hoop. The other two were if the hoop or a participant touched the pole or cones you had to start over. This one, we almost completed. Our final attempt before lunch, we got the hoop off and over, but we did have several people touch the pole. Since to get the hoop off and over, three of the lighter students (including myself) sat on the shoulders of other students, to give the necessary height). There was a part where it was trial and error, almost all the team members studying the problem, throwing ideas out there. As it progressed, we did start refining the process, until we reached that point. (We were lucky to have one of our team members be a former Junior Cheer Coach).

After Lunch, we started back with some refocusing exercises,  the first as a whole group, was a game of catch. With at twist. In a circle, we were instructed that the ball was our job, task, etc what ever we did or worked at. There were three simple rules, if you broke one you needed to remove yourself from the game. First. No Talking Two. No Bad Throws. Three. No Bad Catches.  The end point was to show how in our tasks  as leaders we may not necessarily have all the information, who determines what is a bad throw or a bad catch? Do you have the ethics to report yourself in a work group? Would you be working for the best of the team, or do you take on a competitive nature where you only look out for number one? Since there were a few people, who other members of the group thought they should have removed themselves and they didn’t so some of the debrief also touched on that.

We split back into our groups and went back into the field. Our next element, was another low element, to an extent. There were four islands. Two big ones on the North and South, and two smaller ones east and west.  The goal was to get everyone from the big island, where we started, to the other big island. The story was, the island we were on was inhabited by rabid armadillos, everyone on the island had been bitten at least once. We had enough medicine to inoculate everyone, once we were to our new home. So we had to get a certain dosage of the medicine (water) over to the new island as well. Between us and our new home was a channel with vicious man eating sharks.  No one on the team could die, otherwise the entire team would die, because each of us would have unique skill sets.  In the middle, of the channel was a rope swing, and two crates with a plastic PVC pipe in between. If the pipe was knocked into the water, the Sharks would wake up, and it would have the same result. Lessons learned, I think it continued to reinforce the problem solving and listening skills of a team, without necessarily going through the process, of electing leadership. So that means there were those who knew there skill sets leaned more toward athletic and being able to swing stepped up as catchers on the other island. There was a matter of listening and planning throughout the group. I know given the nature of swinging across the rope, it’s also where individual members had to deal with their own fear and comfort level in the task, and being encouraged by the other team members. Each person across was not only an individual victory but a team victory. What one of our other team members came up with for getting the medicine across, left us with more than we needed, and makes quite a picture!

The last exercise of the day, was one where the groups kinda came back together then split up again. What I personally find humorous, when I was talking with my dance instructor about this weekend before I left on Thursday, she described, the exact same activity she had taken place at when she went to Panther Camp @ FIU. Having the participants on a log, and having to arrange themselves. It’s the case with two teams, this also a communications challenge, in addition to having to be comfortable with being in very close contact with the rest of your teammates, as you send people one way or another on the log for the arrangements. The other team did succeed in their goal, of arranging everyone oldest to youngest. Our final challenge, but we ran out of time to try again, was to arrange from highest to shortest. The other option that was tossed around was Alphabetically by last name.

I know before I attended the course, I would have had my doubts, about how useful it would actually be,  since there are dissenting voices in the community about how practical it is in teaching leadership principles. I personally feel that it does meet that objective, it also works well, for organizations, where people don’t necessarily know each other well. (or as well as they could). I could picture especially, if you have a situation like with honors. A director that must work closely with their students and observe them well, to help mentor and guide them through the process. Some of that information cannot be gotten strictly through chatting, e-mails, or planning meetings.

Now one question might be, would I do a Ropes course again? Yes. But not for awhile… let my body recoup first. Since especially with that rock climb, there are the usual knicks on exposed body parts, but it is also very exhausting .  I know in someways, the more I learn, both experientially and in the classroom. It’s easy to see how so many fields are interconnected. I know in my mental prep for the Rock Wall, I was reviewing the checklist, I would if I were going to be dancing. So Preparing your self, connecting to the floor, connecting with your partner, and connecting with the music. (or close ;)). Since you do still have to prepare and take care of yourself first, before attempting most of these activities, that can include the typical one from Dance, at this point, Posture. It also includes mentally preparing your self. It really rolls from there, connecting with your environment, or the floor. Balance, looking outward beyond the mental, and base posture. The partner and the music are a little harder to do a direct cross over, but that really is connecting with the task at hand. So to continue with the Rock wall, that Wall is your partner. Hand hold to hand hold, step to step, to a beat, even though not quite as noticeable… (DON’T ask me about Rhythm ;)). Connecting with the music, with where I’d say they both roll in, is action, do the task.

If the organization you’re a part of has the chance to do a ROPES course, I would highly recommend it. If not, why not take up Ballroom Dancing, lower impact, it also teaches many great leadership skills, both to be a good leader and a good follower. Since I would agree with my intro to leadership text, to be an effective leader, the skill sets are really similar to those for being an effective follower. “Effective followers think for themselves and carryout assignments with energy and enthusiasm.  They are committed to something outside their own self interest, and they have the courage to stand up for what they believe. Good followers are not “yes people” who blindly follow a leader. Effective leaders and effective followers may sometimes being the same people, playing different roles at different times. At it’s best, leadership is shared among leaders and followers, with everyone fully engaged and accepting higher levels of responsibilities. ” (The Leadership Experience, Daft  6) .

That actually is a good place to close, that last line, I think was well met. If you’re interested in seeing more of the pictures the URLs are below. Please do comment, ask questions, interact. While part of this, journaling, will be for me personally. I do need and love input.

Valencia ROPES Gallery 1
Valencia ROPES Gallery 2