June 2010, Obstacle Course
This is a classic team building exercise. (We used to refer to this as the "Minefield," but in recent years have preferred the simple name of obstacle course.) It is worth sharing again, as we never seem to run out of opportunities and applications for this great activity. It is truly powerful in highlighting the challenges of communication. It can provide excellent insights into the importance of trust and trust buidling within groups.
There are many variations of this initiative but the objective is essentially the same. The purpose is to get through the obstacle course, without touching any of the objects (hazards).
- Select an adequate space (in-doors or outdoors)
- Set you course up beforehand if possible
- Create your course by scattering objects all over your designated area.
- Simply use a rope as a boundary or place cones at the corners of the area.
- Good objects can include hula hoops, rope or yarn, beach balls, bean bags and even paper plates. Tennis balls work fine but realize that they are more dangerous if a person steps directly on one.
Next, organize your group into pairs and instruct one in each pair to put on a blindfold. It will be the sighted person's job to guide the blindfolded partner through the obstacle course without touching an object. The sighted person may either be allowed on the course next to their partner, giving them an arm for support, or you may have the sighted guide stand outside the designated playing area. Once they have made it through the course have them switch roles and try again. You can quickly rearrange the course if you want. Remember, the density of the obstacles determines the difficulty level. Another variation is to set your course up in a circle formation and have partners stand across the circle from each other. This creates the added dimensions of focus, distractions, and nobody to hold on to! It also can be set up so that the team could work together to get across. When an object is touched, create a consequence such as taking a step or two back, start over, etc. Emphasize quality in the process!
- Evaluate your group before laying out the course. Balance is a key factor here. Very overweight, older people, and those with injuries may have trouble balancing. Also, remember that balls can cause an ankle sprain. Caution people not to step on the balls and not to kick them into someone else's path.
- Caution the blindfolded people to be careful what they do with their hands. If they get excited, and tend to talk with their hands, they may hit someone else who is trying to cross the course at the same time.
- Facilitators should be roving throughout the group trying to listen to the conversations occurring.
Communication -- process points seem endless around the theme and challenge of communication.
What was your beginning communication process like?
How did you calibrate communication as you went?
What would have helped or improved your communication?
What are similar challenges of communication in your workplace, day-to-day?
To what degree was support from your partner important to success and/or progress?
Descibe the support you received and how did it help?
Was the support physical, verbal, other? Describe.
In your work, what types of support lend themselves to effectiveness of the team? How are you achieving that?
To what extent was trust a factor in the exercise?
How did you build trust with each other?
At work, is trust within your group important? Explain. Provide examples.
In addition to instruction and support, were you receiving any positive reinforcement as you went?
To what degree did that impact your performance?
How did it feel to successfully get to the other side of the course?
Were any of you celebrating and feeling good about the success?
At work, is it important to celebrate success? Describe and explain.
Give some example of when celebrating gave the team a needed boost.