Prairie View course aims to make teamwork fun

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
While most leaders agree that teamwork is critical to the success of an organization, finding the magic that makes a group “click” is often a challenge.

Prairie View’s Adventure Course on the Newton campus offers teams a way to build trust, cooperation, confidence and communication-and have fun at the same time.

The Adventure Course has 16 different outdoor stations, each featuring a specific obstacle or challenge, said John Simmering, director of Prairie View Process Solutions Group.

“What the Adventure Course is about is what’s called experiential education,” he said. “Basically it is a process where we can take whatever the challenges, goals and change objectives are and bring them into a sort of living laboratory-what we call the Adventure Course-where there is opportunity to really experience learning through the world of imagination and metaphor.”

The Adventure Course experience is tailored to each individual group, and the number of problems or challenges depends on the group and its goals.

“We’ll have different problems that groups are asked to solve or challenges for them to deal with,” Simmering said. “We set this up through imaginary scenarios-how to get from Point A to Point B as a group with limitations they have to work within.”

Simmering said the Adventure Course staff introduces the challenge, gives participants a time frame and encourages the group to “get busy solving it.”

It is the process that is important, he said, not the outcome.

“Our role is just to facilitate the process,” he said. “And then we debrief. We say, ‘What happened here? Here’s what we noticed as facilitators. What did you learn?'”

Once the debriefing is complete, the group moves on to the next station.

“We call it the ‘adventure wave,’ which comprises a briefing, the experience, then the debrief,” he said. “All through the day, we’ll go through a series of waves like that. Hopefully, it all ties together in terms of the goals they have.”

Simmering said the day begins with the development of a “full-value contract.”

“It’s a way of making very explicit and overt the values by which they want to operate as a class, group or community in working through this process. Then throughout the day, we remind them and hold them accountable to that,” he said.

The full value contract often lives on after the Adventure Course experience, Simmering said.

“Often as a reminder of the experience, they’ll take that full value contract they’ve created back into their school building or place of business and have it on a wall somewhere as a reminder,” he said. “And it’s their creation, which makes it all that much more powerful.”

Simmering said one standard component of the full value contract is what they call “challenge by choice” that recognizes and respects differences in how individuals perceive the various challenges they face.

“For one person to climb 10 feet up in the air on an element may be an appropriate challenge; for another person, it may be that 5 feet is the appropriate challenge,” he said. “It’s all relative depending on who we are. Part of working as a community or as a class is making explicit that we value the differences.”

Participants are challenged to get out of their comfort zones, but they set their own limits.

“Change always happens when you’re in that area of discomfort,” said Sandy Berg, a licensed professional counselor with Prairie View in Marion and Adventure Course facilitator. “But we don’t push people to the point where they’re in a panic.”

Simmering added, “A lot of times people, through the power of the group, are able to challenge themselves in ways they never could have imagined when they began the process.”

Although the Adventure Course is a group experience, Simmering said participants come away understanding more about themselves and their individual differences.

“That’s part of what makes a true team or a true community possible,” he said.

But the greatest benefit of the Adventure Course is its ability to draw people together and create a sense of team, Simmering said.

“Anytime you are able to help a class or a group achieve a sense of community, they really understand this is so much more comfortable, so much more effective, so much more valuing of who we are than if we’re competing with each other,” he said.

“The profound learning they typically have is they can do so much more together in terms of solving problems than any one person can do on their own,” he added.

All types of groups use the course, Simmering said.

“School groups, church groups, business organizations-really, it’s a very diverse set of customers.” he said.

Depending on the size of the group, it may be split into subgroups of no more than 12 people. Each sub-group is assigned an individual facilitator. All facilitators are trained and certified on the Prairie View course.

“We do training here and also send our staff to different training sites, particularly an organization called Project Adventure,” he said. “They’re really the founders of the whole adventure paradigm. They’ve trained any and everyone who’s in the business.”

Recently, the eighth-grade class from Peabody-Burns Junior High spent a day at the Adventure Course to wrap up a bully-proofing program conducted at the school through a Drug Free Community Support grant.

“The antidote to bullies is really about community building-valuing differences and finding our own voice for potential bullies as well as potential victims,” said Simmering. “Through this process, the group learned about assertive communication, diversity of voices and acquiring solutions to challenges they encountered.

“The value of experiential education is they’re not just hearing about it, they are actually experiencing it. And the learning curve is so much more accelerated.”

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