Zipping Your Way to Team Building

Project Team Building ExerciseAuthor: Kristi Barker-Vallinayagam

Her heart was pounding. Her palms were sweaty and she couldn’t even get the gloves on to hold the line. She must have been thinking to herself; how did she ever talk herself into doing this in front of her team? She signed off on going 65 feet down a zip line for the weekend retreat but now was having some major misgivings. What if the line snapped? Was the harness makes her butt look big? Would she scream too loud? Would they laugh at her, not with her?  Would she lose their respect?

Leslie, a team leader had brought her team on a team building retreat.  One of the exercises at this retreat was based on trust. You had to ride a zip line and while placing your trust in your partner. Your partner (a coworker) would help set the tension and lag on your line. You had to trust them as your zip line was in their hands.  Leslie chose to go first since she was the leader and wanting to lead her group in this trust exercise.  Tom (tech lead) was going to be her partner and he would set the tension.  He looked as nervous as she felt.  As she stood on the platform looking down 65 feet, at that moment, she trusted him and knew he wanted to do his best and make her ride successful.  After her wind-filled, stomach-in-your-throat thrill of lifetime experience, she could hear her team screaming and cheering and wrangling to go next… she was hoping it was for the ride and not to just get down from the hill for that glass of cabernet.

Why Zip?

Team building is crucial to an effective team and one element of team building that I feel is being over looked. Due to budgetary and time constraints many companies are opting out of this important tool to building a productive and successful team. You don’t have to do an offsite weekend retreat but you can find ways to build your team with a budget in mind.

Some Creative and Cheap Project Team Building Ideas:

Celebrate accomplishments, birthdays or after work casual function allows your team time to relate and feel appreciated. If you want to build a tight knit team then they must trust each other and it’s essential to have some outside socializing.  You simply understand your team better and communication can become more effective between coworkers even if it’s just discussing the Giants (Go Giants) or their children it breaks the ice and communication will flow more readily.  You learn to relate to your coworker rather than just thinking they are the annoying person setting deadlines or asking your help.  Why is team building important for teams and companies to reach their goals? A five letter word that all teams need to embody – Trust!

Why Make Time for Project Team Building Activities?

Most people are skeptical of unknowns… including people. We tend not to trust.  A team and the leader need to build trust by showing and proving it.  Leaders need to gain commitment to a project /company and by building a solid team that trust each other which is a key ingredient to success.   To foster collaboration you have to create the climate of trust and working respectful relationships.

A leader’s mission is to create a value that didn’t exist before…. Leaders cannot accomplish this by themselves. They need a team that can understand and respect the leader’s vision and mission but before the team can do that the leader must communicate that vision and mission goals and keeping the companies goals present.  The leader must align the project work with the needs of the organization but more importantly they must communicate that to their team so that they are all working toward common goals and rewards.

Leslie tried to create a bond with her team at the weekend retreat.  She zipped her way to trust and discussed her vision and goals.  She needed to articulate her plan. A plan is everything in a project. She knew it and needed to convey that to her team and have them give her feedback.   The next exercise was going to be a challenge for her team.   They had to pair up again and construct a bridge across a river (really it’s a creek) with rocks whatever they can find in nature.   Each team had to plan and construct their own bridge in a set time period and reach the other side for lunch again this was a great exercise and demonstration to the team how important planning is to the project and working together to a common goal.

Communicate Your Intent:

Leslie feels three things are important to good leadership and what she was trying to accomplish with her retreat.




These values were the basis for the retreat for this team.  Leslie covered three important issues that can derail a team during the retreat to give awareness.  She understands she has to be consistent with her goals. Humans are hard wired to follow consistent behaviors.   Goals have to be consistent with the company’s mission. Leslie must maintain credibility with her team and have realistic timetable for the project.  If she is inconsistent that can derail her team’s progress.

A timetable that is not possible (or simply delusional) will not motivate them or yield success. The leader has to be conscious of realistic timelines. The team leader must set and advocate realistic timelines for the project.  Leslie’s team can derail if she doesn’t effectively communicate her expectations for the project and of her team’s performance.  The team needs to understand and have clarity regarding the expectations of a project and their leader.  Leslie has learned that she must be transparent in her communication.

Team Building Showstoppers

Leslie outlined during the retreat the 3 “derailers” for their project:

-Lack of consistency

-Lack of creditability

-delusional timelines

Leslie closed her retreat with a challenge to her team and words to encourage their hearts. I think she is on track to successfully zip her team to their goals.

About the author: Kristi Barker-Vallinayagam is a student in the UCSC Extension at Silicon Valley – Project Leadership and Communication Fall 2010 online course.


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