Teambuilding: Monkey business

The recruitment team from AstraZeneca, resplendent in their corporate T-shirts, were obviously starting to regret winning Personnel Today’s reader competition for five ‘lucky’ HR professionals to join us on a teambuilding adventure high in the treetops of Berkshire’s beautiful Swinley Forest. The Personnel Today team, too, were clearly having second thoughts as our instructor took us through our safety training.

“This is a high-risk activity,” he began earnestly, “but following these safety procedures will minimise the chance of injury or death.”

Death? We’ve got award-winning HR magazines to publish, and the AstraZeneca team have talented chemists to employ. Death would be highly inconvenient for all involved. So we quickly resolved to avoid it if at all possible and pay close attention to the briefing.

GoApe, which has sites around the UK, is a woodland obstacle course of rope bridges, ‘Tarzan’ swings and zip slides high above the forest floor. The practice course is only 2m off the ground, but it still caused trembles, shrieks and involuntary swearing from the more vertiginous of our party.

And as we each awkwardly crash-landed into the pile of woodchippings at the end of the training run, we quickly concluded that, even if our bodies remained largely intact at the end of the challenge, our dignity would not. Tree bark can get into the most unlikely of bodily orifices.

The course proper is a good 10m up in the air – four ‘walkways’ of narrow logs, ropes, wires, trapezes, stirrups and other seemingly impossible aerial obstacles, all graded according to difficulty, from green (simple) to black (very, very tricky). It requires three hours of concentration, balance, body strength and bravery.

The tall and athletic Karen Wilthew of AstraZeneca was first up the rope ladder and on to the starting platform without hesitation. And although her height proved rather disadvantageous on some of the ‘bridges’, she confidently led the tentative party of 11 (including our heroic photographer Christopher Woods) safely across to the first of the 150m-plus zip slides.

Our team of adventurers freely shared advice on each new test. “Try splaying your feet out on the wire,” “Support your weight with your armpits,” and “Keep up your momentum,” were all early suggestions. There was a nervous humour and a co-operative rapport as the teambuilding aspects of the challenge came to the fore.

For some of us the zip slides were the highlight of the GoApe experience. They signalled the end of each tricky section and brought us back down to earth – admittedly with a whiplash-inducing bump. But they also required us to step off the platform and put our trust completely in the cords and carabinas designed to prevent those aforementioned fatal plunges. And as such, some team members were less keen.

But the power of peer pressure is unerringly strong, and, along with plenty of generous team-mate encouragement, it undoubtedly helped everyone to complete every adrenaline-pumping step of the course. The team overcame private fears with a minimum of hesitation and fuss, and always to applause and cheers.

There was universal trepidation as we stood on the edge of the terrifying Tarzan Swing into a vertical scramble net – the toughest challenge on the course both physically and mentally. But even self-confessed vertigo sufferers Matt Reeves and Tracy Bowers of AstraZeneca simply took deep breaths and flung themselves at the task.

Back on solid ground, the group shared their experiences. “It’s a great team activity that gives you confidence to move out of your comfort zone and try new things,” said Reeves. “And it has brought the team closer together for sure.”

His boss Louise Shaw added: “It’s a great team activity, especially for those who like the thrill of a physical challenge. You quickly build trust with others to help you overcome those crazy tasks.”

Jane Byrne, who entered the AstraZeneca team into Personnel Today’s competition, was buzzing. “GoApe was brilliant! We’re all on a high,” she enthused. “We’ve done things we never thought we could and there has been a huge amount of laughter along the way.”

The amusement continued long into the teams’ respective journeys home thanks to recounted tales of great courage and daring, and the obligatory comparisons of minor scrapes and bruises.

Personnel Today verdict

GoApe gets a hearty recommendation from both Personnel Today and AstraZeneca as a highly effective team- and confidence-building challenge.

Tailored corporate packages are available at each of the current seven locations:

  • Grizedale Forest, Cumbria
  • Delamere Forest, Cheshire
  • Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
  • Thetford Forest, East Anglia
  • Swinley Forest, Bracknell, Berkshire
  • Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
  • Moors Valley, Ringwood, Hampshire.

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