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These places in Hall offer team-building activities — and show that being uncomfortable can be a good thing
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Nancy Camacho has second thoughts Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, about climbing up to a ropes course high in the trees at Pine Valley in Lumpkin County. She joins a group of students from the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus at the ropes course for team building exercises. - photo by Scott Rogers

Walking across a wire in the sky, racing on tracks in a cart, breaking out of a locked room — it’s not a daredevil TV event, it’s a team building exercise.

And being uncomfortable is key.

“(Team-building) takes people out of their comfort zone,” Jessica Brown, associate director for campus recreation and wellness at the University of North Georgia, said. “It puts everybody on a similar playing field because everybody is probably at least a little uncomfortable. But once people are comfortable being uncomfortable, that is where the majority of growth happens.”

Brown helps coordinate groups that visit the Pine Valley Recreation Area in Dahlonega, which features a low- and high-ropes challenge course. She said she’s seen numerous groups leave with better communication skills and oftentimes more trust in one another.

“They may be able to enhance their problem solving skills with one another,” Brown said. “They may start to learn some of each other's strengths so that they can go back to their workplace or school or wherever and know a little more about the individual they're going to be with on a day-to-day basis.”

She said team building is for any type of group. At Pine Valley, they see university groups, companies, church groups, athletic groups and teachers from different school grade levels.

The Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville sees the same kinds of groups and hosts team-building activities with the same intent. But instead of on the ropes, it’s on the water.

Robyn Lynch, executive director at the park, said they have a couple large dragon boat events each year, but they’re often hosting individual groups in between.

“A few months ago, we did a team-building event with a large local company, and we had the CEO in the front leading,” Lynch said. “Then during a portion of the day, we switched that person to the middle and then to the back and it was interesting to see the dynamic when the leader became the follower.”

She said there have long-been company retreats meant to build morale, but the “real, true team-building events” have grown in popularity because “you see things in a different light” when the team is working on something together outdoors.

The park is hosting Corporate Olympics, where groups of five can register to compete in team-building activities, on Aug. 16. The deadline to register has been extended to Monday, Aug. 12.

Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville also has an obstacle course that its cadets use for training and team building. The public can reserve it, too.

Chateau Elan in Braselton has a magazine full of team-building activities. The winery and resort has cooking classes and competitions, wine-making classes, murder mystery games, a chateau regatta, a chateau hunt and a mine field game. There’s also night golf and golf tournaments, group yoga and segway tours.

Eric Merrell said the most exciting team building he gets to see is when there’s “office drama.” As co-owner at Against the Clock Real Life Escape Games in Gainesville, he’s seen teams and companies get locked inside a room and come out better for it.

“You bring them into a team-building experience like an escape room and you lock them in a room and they're on a strict time and they have a certain goal. It does get them to communicate, and most of the time communicate extremely well,” Merrell said.

That’s the tactic Bill Bush was using when he decided to take the Lanier Volleyball Club teams to Against the Clock. The 12- to 18-year-olds all come from different schools, so team building was necessary.

“The escape room takes them out of their element of what they're comfortable with and they have to learn how to communicate together,” Bush, youth director and club coach, said.

North Georgia Canopy Tours in Lula takes people out of their element. Leah Watkins, co-owner of the zipline course, said while team building isn’t the focus of the business, it’s something that naturally happens when groups are high off the ground in the trees.

“It is team building in that everybody has a different level of comfort at heights and they have a different level of comfort in trusting equipment and guides and being in a group,” Watkins said. “It's a real bonding experience, and it's super fun for guides at the end of the tour to see how even a group of strangers who don't know each other are then friends.”

Lanier Raceplex in Braselton has taken team building out on the racetrack in a sport that, on the surface, looks individual.

Kathryn Richardson, corporate sales and events manager, said she’s learned it’s definitely a team sport.

“When it comes to team building, the sky's the limit,” Richardson said.

On the large, outdoor, oval, paved track, they can get groups together to compete in teams for best average times. 

“When you're out there, it's just exhilarating,” Richardson said. “Even if you're not a competitive person, when you get out there, you become competitive because it's just so exciting.”

Bush said making sure team-building activities are fun is key to their success. That’s why he took 13 of the 17 volleyball teams to Against the Clock this year and plans to take them all during the upcoming season.

In his experience with team building and after nine years at a desk job, he realized it’s essential to keeping things running smoothly in the office. And he’s learned that same thing translates to other aspects of life.

“Too often, we write people off as not a valuable asset,” Bush said. “What's really enlightening about (team building) is a brain puzzle versus a strength puzzle or something like that, lets you realize people do have assets. They may be quieter, they may be smaller, they may be less adept to communicating well — so having these experiences where everyone is stuck in a small room and you've got to work together, you (realize you) can't do it alone.”

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