The importance of team building

Camp counselor discusses survival-of-the-fittest mentality, the good in looking beyond one's self

Posted: Friday, November 14, 2008

A very common message in today's society is the survival of the fittest. We must do whatever it takes to fulfill our dreams no matter how the cost might impact somebody else.

There are very successful people who live this model out and have created vast fortunes. Unfortunately, in the wake of their rise to the top are human beings who have been hurt.

Lying, cheating and backstabbing are now being justified as a means of getting what we want. I don't believe that this is always the case. But if we're told we are the most important person, why should we care? This message does not only permeate among adults, it also affects young people.

The college-aged counselors at Echo Ranch learn very quickly about group dynamics. They spend week after week with upwards of 11 kids in one cabin. Each child brings a different background, personality and philosophy to the table.

But the most common thread is that each child is generally looking out for their best interest. This poses a problem, because the entire week we ask them to work together. We ask them to work with their friends and kids they have never met before. To be successful means the whole group must focus on the collective good. I know this sounds like boot camp or sports training, but in order for everyone to have fun, we need to look beyond ourselves.

In an effort to help cabin groups work together, Echo Ranch uses a series of team-building structures we call the challenge course.

During counselor orientation, we use the challenge course to create teamwork and instruct the counselors on how to run the course with their campers. One activity involves the entire group standing on a log raised slightly above the ground and asking them to arrange themselves according to date of birth or shortest to tallest.

The log is only so wide, which presents a level of difficulty. As an observer, you can immediately begin to see who the leaders are, who might cause distractions and who might be left out. The counselor may then ask them to do this without talking or allowing only one person to speak.

The most difficult activity on the challenge course is the tire traverse. A large cable connects two logs standing about 15 feet apart. Hanging from the cable are five tire swings. The cabin must get each person across the tires without touching the ground. The first person to attempt the traverse has the most difficult job. There is no one on the other side to help. As you cling to the rope and try to find your footing on each tire, your muscles begin to burn, and fatigue sets in. Unless the cabin gets involved, this can be a very long process. Even when most of the group is across, that doesn't mean they can stand around and chat. What about the last remaining campers? Who is going to help them?

After each challenge is over, we ask the group what was frustrating and what was the key to their success. They were at their best when at least one person was willing to sacrifice for the rest. Their worst moments came when each person's focus turned inward. The counselor can now take their strengths and weaknesses and begin to encourage them as a group.

This may not solve all the conflicts that arise within the cabin, but it brings to light the importance of how we affect others.

The Bible talks about placing value on others above ourselves. God is very aware of our self-centeredness and the harm it can create. We are most successful when the individual puts aside their selfish ambitions and works towards everyone's benefit. The team building activities at Echo Ranch show how these faith principles can work in a real life setting.

• Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at

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