I’ve just returned from 1 1/2 days of team building - China Style. 78 of us set out on a team building exercise. I would just like to say that I have never sweated so much for so long in my entire life! With days of 28 - 30 degrees and 90%+ humidity the conditions were swealtering to say the least. Within 1 hour on Saturday morning my shirt was so wet with sweat that I could squeeze it practically anywhere and make water drip to the ground.
The weekend started off with us all standing on the beach and getting shouted at for 30 minutes, Red Army style. We were then broken up into 6 teams and we selected a leader, drew a logo on our team flag, created a team slogan and a team song. Our slogan apparently said something like “Rocky, Rocky, flies all the way to the moon” or something like that.
First challenge was to pick up a bucket of water that was in the centre of a 6m diameter rope circle on the beach, using only 2 sticks and 2 long lengths of rope, and transfer the water to a bucket outside the circle. Easy enough in principle - just wrap the rope around the bucket by walking around the circle - however a lack of coordination equated to a deficiency in the execution on our team’s part. We got there in the end.
While waiting for the other activities to become available we did a couple of thinking games. The first exercise involved standing in a circle, grabbing other people’s hands (under certain rules) and then untangling ourselves. The second game involved the group standing in a line, 1 person space in the middle, those to the left of the space facing right and vice versa for those on the left. The task was to get both groups of people to the far ends of the line using only the single space to move people around. The rules were that you could move forward 1 space or jump over someone into the space. After a few pro-active team members had given up after about 10 minutes of trying I sat down with some water bottles, 1/2 filled with tea and 1/2 filled with water and figured it out after about a minute of study. Matchsticks would have worked just as well.
There was a structure about 10m high laced with various kinds of balance beams, jumping poles, ropes and the like. Our next challenge was to move along a rope in pairs, hanging onto a dangling rope for balance, and reach the far end. The trick was that the dangling ropes were further apart than a single person could reach. This promoted the teamwork idea. Pity that those on the safety lines had them so tight that balance was easy.
Dinner that night was outside, chinese buffet style. I have no idea what about 1/3 of what I was eating actually was, although I know that what looked like was potato was actually pig fat. You’d be fooled for thinking that the Chinese had never seen food before! The quantity that they ate! Even those petite little women were eating servings that would have kept me going all day. Lounging around outside, shirt almost dripping with sweat, eating a mountain of food and drinking a warm beer…yep, this is the tropics!
Brekky on day 2 was again an outside buffet affair. I was sweating before I got there. It was going to be another 30 degree and 90% humidity day. The morning was spent in an old factory building with a sand floor. After some morning exercises we had to, as a team, cross a “river” using only 3 44-galon drums and 2 planks of wood. We had a slow start as everyone argued about how to do it but once we committed we overtook one of the other teams for a well-earned 2nd place. This was followed by the team walking on 2 long planks, easy in principle…
The next activity was to move the entire 14-man team from 2 palletes to 1 pallette using only a swinging rope. First we had to get the rope using only what things that were on our person. The successful solution used shoelaces and a shoe as a lassoo. The heat of the day was taking it’s toll as the initially strong enthusiasm started to wane. Being huddled together on a pallet in this weather will do that.
After another veritable Mount-Everest-Sized lunch, including a cold beer this time, we headed for the balance beam. This looked OK - a wooden beam suspended about 8m up. Once up there I discovered that the whole structure was swaying back and forth about 3cm. As I ventured out to the middle of the beam it must have been swaying back and forth a good 15cm. This was enough to shake loose the beads of sweat from my hands. Balance was undoubtedly hindered by the 20cm wide beam being only effectively 15cm as the edges were smoothly rounded by use and age. I did not fall, but some did and others simply couldn’t bring themselves to do it. To prove that the Chinese have a sense of humour, as one of the guys who opted out was being lowered, one of the guys suggested that he looked like a piece of meat being hung in a butcher shop window!
A task our team did not do, but I would have dearly loved to, was a jump from a single upright pole across to a hanging bar. This pole, at about 8m, wobbles back and forth about 20cm. The requirement is to clim the pole then jump and hopefully grab this steel bar. It became a sign of macho-ism for one team for the successful jumpers to do a chin-up or two on the bar. Most slipped off due to sweaty hands and smooth steel.
The final task was an all-team affair. Scale a 4.5m high wall with no external assistance, or padding for that matter, and only the surrounding concrete and team members to break any fall, which I nearly did after over-balancing on the bottom guy’s shoulders. After allocating appropriate leaders the technique was 4 guys on the bottom and 2 at the next level. They would then assist a guy to the top who would start hauling the others up. After getting someone to the top, reorganise the bottom guys to 2 groups of a kneeling step-ladder person and a standing person whose shoulders would be stood on. Once the person was on the shoulders they would step onto surrounding hands and be pushed up to the top-haulers. The last guys were light and hauled up in a chain. We got the entire 75 person team (minus the injured, recently operated or pregnant) up in 22 minutes. Quite satisfying for a bunch of office workers, especially when the record is 12 minutes for 100 people.
So much of this stuff just simply wouldn’t be allowed in Australia. Whilst the ropes were good they were being used by amateurs after only 10 seconds of instruction from the team coach. Those jumping from the pole were only prevented from swining back into the pole they jumped from by 2 team members hanging onto a rope on their chest and 2 side-ropes with their other team members hanging onto them with their bare hands (rope guided by eyelets). The latter was the same for the balance beam. The final wall exercise had no padding or protection around it, just the concrete ground to fall on, or your team members. Depending upon the circumstances and activity, I was both nervous about the consequences of something going wrong and yet thankful for the freedom it afforded.
On the return journey back to Shenzhen one of the team leaders started things off by singing a song. From that point onwards various people took turns in singing various Chinese songs. I was not looking forward to the proposition of singing so I decided that if I was asked I would sing the Australian national anthem. I tried to rest a little while until 1/2 the bus started chanting “Ao Da Li Ya”, pinyin for Australia. I rose to the front of the bus, took the mic and then belted out my best possible rendition of Advance Australia Fair as the entire bus-load of Chinese clapped along and applauded my effort. It sounded starkly different to the pentatonic scale they’d been previously singing in. It was a big hit.