Picture a group of five people pitching a tent. Now picture those same five, each with one hand tied behind his or her back, trying to pitch that tent. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Nautilus Insurance chose this activity as a teambuilding exercise that would be both "fun and competitive," says Elaine Sheehy, the company's vice president of human resources. "We wanted to do some kind of off-site activity that would incorporate a physical as well as a mental challenge."

The tent-pitching was one of several activities in a four-hour session run by ASCEND Adventures, a Scottsdale company offering teambuilding programs and adventure travel excursions. Held in a city park last spring, the program brought together 25 Nautilus management staff.

Fresh Ideas The session was timed to take place before a Nautilus planning meeting, where the company maps out strategy for the upcoming year and for the next three-year period, Sheehy says. "The program got us prepared to work as a team. It was an effort to have all of us enjoy an activity together, to compete together, and to broaden the scope of what we usually do instead of just coming in to work and staying in our own cubicles, departments, and environments.

"Many of us have been here since the company was created 14 years ago and have never done anything like this," she adds. "We're just starting to do more of these kinds of things, and we're hoping to pull from them some fresh ideas for working together."

The Nautilus group ranged in age from the late 20s to the 50s, with about 15 men and 10 women. The 25 were broken into smaller groups of about five each for a series of 20-minute activities, including a blindfolded wall climb, where climbers rely on their teammates for help in locating handholds and footholds; a tethered pail trek, where groups bearing pails of water navigate an obstacle course; and a memorization exercise, where team members develop a strategy for memorizing a card containing numerous different characters.

Stuck in a Rut All of the activities were aimed at improving the way individuals work together, says Dr. Brannon Reed, founder and president of ASCEND Adventures. "Most people don't want to get out of the office. They say they do, but when push comes to shove, they don't. They get in a rut. So these activities have to be fun," he explains. "The fun factor is also critical to good performance; it breaks down barriers and keeps the enthusiasm level up."

Reed says companies have the option of making their teambuilding programs competitive. "Nautilus wanted to be competitive so we awarded ribbons to winning teams," he says. "Sometimes having a goal in mind gives participants more concentration and focus."

The results of teambuilding exercises can be surprising: The winner of the tent-pitching exercise was a team led by a woman who had been quiet during most of the program, Reed says. "She didn't say a word the whole afternoon but she emerged as a leader in this exercise."

Sheehy says Nautilus will consider doing other teambuilding activities in the future. "The reaction was mixed but the consensus was that people did enjoy it," she says. "We got to see everyone in a different mode; it was an interesting look at our personalities."

Whether the program was effective isn't something that can be judged immediately, says Reed. "You won't see results right away, but the guy in sales and the guy in product development who didn't know each other before, do now. Just going to a meeting or a cocktail party won't do that."