Team Challenges Take Many to the EDGE
By Buzz McClain
This doesn’t happen every day: I’m 30 feet in the air on a small round perch when a 6-foot, 1-inch 14-year-old decides he needs to go between me and the wooden mast I’m holding onto for dear life.
Lucas is a nice enough lad, but his two safety lines are connected by carabiners to a steel cable to my right, his left, of the pole. My safety lines are behind his on a different wire since I landed on this perch—delivered as I was on a small round seat on yet another rope—after Lucas. We’re not tangled, but we’re not in a position for Lucas to grab a rope and continue across a wire to the next perch—by foot. He needs me out of his way so that his carabiners can slide with him. Hmmm.
I’m beginning to feel as if I’m in math class as we try to work this out without me plunging to the cedar mulch floor 30 feet below. Well, actually, with the harness around my waist and legs and the double safety ropes on a line, the worst I could do is dangle in the air until help arrives—and that’s exactly the point of us being up here: to figure out life’s dilemmas and work as a team to solve problems.
We are high atop the Total Team Challenge at the EDGE, the Mason Center for Team and Organizational Learning’s “experiential learning, team building, and organizational development” training complex on the Prince William Campus. The Total Team Challenge is just one of many brain-stimulating and stomach-twitching obstacles carved into the mature woods between the Hylton Performing Arts Center and the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, and it’s not the highest of them. That superlative goes to the 50-foot tall Alpine Tower, a jumble of dangling logs, ropes, and cargo netting.
Mason has been involved in experiential education for 27 years; first at the Hemlock Overlook Center for Experiential Education in Clifton, Virginia, and then, since 2009, at the EDGE (which stands for energize, develop, grow, excel) at Prince William. Mason staff builds the challenges and conducts the sessions. A large number of the staff are current and past Mason students.
While climbing higher than treetops and walking on tight wires—made tighter by your teammates on the ground—is thrilling, it’s the science- and research-based programming aspects of the EDGE that make it worthwhile, said program manager Mike Swiryn, as we chatted on a narrow landing overlooking the complex. Some 7,500 visitors a year come to the EDGE, some from the other side of the world, to solve the high (in the air) and low (on the ground) elements and, ideally, leave with a better sense of self-awareness and “a better understanding of workplace dynamics,” according to the literature. Of course, you can do the Alpine Tower just for the thrill of it during the EDGE monthly open climb (see here for details). Corporations, sports, education-based teams, and other entities swear by it.
And now that I’m up here, I can see why this is effective: one wrong move and I’m imitating a possum. If I step back and let Lucas pass in front of me, I’ll be right against the edge, as it were, and not in a very safe position. But if I hug the pole, he can go safely around me, move his ropes and then be on his merry way, leaving me with the entire perch to myself.
And that’s what happens. I make my way across the rest of the Total Team Challenge intact and curious about the other challenges available. A return visit is on the schedule.
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