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Foster Collaboration Through Colorado’s Great Outdoors

By Eric Peterson

How do you catalyze teamwork? How do you contrast individual performance with groups success? How do you unlock potential? These are some of the questions that need to be asked before embarking on a team-building pursuit in Colorado or anywhere. These activities often bring people together by getting them out of their comfort zones. 

“Team-building can be a tricky subject,” says Kelly Layton with Operation Altitude, a Colorado-based destination management company (DMC) with offices in Vail and Denver. “People’s perceptions of team-building can vary widely, but most often clients just want to get together for a group activity— often with some competitive elements.”

She suggests a few parameters to guide activity selection, including size of the group, season, location and time frame. “When organizing group team-building events, there are important factors we assess to determine the foundation of the activity, including the group’s profile and what they want to accomplish, group size, location and time available for the activity. Budget is also a primary consideration that is often underlooked,” says Layton.

The choice of activity is vital, as are the little details to tie it back to the specific group. Setting is another key, and Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, A Dolce Resort offers an enviable one for groups. Lauren Hines, business development manager at Imprint Group, a Denver-based DMC, is one of the resort’s team-building masterminds. “All of our team-building is completely customizable,” says Hines. “They’re storyboarded and given to our clients beforehand.”

The owner and CEO of CBST Adventures, Jay Irwin, bought the company with offices in Golden and Breckenridge after a backcountry epiphany. “I went out backpacking about four years ago,” he recalls. He took a dip in a crystal-clear mountain lake and “came up with this vision of working with teams.” He imagined a group “on the river, working on team dynamics after a raft trip.”

Irwin took a year off from his technology career and ultimately followed his calling by buying CBST, and the company has since led more than 250 outdoor-oriented team-building and “experiential leadership” events at numerous Rocky Mountain locations, including Steamboat Springs, Aspen and Crested Butte.

He references the book “The Oz Principle” by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman and its roadmap on the “journey from ignorance to knowledge, from fear to courage, from paralysis to powerfulness, from victimization to accountability.”

Budget-Friendly Activities

For about $75 per person, Cheyenne Mountain Resort’s 18-hole golf course is the perfect backdrop for an after-dark activity known as Glow Golf. The premise is self-explanatory: You’re golfing at night with glow-in-the-dark balls, and fairways and pins are similarly illuminated. “Attendees really appreciate it,” says Hines. “The resort has a great golf course.”

The minimum group size is 20, and teams can expect to play for one to three hours. “It’s very flexible, and we can also add in other challenges, like a putting contest or a hole-inone contest,” says Hines.

Irwin says CBST’s minimum is around $150 per person for a short team-building challenge, and the activities near the lower end have less customization but are largely built around the same ideas as the higher-end offerings. These kind of events are usually good for groups of 12-35 or more people.

He highlights the Scrabble Scrambler, involving rock climbing on a cliff or wall and a word puzzle. “We say it’s a combination of brains and brawn,” he explains. After a timed climb, participants create words from Scrabble tiles that are relevant to the coursework they are studying.

Operation Altitude’s Layton suggests camaraderie-building activities like creative group games or dynamic location-specific scavenger hunts for a price point of $35 to $100 per person. She describes both as good activities yearround and “very scalable” in terms of group size. “Everything we do is very customized.”

Customized game shows offer an effective and fun group activity vehicle to get people working with and talking to each other. “If they are restricted to an indoor space such as a ballroom with a large number of people, these types of interactive game shows offer an inexpensive way to highlight meeting content, brand messaging or other key elements while getting teams to work together,” says Layton. “The experience is enhanced with a game emcee, DJ, décor, prizes and integrated game consoles.”

Mid-Priced Options

“Our most popular team-building activity at Cheyenne Mountain Resort is an Amazing Race,” says Hines. “It takes place all through the property, through the aquatics center, the meeting space, the golf course, and even the hotel rooms.”

The rooms are the site of a popular event where teams compete to clean up a hotel room in the least amount of time. “People get pretty competitive, surprisingly so,” says Hines.

Best for groups of 20-400, an Amazing Race requires about two hours and runs $150 per person for groups with 40 or more people.

The resort’s private 35-acre lake and aquatics center allow for a few more options than normal. “We use paddleboats or stand-up paddleboards in timed challenges to go out on the water and come back,” she adds.

For about $250 per person, CBST offers more customization than its entry-level activities. This tier typically involves a half-day (and occasionally a whole day), several activities and groups averaging 25 people. “We learn about their company,” says Irwin. “We learn about their people.”

The itinerary might include a Race Walk with teams walking on boards attached to ropes while coordinating steps to work together or Cherry Picking, where balls are passed around and placed in baskets using ropes and bicycle tubes. The latter involves teams of five (four wranglers and one director). After the first round, participants have to start wearing blindfolds or are banned from talking to add a different wrinkle to the challenge.

For groups working with a higher budget (over $200 per person) Layton often recommends including activities that are indigenous to the Rocky Mountains such as Jeeping, rafting, rock climbing, cattle roundups, skiing or mountain biking. Depending on location and season, Operation Altitude also offers customized, moderately competitive activities like Cowboy Ranch Olympics or geo-tracking challenges.

There is also the option of delivering the activity to the group at a hotel or another venue. “If the budget is tight, we can bring these elements on-site and avoid costly transportation costs and focus the budget on the team-building to maximize impact.”

She adds, “Another significant trend has been incorporating philanthropic opportunities into a team-building format. We typically work with smaller, local organizations that allow participants to have a meaningful experience while making a significant impact. Each experience can be customized based on the group.”

Premium Approaches

At Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, the Build A Canoe activity offers a vehicle for collaboration at the resort’s pool. “[Teams] are tasked with building a floatable device,” says Hines, “and get it from point A to point B on the water surface.”

The two-hour activity typically runs $175 per person (a higher price point for Cheyenne Mountain) and is best for groups of 50 to 150 participants. It starts with a customizable trivia challenge where correct answers win currency that can be used on materials for the boat. The catalog includes cardboard and duct tape as well as pool noodles, inflatables and paddles.

Once built, the watercraft is put to the test. “It has to float,” says Hines. “It has to go from point A to point B with a person on it.”

CBST’s top-tier activities are typically allinclusive, two- to four-day events for small executive groups and run $1,000 or more per person, per day. Each day is built around numerous activities, including the ones mentioned in the budget and mid-priced tiers, and a wide range of experts to help facilitate team-building. “We’re bringing in highly certified people, people with master’s degrees in psychology or 25 years in HR,” says Irwin.

A premium activity often offered to these groups is called GPS Lifeline. “We train two people to use the GPS unit,” says Irwin. “We send out their team all attached to a rope. The rope is very symbolic.”

Each team plants eight oranges and marks their location with the GPS unit, returns and sends the second team out on a quest for the fruit. Irwin says a CIO of a major company recently told him, “That was the best teambuilding exercise, because there were so many metaphors we could utilize.”

Irwin notes, “I want more time with the customer. I don’t want to race this. I prefer a full day over a half day. I prefer four days to a day. I want to make a transformation in people’s lives.”

Regardless of location, group size and budget, team-building is all about the team and the desired outcome, whether it’s better communication, collaboration, trust or all of the above. It’s not about success or failure but making progress together.

High Roller USA

Matt Armbruster started riding a Big Wheel tricycle on organized rides for groups between restaurants and bars in Boulder in the 1991. His Big Wheel Rally evolved into a fundraiser for St. Joseph’s neonatal intensive care unit. In 2011, Armbruster started a Kickstarter project, High Roller, to manufacture adult-sized Big Wheels after dozens of tricyclists asked, “Where do I get one that fits me?”

He put together the company to do just that and has since shipped more than 1,000 High Roller Big Wheels. The Lafayettebased company also offers races, relays and “Beer, Big Wheels & Bowling” triathlons for groups of 20-500 or more. The triathlon begins with sucking a beer from an ice-cube tray with a crazy straw before moving on to Big Wheel racing through a slalom course and street bowling. A fullday event starts at $3,000 and goes up to $25,000 for the entire group (depending on group size).

“I call the High Roller the great equalizer,” says Armbruster. An event with GameStop involved the CEO and CFO along with lower-level employees. “It immediately brought everyone to the same level.”

He relishes watching people’s reactions. “It is a time machine. I watch them regress to seven years old. It’s an immense amount of joy. It takes them back to their best memories ever of their favorite toy ever.”

Escape Room on the Move

After working in education for nearly 20 years, Russell Jenson opened his first escape room in 2014. Now there are about 20 such rooms in Denver, where customers search for carefully placed clues to ultimately escape the room in a set amount of time.

Jenson saw teamwork in action, complete with “engagement, communication, leadership,” and realized an escape room was an ideal vehicle for corporate team-building. “This is what companies struggle with every day,” says Jenson.

In 2015, Jenson built Bustout Colorado, a unique mobile escape room with a 1960s prison theme. He’s since worked with hundreds of companies. “We don’t do birthday parties,” he emphasizes. “We focus on corporate teams.”

By bringing the room to a corporate client, it makes it logistically simpler to spend a day with teams of six to seven co-workers working to get free from the room in 45 minutes. About one in five teams accomplish the tricky task. Part of the secret sauce is “putting the right people on the right teams,” says Jenson.

Bustout staffers watch on closed-circuit television and lead a “45-minute decompress” to discuss the experience. “We ask in advance: ‘Do we have permission to ask the hard questions?’” he says.

Meanwhile, another team enters the escape room during the decompress and as many as eight teams can participate in a day. The price varies from $99 to $199 per person, and the minimum group size is 18 participants.