Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Climbing Corporate Ladder | BCBusiness

How learning the ropes can help co-workers build team unity 

Eric Furlotte knows that in order to bond, business colleagues sometimes need to get their hands dirty—with chalk, preferably. Dangling from a rope six metres off the ground isn’t exactly a traditional team-building activity, but that’s the kind of course a chain of rock climbing gyms around the Lower Mainland is offering to managers at the end of their own rope trying to build a cohesive team.

For Furlotte, manager of the Vancouver location of Cliffhanger Indoor Rock Climbing Centre Ltd. (the company also has Richmond and Coquitlam locations, which also offer the course), these out-of-office retreats are proving worthwhile for the companies that take them.

“In any business situation, you’re going to have times when you’re paired with people you have to work with to tackle a task and do it efficiently,” he says. “Bringing them here and putting them in this element helps take the ego out of that situation.”

The two-hour course, called “Climb the Corporate Ladder,” breaks co-workers into teams of four or five and pits them against each other in a head-to-head competition. Team members gain points based on the routes they climb: the more difficult, the more points they collect. Staff hold the grounded end of each rope and offer directions so climbers can concentrate on their strategies in the (mostly) friendly competition.

The real advantage of the course, Furlotte says, is that the challenge places team members in a situation where they’re completely out of their element. Most course attendees have never climbed, but no preparation or innate athletic skill is required.

All players are equal, forcing participants to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of their team and build a strategy from there. And while the two winners with the highest score receive gift certificates for an introductory course toward belay certification (“belaying” means being on the ground holding the rope for someone climbing the wall), the goal is that everyone will walk away with more than a new affinity for conquering a route.

In addition to the sense of accomplishment his team earned by collectively overcoming a physical obstacle, Ames Tile & Stone Ltd. president John Olson, who completed the course with his sales department in January, says the real draw is creating support between team members.

“Here I am, I’m halfway up this rock face; I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m exhausted and I want to bail out. And at the bottom of this rope, however many feet down, you have all your team members shouting up all kinds of encouragement,” Olson says. “And at that moment you realize it isn’t just about you—it is about everyone down below and you’re doing this for the team.”

Can these lessons successfully translate into a business setting? Olson thinks so.

“There was a real clear understanding without anyone having to do a PowerPoint presentation on it that there’s so much power that can be unlocked by working together,” he says. “And we were able to find some extra courage and energy and strength to keep on going.”