Human Resources, Nonprofits, and Sports Business

Muskegon Sports Council launches DUNEiversity program

Sessions invite work groups into nature for lessons in creative problem-solving, team building and fun.

April 13, 2018
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Participants in the DUNEiversity program are charged with completing team-building tasks. Here, they figure out how to cross an imaginary pit of lava using just two boards. Courtesy Muskegon Sports Council

A team-building program taking a long test run at Muskegon Winter Sports Complex now has a name and a year-round spot on its roster.

DUNEiversity officially launched April 3. It was designed by the Muskegon Sports Council, which operates the Winter Sports Complex, 462 N. Scenic Drive, at Muskegon State Park where the sessions take place.

The council has been working toward year-round programming for several years, beginning with opening an all-seasons luge in 2009. Last fall, it completed a crowdfunding campaign that is partially funding construction of a zip line canopy tour and other attractions to be built this year.

Bill Bailey is the DUNEiversity adventure planner and one of its lead facilitators.

“We’re a nonprofit with the mission of getting people active and healthy. It’s traditionally been seasonal, but the mission deserves to have a full, year-round impact,” he said.

“There’s a bit of a void in the team-building area in West Michigan, so we thought this is the perfect niche for us to get into.”

DUNEiversity has four pillars: education, adventure, health and wellness, and teamwork. Whether a corporate group books a session that is three hours or two days long, the program’s facilitators work in advance to design an experience grounded in the four pillars and guided by the group’s individual goals.

Bailey said the program doesn’t have a set price point; it depends on what the group wants to accomplish. Past group’s costs have ranged from $20-$100 per person.

“We work with all different budgets and scale things from there,” Bailey said. “It’s not a ‘one-stop shop,’ it’s let us figure out what your group needs, and we’ll determine the cost when we know what we want to do.”

Aside from the option to do creative brainstorming in a yurt alongside the luge track, the entire DUNEiversity program takes place outdoors in the state park, in forested sand dunes along the lake.

Chris McGuigan, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, participated in a team-building session last September with her staff — as well as team members from the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, which the foundation funds.

She said she had been on the lookout for a team-building opportunity in a natural setting and had heard good reviews about the Winter Sports Complex program.

“The best thing about West Michigan is our natural resources,” McGuigan said. “We wanted to have fun, and we thought, ‘This would be really fun.’”

She said in a day, her group of 30 people gained a new appreciation for each other’s hidden skills through a series of games and challenges.

During the first segment, teams of six or seven tackled individual physical challenges, such as standing on a log and rearranging themselves without falling off, standing on a giant teeter-totter board and making it evenly balanced and getting every team member over a wall that could not be climbed without help.

The second segment pitted teams against each other on a “Trail Quest” adventure — which DUNEiversity’s website describes as combining “the challenge of an escape room with the fun of a scavenger hunt.”

“That took us throughout the park,” McGuigan said. “We were on a search for locked boxes, things with hints inside with directions for where to find the next locked box. It was physically demanding, mentally demanding and demanding of us to work together as a team.”

McGuigan said after the day’s activities were done, she felt a sense of accomplishment.

“It felt like you had been in an afternoon sports contest and you were the athlete, not just the one sitting on your butt watching,” she said. “It was really satisfying to leave sunburned, worn out and kind of dirty.”

Doug Pollock, general manager at Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor, took a group of managers and supervisors from his hotel to cut loose and have some fun at the end of last summer.

His group included spouses and significant others. In light of that, Bailey and his facilitators structured the day’s activities to accommodate work team time, as well as open group time.

“In the first part, the team-oriented part with managers, there was a competition where you used spaghetti noodles and marshmallows to build a tower. You had to work together and brainstorm different ways to do it, and whoever had the tallest one won. That was a creative thinking exercise,” Pollock said.

“Then we did things that were more physical. We had to cross an imaginary pit of hot lava using two boards without touching the ground.”

The “open play time” let spouses, significant others and managers/supervisors try fun activities, such as the wheeled luge, archery and hiking. Each activity had a different coach to help guide participants.

Following open play, the whole group — 25 in all — split up into teams for the Trail Quest challenge.

The evening concluded with dinner and drinks around a campfire.

Pollock said it was a learning experience for him to observe not only others’ behavior but also his own.

“As a general manager, it’s always your instinct to jump in and fix things and do things. I have been in this business 30 years and know how to do things myself,” he said. “But as people started getting into it and interacting and talking, I found myself withdrawing and letting them talk and figure it out.

“I got better at it at the same time they did.”

McGuigan shared a similar takeaway: “It’s a shock to see who’s capable of what.”

“One of the best things that happened that day was getting a new appreciation or first appreciation for people we work with but in a very ‘parallel universe’ way,” she said. “(I was) realizing things we assumed just by looking at them — assuming the big, burly guy would be competitive, but he’s more of a tech guy, that was his talent in facing the challenge. Whereas one of the newest people on staff, a young woman, she was a different person when competition was presented.”

She said the work they did together during the games has forged a more cohesive staff back in the office because it’s hard to forget the personal sides that people show when they are in a new element.

“It revealed talents that had not been revealed before. I think for the other team leaders here, it’s true also that they understand a little better how to motivate their teams. I understand better how to motivate my team.

“It makes you realize that decentralized leadership is just fine. People can do a lot if you call on them to do it.”

Bailey said DUNEiversity booked 10 employer groups last season, not counting the schools, athletic teams and Scout clubs the organization hosts. So far this year, four business groups have signed up.

He said this season, groups will have the option to incorporate kayaking and paddleboarding in their team-building challenges or use paddle sports as a reflection time.

More information is available at duneiversity.com.

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