(This guest post is from Jim Hooper. Jim shares with us his use of the term 'Bridging' in order to better visualize the connecting between team building activities and real life. Thanks Jim!!)
As a Naturalist for the YMCA Greenkill Outdoor and Environment Education Center [one of the oldest Environmental Centers on the Northeast - and, it's not a typo], I began facilitating ropes course programs a little over 20 years ago. In subsequent years, I have moved into Summer Camp administration, serving as the Camp Manger at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills since 2005. One of the aspects of this position is the facilitation of groups on our ropes courses, and perhaps even more importantly, the training of 15-20 seasonal camp staff each summer as we prepare for some 300 youth to participate in ropes course programming.
"We are very deliberate in working with group leaders to understand what the group is hoping to accomplish from their time with us..."
With the growing popularity of recreation-based adventure programs, aerial parks and so on, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with school teachers, coaches, and other group leaders about what sets our program apart from those purely recreational programs (the local ski resort recently built a large aerial park a few miles from our camp, and have been pumping a lot of money into marketing those recreational opportunities). And while there are many differences between our program and theirs, one of the principle differences is our focus on group development as well as individual challenge. We are very deliberate in working with group leaders to understand what the group is hoping to accomplish from their time with us, and then we select challenges that we believe will shed light on those issues. We put a heavy emphasis on how the experience at camp, and on our ropes courses, relate back to the real lives of our participants. This is in line with the “What, So what, and Now what?” approach to adventure education. Sure, we had a great time swinging across an imaginary lava pit and landing in tiny hula hoops, but realistically, how does that help us when we go back to school, the office, the field, etc. It’s not like we will ever need to swing from cubicle to cubicle on a rope!!
"I truly believe that effective processing can come at any time throughout the experience, before, during and after."
Typically, skilled facilitators will employ reflective techniques throughout a program to help participants see the correlations between the program and the tasks that a group is expected to perform when they go back to the “real world." I often find that young seasonal staff, ranging from 17-21 years of age, are frequently intimidated by this phase of the program, and will shorten the processing phase in favor of cramming one more activity in before lunch. This is an area that I have tried to focus on during our staff trainings, and I have found it really helpful to talk about this process not as “processing” or “debriefing” or even “reflection”, but as “bridging”. Personally, I find that the former choices often lead to groans, moans, or general “oh man, here we go again” response. Additionally, I have found that these terms imply that processing is something that only happens after an experience comes to a close, and I truly believe that effective processing can come at any time throughout the experience, before, during and after.
"There is a very visual element to the term bridging, and particularly with the young staff that I work with, the visual aspect appeals to the concrete thinking perspective."
I far as I can remember, I first ran into the term of “bridging” in “Processing the Experience: Strategies to Enhance and Generalize Learning” (2nd. ed.) by John Luckner and Reldan S. Nadler (though I don’t have a copy of it anymore to verify that). I really connect with the term on a few different levels. First, I believe that staff see the activities we facilitate in our programs as one world, separate from real life, and that the processing phase is the way that we connect, or bridge, those two worlds. There is a very visual element to the term bridging, and particularly with the young staff that I work with, the visual aspect appeals to the concrete thinking perspective. Additionally, I find that bridging lends to a more proactive approach to the process. Just like when we are going to build a bridge, we need to prepare and gather resources before we begin building. We also need to be able to interrupt construction if we see something that demands immediate intervention. And of course, once the bridge is built, we need to travel across the bridge, carrying the experiences from one world to the other. I have found that staff are able to relate well to this approach. It gives them the confidence to think about processing in a broader perspective, rather than just “something we have to do at the end of every activity." We also spend a significant time during our training, talking about processing fatigue; the idea that not every single activity needs to be processed, and that it’s imperative to vary your bridging techniques so that participants don’t begin to dread the time immediately following an activity.
We would love to know about your thoughts on Bridging. Leave a Comment below.
All the best,
Jim & Chris
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Dr. Chris Cavert is an educator, author and trainer. His passion is helping team builders learn and grow.