The UK Challenge is the largest corporate team building event in the UK, where over the course of 2½ days, held in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, teams were put through a series of physical and mental activities designed to test teamworking, communication and intelligence. That, and your fitness.
Our tale captures how a bunch of consultants, Paul Evans as Captain, Richard Siddle as the Senior Executive, Dale Taft, Louise Bratt, Jack McAuliffe and Andrew Stenhouse, all pulled together to deliver in a complex teamwork environment. I mean isn’t this what we do regularly when we go into our clients?
We entered the challenge in February, and in the lead up to the event, arranged a few stage training events with puzzles to practice solving, and canoe and bike training.
After a few minor delays due to cancelled trains and lots of WhatsApp convos, the team converged on the USW for the event. We had just enough time to get to our rooms and get our equipment all sorted out. With a quick brief from Paul (the only person with experience on the team) on what to expect, we headed to an early dinner, where we completed our stage planning whilst we ate. Then the team headed into Cardiff Castle ready to start.
Stage 1 Around the park in 90 minutes.
Teams were given 90 minutes to run around Bute park, just outside the castle, “playing” football games at each checkpoint. Games had to be played in a chronological order as defined in information provided at the start. Teams could also earn bonuses by visiting specific checkpoints in an order that they would only discover as they went along.
Our team decided to split into two sets of 3 so we could visit more checkpoints in the limited time. As we ran around one half of the team would devise the strategy for the next part of the stage, whilst waiting for the rest of the team to arrive at a checkpoint.
After a mad rush we finished the stage, learning that we got one game out of sequence by 30 seconds and failed to get maximum points. A quick review on how to avoid the problem in the following stages and we were ready for stage 2.
Stage 2 Hacked Off
In this stage we joined the CGI hackers club, with lessons, puzzles, observation tests and memory questions. This was made a bit more challenging as despite the area being floodlit, there wasn’t really enough light. Those teams with torch lamps clearly had the advantage.
We split into 3 pairs again to tackle the different zones. Andrew and Louise did a great job of solving a lot of the puzzles. The instructions for this stage were quite confusing and took some understanding. The team did reasonably well, but due to an error in dipping we inadvertently picked up a 30 minute penalty. At the end of the day we were fairly dejected. We resolved to improve this and then went off to bed, it was 2 am, for a brief sleep before getting up early the next day.
Stage 3 The Legend of Taf Fechan
The next day we headed up to the Pontisicilli reservoir for a 2 hour canoe stage. Here we had to control the water levels of a set of fictional reservoirs by switching on and off pumps and increasing/decreasing the rate of flow of these pumps. Although this looked like a physical stage, the challenge was really in the strategy.
We quickly worked out a strategy and set off across the reservoir visiting the various checkpoints. We had some setbacks initially on paddling, though once sorted we were pretty good, finishing our first stage without a penalty!
Stage 4 Search for the Hol-Y-Grail
Once off the water, we had the big stage of the event, set in a valley of four major peaks. 4:45 hours of running and biking, with a bit of canoeing thrown in. This was a real test of stamina in the heat.
Paul and Dale had the unenviable task of running up the mountains to the checkpoints at the top. Due to a mis-direction, we along with several other teams, lost the big bonus.
However, this was by far the most scenic of all the stages and possible the most enjoyable, despite being the hardest physically.
Stage 5 Per Ardua Ad Astra
For Stage 5, teams were tasked to build a catapult to throw rope balls into a target area. The team quickly got to work on putting the catapult together with everyone contributing ideas and supporting the build. Once happy with the basic design, a couple of test throws confirmed that the catapult was working very well.
The catapult threw the first ball nicely into the second scoring zone but immediately started to break. We made temporary fixes, as we only had a 5 minute window to compete. Each throw caused more damage to the catapult until the 8th and final throw when it cracked. We had had several quality scores, so headed off to bed a very happy team to get some much needed rest.
Stage 6 Right Medicine, Right Place, Right Time
With the team on a high from the previous day, we headed into stage 6. This involved estimating how long it would take the team running in pairs, to get to separate checkpoints and back again, which we had entered into the system on the previous day.
Teams then had to complete a minimum of two runs inside their estimations to avoid penalties. We decided to play this one safe as the hills were a lot more challenging than they appeared on the map. Our first synchronised dip was an outright success, however, Paul and Dale followed the wrong path on the second and ended up running almost blindly through ferns, narrowly missing a dead sheep, but making it back inside the estimated time. A key learning here was sometimes just avoiding penalties is enough to do well!
Stage 7 The Rise of the Unicorn
By the 7th stage, the team was starting to grow in confidence and quickly set about solving the puzzles. Dale was particularly proud of solving a dingbat solo, and Andrew cracked the final puzzle despite having a free pass to use with it!
Unfortunately, the stage notes were quite complicated, with the team not fully reading the instructions before starting. We ended up buying improvements that we couldn’t use, hampering our profit. Moving on!
Stage 8 Grand Prix
Quickly sorting out our bikes, stage 8 began. Four members of the team set off on bikes to solve puzzles en-route, whilst the remaining team members watched the start of the England game. The first part was a 40 minute cycle loop involving a big hill followed by a run route along a canal basin. Bonus points were available for completing additional laps however we decided to skip. As such, we were the first team through and quickly got through the next puzzle point, deciding on an extra loop while the route was clear for additional bonus points.
After wading across a river, solving a final puzzle, we ran to collect our teammates and cross back across the river as a full team for the finish.
As a novice team, with limited experience, it was quite daunting to take on the challenge. While we made some mistakes, in communication, following directions and navigating (minor things really), our understanding and experience grew over the competition; reflected in our Most Improved award.
So how do we improve upon this next year? We start the training early, practicing puzzles and training on a greater variety of stages. We’ve already entered for next year – so are you up for the challenge?