Having employees climb three of New England’s highest mountains in 24 hours may not be how most construction industry firms hone team-building and leadership skills, but a London-based industry software provider is sponsoring just such an event next month. Organizers hope the “three peaks challenge” on Sept. 19-20 will replicate the success of a similar program in the U.K., that, since 2002, has raised a total of $3 million for global charities, not to mention the profile of its sponsor, Construction Industry Solutions Ltd. (COINS).
The U.K. business software firm is mounting the event for the first time in the U.S. after a successful seven-year run in Great Britain, where industry participants have been challenged to climb the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in the same time period. COINS CEO Derek Leaver says the U.K. event is limited to 50 six-member teams, “and we have been oversubscribed every year,” with large U.K. firms such as Kier Group, Balfour Beatty and Laing O’Rourke among those participating. The recession cut into the numbers this year, but the event still attracted 38 teams. Each team must pledge to raise $5,000 to participate, with funds channeled to charities through a COINS nonprofit foundation.
COINS subsidizes the cost of mounting the event, spending up to $70,000 a year, it says. The firm claims 2008 revenue of about $40 million and says about 30% of the U.K.’s largest industry firms are clients. COINS crossed the pond in 2007 by acquiring software firm Shaker Inc., Latham, N.Y. It also operates in Irving, Texas, and in four Asian locations.
COINS actually launched a U.S. event last year with a modest rowing competition on Lake George in New York state’s Adirondack Mountains. Six teams participated. Sixteen U.S. teams will compete in this year’s more intense U.K.-style trek, which was designed by a professional climbing consultant.
Each team must scale and descend 4,867-ft-high Whiteface Mountain in upstate New York, 4,395-ft-high Mount Mansfield in neighboring Vermont and 3,165-ft-high Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. The challenge includes 10 hours of transportation and logistics between the three peaks. Each team is made up of at least four climbers and two drivers. Teams must cover their own costs of food, lodging, travel and incidentals while trekking.
For organizers and participants, the experience mirrors the ups and downs of project management. “The event is physically challenging and that leaves all team members with a sense of personal achievement. All teams know that they need to stay together and complete the event together, so members need to accommodate and be accommodated when the going gets tough,” says Leaver. “Almost invariably, a team leader emerges. Often it is an unexpected member who takes the initiative to organize either the team or the fund-raising. In almost all cases, people fulfilling these roles are not full-time managers.”
To meet the fund-raising goal, teams engage in everything from Facebook appeals to bake sales. In some cases, employers provide direct financial support as a corporate social responsibility initiative, participants say. COINS says this year’s fund-raising will support, among other projects, low-income housing renovation in Albany’s South End and sanitation and community development in Kawama, a poor village in Zambia.
The New England challenge hopes to reach its goal of 20 teams by next month, says Leaver. The Pike Co., a Rochester, N.Y., contractor, is sending four teams. Other participants include mechanical contractors EMCOR, New York City, and Comfort Systems USA, Houston, and The Brickman Group Ltd., a Gaithersburg, Md., landscape contractor.
Albany-based Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering, which participated in last year’s rowing event, will field two teams in September. The event “really helped us to learn to communicate last year,” says Amanda Hammell, an EYP electrical engineer. “It was a team effort. We were really cheering each other on and working together.” She will compete this year with company teammates who are all architects.