When Islands Collide

Use a fun, clever team-building exercise to bring together group fitness instructors and personal fitness trainers.

Are your group exercise and personal training departments two distant islands with little knowledge of the other island’s culture? Does an employee who wears both hats feel like he might be “voted off” if his alliance is not solely within one department? This culture is very common in fitness facilities today. It can create animosity and make management difficult. A large percentage of your employees may not really understand how their roles affect the bigger picture (the center and its members).

Look at your department in the same way as you would a sports team: think offense and defense. Individual players exhibit special talents. When combined, these pivotal players, led by a captain, form a winning team with common goals. If you are not working as a team at your facility, you slow your progress, make the environment less comfortable for members and cost the company thousands of dollars in revenue. This also takes a toll on the facility’s culture.

“Programs that promote a sense of family and build teamwork play major roles in the development of a company’s culture,” says Paula Muesse, vice president of Mad Dogg Athletics Inc. in Venice, California. “This success is felt in the quality of production and customer support. The cost of educating and retaining current employees pales in comparison to the costs to replace an employee.”

As a program manager, you can help build a sense of community, pride and belonging by approaching your staff training from a different angle.

Winsome Workshop

Anyone who has been in a management position has most likely attended team-building activities. They usually include scavenger hunts, creating a team cheer or working together to build an object. These corporate-type activities are meant to build camaraderie among management. When do your personal fitness trainers and group exercise instructors attend these types of events? For most facilities, the answer is never. Some clubs may try to bridge the gap between their two “islands” by inviting all employees to join in picnics, bowling parties or other social gatherings. While these events can boost morale, they may not effectively erase the line that divides the two departments. In most cases, employees will stay within their comfort zones and interact only with members of their own “tribe.” So why not have a team-building exercise that requires trainers and instructors to work together and that is educational at the same time?

We have designed a team-building workshop that educates staff about a fitness activity while helping both teams learn from each other.

When promoting this workshop to staff, don’t let them know you intend to do team-building exercises. Promote the event as an educational clinic that will teach them how to use small fitness accessories more effectively. In advance, divide the participants into two or three teams, depending on staff size. Ideally you’ll want 8–12 people on each team. By choosing the teams ahead of time, you ensure a good mix of personal trainers and group exercise instructors on each team. Keep in mind that the goal is to get the two departments to work together and learn from one another.

Let the Game Begin!

Make your workshop fun by modeling it after a television game show. Designate a fitness manager as the “host.” The host’s job is to entertain, keep the workshop moving and judge the exercises for validity and safety. Play popular game-show music to add ambiance. Each team elects a captain, who will also serve as the spokesperson.

Rounds 1 and 2: Safe, Effective Exercises

1. The show host selects two to three of the same props for each team (see “Props List” on page 12 for suggestions).

2. The teams have 10–15 minutes to create a list of exercises using each prop (see “Sample Round 1” on page 12).

3. After time is up, each team has 3–5 minutes to decide which two exercises per prop will be presented to the entire group.

4. The team captains must present these exercises to the group and effectively answer all five questions asked by the show host (see “You Be the Judge” on page 11 for a list of questions).

5. Once a team’s question-and-answer session is complete, the opposing team may present a challenge.

6. Each team is entitled to one challenge per round.

7. The show host is the judge and jury and makes the final decision as to whether an exercise meets the criteria for safety and effectiveness.

8. Award one point for each exercise that the host deems acceptable.

Round 3: Speed Round

1. Each team chooses one prop.

2. The teams have 10–15 minutes to create a list of exercises with the one prop, using the five questions as a guideline.

3. When the time is up, each team has 2 minutes to present as many safe exercises as possible to the group.

4. Ideally one person from each team is the presenter, while the teammates help by calling out the exercise list and cheering the leader on.

5. The host gives one point for every exercise that she or he feels is acceptable.

6. The opposing team tallies the points as the host calls them out.

The team with the highest total of points from all three rounds wins! Present the winning team with a prize and the losing team with a parting gift.

Postgame Analysis

The goal of this workshop is to promote interaction and communication among the different players in your facility. You may find that not everyone plays well together, but don’t look at that as a negative. You may see that some staff members are reluctant to join in or speak up, while others may become defensive about their ideas. Observing these personality traits in this environment provides you with a different perspective on your employees.

As a fitness manager, you may see staff on a limited basis in one type of setting. In a peer group setting, your star group exercise instructor may become completely withdrawn, or your soft-spoken personal trainer may emerge as a true leader. As a manager, this can help you with staff development, promotion and goal setting. “These team-building workshops can break down the barriers, if done correctly, by teaching the staff to put their pride aside and learn from one another,” says John Dennis, fitness director of Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. “In the fitness industry there is so much to learn, and it is constantly changing. No one can ever know it all. If we all share our knowledge and ideas, it benefits the entire facility.”

Playing these workshop games will help staff learn a multitude of skills they can take back and use on their “islands.” From a management perspective, all things ultimately come down to revenue. Therefore, any training or workshop that does not provide continuing education credits needs to correlate to increased revenue. Here’s an angle: use the information gleaned from the workshop to help personal trainers adopt teaching skills to conduct small-group sessions, which bring in more money per hour than individual sessions. On the flip side, group exercise instructors tend to have good relationships with many of the members; with better knowledge of the personal training department, instructors can become a strong referral source.

In the long run, bringing your “tribes” together as a unified team helps everyone win. Your facility will make more money, staff will feel included in a team effort, and the experience will expand their “toolboxes.” Members have a better overall encounter because they are being served by happy, educated staff.

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Marci Clark, BS

IDEA Author/Presenter
Marci Clark is education director for SPIN Pilates and an international presenter on fitness and ... more less

Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE

IDEA Author/Presenter
Peggy Gregor is the group fitness director and corporate group fitness advisor for Healthtrax Fitnes... more less
March 2007

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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