International Programs strengthens ties among employees

IP team building
By Abbi Delgado and Amanda Roberts, Office of International Programs

PULLMAN, Wash. – A number of Washington State University units have employees dispersed throughout campus – and on multiple campuses statewide – making it sometimes difficult to get to know co-workers.

The Office of International Programs (IP) recently spent a morning overcoming that distance via a teamwork building experience.

“The goal was to engage staff in a fun, challenging and interactive atmosphere,” said Erin-Kae Rice, special assistant to the IP vice provost and organizer of the retreat. “We have a big staff and we wanted this chance for those who don’t usually interact on a daily basis to meet.”

The employee development retreat was held at the Paradise Ridge Challenge Course (PRCC) in Moscow, Idaho. University Recreation at WSU has a similar team-building challenge program; interested WSU units can get more information at

Communication and goals

With an IP staff of almost 100 – from faculty instructors of English as a Second Language to staff distributed at Bryan Hall, McAllister Hall and the International Center in the CUB – about 30 participated in the challenge course exercises.

“The key to organizational success is clear communication and effective teamwork,” according to the PRCC website. The first communication of the morning was to share names, positions and individual goals for the day.

“Having fun, getting to know each other, being supportive, learning something positive and useful about each other” were mentioned. And, “Making it through the day without injuring myself or anyone else,” mused Mary Frei, IP’s area finance officer.

Team building, leadership and creativity

On any WSU team, in addition to professional expertise, members bring different styles of communication, leadership and creativity. Through activities involving hula-hoops, blindfolds, ropes and parachutes, IP colleagues learned about one another and how their strengths contribute to an efficient, effective team.

For example, “It was interesting to see how people fell into a role of leader or follower, but we adapted to involve everyone,” said Trevor Kingsley, IP program assistant.

A new employee, Kingsley found himself in an exercise where he was the only one with sight and everyone else was blindfolded.

“I wasn’t allowed to speak, so I clapped my hands, snapped my fingers and stomped my feet to signal and direct my team,” he said. “It was challenging because improvising signals created confusion, but everyone remained flexible and we succeeded in the end.”
Discussions, lessons and relationships

The team ended the morning sharing lessons gleaned over a potluck lunch of pasta salads, sandwiches, chips and cookies.
“That day showed how inter-connected and strong we are as a team,” said Prema Arasu, vice provost of IP. “Knowing what our colleagues are capable of achieving and creating openings for communication will encourage continued growth in the office.”

“This opportunity will strengthen the entire department’s resolve and ability to follow our mission statement and continue to ‘lead, champion and enable global engagement…’ for the WSU community” said Rice.

IP champions WSU’s internationally-related priorities in research, education and engagement and connects the university and regional community with scholars and citizens worldwide. For more information, contact Abbi Delgado at IP at 509-335-8803.