Team-building through paintball warfare: Ex-Ranger, Marine put office workers through military experience

Story as originally posted at The Detroit News –

COHOCTAH — When businesses want their managers to learn leadership skills, they typically send them to a rented hotel conference for a day of listening to a PowerPoint-armed consultant.

Dan “the Shark” Dooling thinks that’s boring. Dooling, an ex-Army Ranger, prefers to arm the office workers with paint ball guns and send them into some woods to face sniper fire.

Dooling and his partner, Corey “Comet” Clothier, an ex-Marine pilot, run Task Force-1 Inc., a leadership training business based in Cohoctah.

They base their training on 11 military leadership principles widely used among U.S. forces. Businesses hire them to reduce communication problems within the company.

For an average fee of about $450 per person, workers go to a farm in Cohoctah for a day of military-inspired training.

Dooling said his training is about getting employees “off their butts, get the blood flowing, away from the golf course and the mini bar,” he said.

Prior to the paint ball game, he and Clothier go into clients’ workplaces to do “recon.” They speak to employees at all levels to find communication breakdown points. They did just that to Coach’s Catastrophe Cleaning of Ypsilanti.

On December 3, 22 employees, including the CEO, of Coaches began their cold morning inside a military tent.

Each employee got a paint ball rifle. “Love it and it will love you,” Dooling, the “Shark,” told them.

Then the Dooling and Clothier split the workers into two squads, Alpha and Bravo, and briefed them on their mission. They had to go out into the woods and fight their way to a specific point.

The goal, besides having a good time, was to reveal communication breakdown points among coworkers.

There were many. Lynn Jarrett, an executive coach with Excellerate Associates LLC in Canton, followed along, taking notes on the performance as part of her extended leadership training.

“They still don’t know their mission,” she said as the squads entered the woods.

As soon as they entered the woods, snipers began shooting at them and all plans collapsedt. No decisive commands were shouted.

Instead, only the sounds of paint guns and people yelling “Medic!” replaced decisive commands coming from the team’s leadership.

“Gunner” (everyone gets nicknames in the training) was the appointed leader of the two squads.

The Shark could be heard yelling, “Where’s Gunner?!” during the first mission.

“How many are dead?” he repeatedly asked Gunner, who replied, “I lost track of my group!”

Did they really have a plan? “A weak one,” said the Shark, watching everything fall apart.

Afterward, the employees stood in the cold for a debriefing. Dooling and Clothier explained how a lack of planning and resourcefulness that hurt the workers in the game hurt them in business, too.

It was only 10 a.m. The workers still had three more missions to go. They spent the entire day in the woods.

Potential trainees beware: Task Force-1’s training really is physically demanding.

One woman who was giving her all on the battlefield had an asthma attack, causing a momentary crisis.

Dooling had just commented on how well she was doing protecting the rear of her squad when she fell to the ground surrounded by teammates. She was fine a few minutes later.

By the end of the day, they were yelling commands at each other and executing plans more effectively.

They weren’t perfect, but the point wasn’t to become expert snipers.

It was to work together under pressure, following orders and not losing sight of the goal, which was easy to do when paint balls were exploding on their goggles.

In the paint ball game, Coach’s CEO Tim Fagan saw leadership deficiencies as well as surprising leadership coming from employees who usually aren’t in roles to demonstrate leadership in the workplace.

Back in the workplace, he saw formerly quiet employees going after bigger tasks.

“We learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the team,” Fagan said a week after the training.