Durham County

Bandana-clad RTI executives help build bikes for boys and girls

RTI International staff members Nichole Smith, Michael Duprey and Ethan Ritchie, from left, participate in a team building task, standing in a small roped area, to earn parts to assemble into a total of 10 bicycles for families from Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Triangle.
RTI International staff members Nichole Smith, Michael Duprey and Ethan Ritchie, from left, participate in a team building task, standing in a small roped area, to earn parts to assemble into a total of 10 bicycles for families from Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Triangle. The Herald-Sun

The top brass for one of the largest companies based in Research Triangle Park looked awfully — though, assiduously — goofy at a recent company bonding event.

RTI International president and CEO Wayne Holden, executive vice president and COO Jim Gibson and executive vice president of human resources Lisa May struggled to tie but eventually fixed brightly colored bandanas on and around their heads and hair.

Bonding games can be unashamedly silly and the big bosses were bonding with researchers recently at RTI's “International Staff Build Bikes for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle” in the Camille Dreyfus Auditorium on the RTI campus in Durham’s RTP.

Kimberly O'Malley, vice president of RTI's Education and Workforce Development (EWD) department, moved from Austin, Texas to the Triangle to start working for RTI in July, 2016. The bike build was the concluding event of a retreat, organized by O'Malley, meant to re-prioritize the overarching focuses of researchers in her department.

“We have 215 researchers all around the country. Of those 215, 25 percent have Ph.D.’s. That's a lot of brainpower,” O'Malley said. “The purpose of this retreat was to prioritize: prioritize where we want to direct that brain power.”

One hundred and thirty RTI Education and Workforce Development researchers are based in North Carolina, O'Malley added. Eighty-six percent of RTI's Education and Workforce Development department comes from the federal government.

“High school graduation rates are at 82 percent — an all time high,” O'Malley said. “But of those 82 percent, only 28 percent meet all four ACT college readiness benchmarks.”

O'Malley's team works on projects such as raising the percentage of high school graduates who are properly prepared for university course work, work force readiness and how best to identify indicators and develop “support important to school transitions,” she said. For example, the transition between elementary school with a core homeroom to middle school, where schedules are period-based.

In the Camille Dreyfus Auditorium, RTI researchers and executives alike were assigned to one of 10 teams. Each team was assigned a table. On top on each table stood a new bike. Every bike lacked certain mechanical pieces or portions of framing or sections of its body. After successfully completely a bonding game, an RTI team would receive another missing piece of the bike standing on its assigned table.

A name tag was bound to every bike. The name of the child to receive that particular bike was written on the tags. On the tables too, scattered about the tire bases and kickstands, were markers and pompom puff balls to decorate cards for the children and stacks of bandanas.

RTI teammates were required to wear bandanas dyed with their team colors.

“It brings staff together. Its a motivational kind of thing for them. I think it helps them stay balanced in respect to the work that they're doing, rather than working all the time ... but, it is also just a good social group event to allow people to have different kinds of relationships with each other,” Holden said. “We have a continual process of planning that's going on across the institute at multiple levels. So this happening within [O'Malley's] group and so we encourage people to think ... what are things that they really want to focus on? What type of skill sets do they need to try and do that ...?”

Five bonding games were played. The first was “Flip It.”

Teams of six to eight RTI staff stood on small, square, blue tarps tasked with flipping and folding the tarps into ever smaller rectangles without entrants ever stepping off the tarp onto non-canvased ground — hand use, prohibited.

Twister-like tangles ensued.

Gibson, RTI's chief operating officer, wore a dark greenish headband.

“Team One is pulling together,” Gibson said. “Team One has spirit.”

The executive concluded, “Team One has different competences that are coming together to solve this problem in record time.”

Game two was titled “Ten to One” in which teams received a small wooden block with a single nail partially nailed into it and a pack of 10 nails bound by a rubber band. The 10 nails had to be removed from their rubber band bindings and balanced on the single nail without using tools and referees were on hand to ensure rules were followed.

Team Two left its 10 nails rubber band-bound and with brute force merely stuck the collective 10 nails onto the single nail.

A whistle blew.

“No!” a referee ruled loudly. “Not allowed.”

Team Nine research psychologist Randy Spain was the first to figure out that eight nails must be threaded and crosshatched between two planking nails before a single structure of nails could be made to perform the balancing act.

Lisa May was on Team Seven.

“We have an excellent team with a lot of communication and collaboration,” she said.

Team Seven finished “Ten to One” in last place.

After all the bonding and tasks were completed, a group of boys and girls entered the auditorium.

The RTI staff was unaware that the children who would be receiving the bikes staff members helped assemble would be there that night and the kids had no idea that they were getting new bikes. Both parties were surprised as the children made a grand entrance to claps and camera flashes.

“The kids got to be treated like little celebrities,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle match support specialist Isabel Phillips. “They were over the moon.”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks