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Mid-America managers work as a team, work out as a team


Become part of the management team at Mid-America Group Ltd. and you’ll need more than a PDA and a cell phone. You’ll need a gym bag.

In a blend of simple physical fitness and complex corporate bonding, about 10 men and women head over to Team Fitness Training Center in Urbandale every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, forgoing business lunches for circuit training. Instead of looking for ways to please clients, they just try to keep their trainer satisfied.

This is just about as far as you can get from the old three-martini lunch.

“It’s more affordable than a personal session, and it’s a great motivating force to have colleagues there,” said Steve Churchill, Mid-America’s vice president of marketing. “The best benefit is seeing each other outside the office, not wearing a coat and tie. We can joke around a little.”

The concept was born while managers contemplated starting another weight-loss competition. “We were sitting around the table talking about a contest, and I suggested working out together,” Churchill said. “Then Teresa [Wahlert] raised it to another level and promoted it.”

Wahlert, who came out of retirement last winter to become Mid-America’s president and chief operating officer, decided that the company would cover the cost for all of the participants for two months. Then she set about making sure the company would get a good return on the investment.

“Teresa has really encouraged people to participate,” said Churchill. Not everybody was gung-ho for the idea at first, “but when your new boss makes a suggestion, it’s wise to follow it.”

The sessions include cardiovascular exercises and work with free weights. “There’s some level of nervousness when you start to exercise with people you know,” said Julie Durbala Reeves, director of marketing. “But we were all pretty much in the same situation. With a few exceptions, there wasn’t anybody who had been dedicated to exercising.”

Reeves started with the company a few months ago, and some of the other participants in the exercise program also have been part of Mid-America for less than a year. “For me, it was great,” Reeves said. “It’s a way to get to know the team.”

In previous management stops, Wahlert became familiar with team-building programs such as Outward Bound. “Those create trust and reliance on one another. The results of this are much more personalized,” she said. “It’s very personal when people take an interest in your health and well-being.”

To say nothing of their interest in your workout clothes and exercise style.

“We had to comment on everybody’s poor judgment as to what they wore to work out in, and we all took our turn at laughing at how somebody looks trying to do something,” Wahlert said. “Decision-makers need to feel comfortable with one another, trust one another and have humor with one another. You have your guard down when you’re in sweat pants doing push-ups.”

The company isn’t paying for the sessions any longer, but the team still keeps to the Tuesday and Thursday routine. “When you’re working out with a group, you go,” Reeves said. “There’s no ‘maybe I’ll go to lunch with a friend today.’ You have this peer pressure.”

Reeves said one of Mid-America’s vendors took the idea back to her own company – and didn’t get the most positive response. But Reeves sounds sold on the idea.

“It energizes me,” she said. “Exercise really does give you a feeling of euphoria. When you get back to work, the day just feels lighter.”

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