Rev Up Your Team’s Engine
ZEIGLER MOTORSPORTS AIMS TO MAKE ORGANIZATIONAL TRAINING FUN (AND FAST!)

STORY ANDREA PRATT | IMAGE HANNAH ZIEGELER

For many, the thought of team building exercises conjures youthful images of camp counselors leading campers down to the lake or human resources managers struggling to stir up excitement with clichéd activities like the trust fall, Two Truths and a Lie, or game of capture the flag.

More sophisticated options have cropped up, even going as far as “extreme team building” in the form of simulated plane crashes or wilderness survival challenges. However, if you’re looking for something more accessible—and less terrifying—you may find what you need right around the corner.

This past March, Kalamazoo-based Zeigler Auto Group opened Zeigler Motorsports. The 85,000-square-foot facility, located on Sprinkle Road in Comstock Township, is surrounded by three vehicle test tracks and four miles of trails for motorsports enthusiasts, and is home to a showroom with 14 motorsports brands on display, a tap house, and the Elevate Leadership and Team Building Academy.

Elevate, as its name suggests, offers professional team building and leadership training services. Organizations of all sizes are welcomed.

Aaron Zeigler, president of the Zeigler Auto Group, says that Elevate grew out of a desire to help other companies bring their teams together, develop future leaders, and, ultimately, grow.

“We get asked all the time how we’ve had such tremendous success growing our company, and we say it’s from developing our people,” Zeigler says. “We’ve always been a big believer in training and development. I think that’s one of the reasons we have low employee turnover, and why people are really interested in coming to work for us.”

According to Ziegler, the training systems used at Zeigler Auto Group and now offered through Elevate have grown out of the philosophy that true leaders serve their team, and engage them in their work. “Leaders inspire their employees to constantly think about new ideas, new ways of doing things, better ways of doing things, all for the success of the company,” he explains.

Zeigler Auto Group started using the specialized leadership and team building training twelve years ago, when Mike Van Ryn joined the team as Director of Talent Development. Formerly a teacher and principal, Van Ryn built up the system that has been so successful for Zeigler Auto Group, and helped conceive the idea for Elevate.

“Over the years, we’ve focused on leadership training, team building, and developing culture and camaraderie. As we’ve added more and more to our training toolbox and seen great results, Aaron and I thought it would be great to share the experience with others as well.”

The Training

With over a decade of trial-and-error under their belts, and a commitment to continually learning and applying new ideas, Ziegler, Van Ryn, and the rest of the Elevate team believe they have built a fresh, inviting training experience. Instead of purely lecture-style training, each staff member focuses on helping each individual participant understand and appreciate one another.

“Our goal is to tailor the training to the needs of each group, and to help everyone who attends get to know each other and have a fun, productive experience,” Van Ryn says.

Elevate currently offers three distinct training seminars that act as a curriculum framework, but can be modified based on the needs of each individual organization. You can choose one, or do all three on separate days. The first focuses on the elements needed to build a company culture that promotes employee engagement, and is called “Building a World-Class Culture”. The second, “Creating a Winning Team,” is designed to increase the level of cooperation between each tier of a given corporate structure. The final, called “Enhancing Your Leadership,” seeks to uncover the leadership qualities of everyone present.

“Depending on the training you choose, the experience will look different,” explains Van Ryn. “But, they’re all engaging and don’t have you sitting in your seat the whole time. We challenge you, but it’s also about laughing and having fun as a team.”

The Setting

The experience is only enhanced by the atmosphere, adds Van Ryn.

“I’ve seen people walk into our showroom for the first time, and their jaws just drop. It’s got waterfalls, it’s got a boardwalk, there are vehicles suspended from the ceiling…and the actual training room is huge and has all the latest technology. Altogether, it’s an exciting, warm environment that helps cultivate progress.”

Elevate seminars are taught partly in the state-of-the-art classroom, but the unique setting of a motorsports park allows for the unexpected.

Participants are invited to “get out of their comfort zone” and experience the motorsports tracks with their teams. Fortunately, a professionally-taught safety course and safety equipment are included.

“Classroom work can get everybody closer together, getting to know each other, and working together towards one common goal, but we also offer the option to go riding on side-by-sides on the track so your heart gets going a little bit,” Aaron Zeigler says.

“When you’re in an intense setting like that with your peers, it allows you to bond and connect even more,” adds Van Ryn.

The Leadership

While the terrain park is sure to catch a participant’s eye and make their heart beat, the true draw of Elevate is arguably the people who have invested in perfecting its curriculum.

“We’ve built up a neat team. The leaders of Elevate are the same people who have provided training for our team and other companies over the years,” says Zeigler.

Mike Van Ryn remains a pivotal component, and guest leaders and speakers include Jim Culhane, former NHL player and coach, and Lawrence Plaisier, long-time former educator and school administrator.

The Result

The setting of Elevate may be distinct from any other training you have experienced, but Zeigler can vouch for its effectiveness in bringing teams together and creating leaders.

“With the number of employees we have, it can be hard to get to know people,” he says. “But, if you spend a day and have an experience with them, you really get to know them. As a team, these experiences have brought us together.”

Zeigler has also seen the impact of the training on the growth and success of his employees.

“The only way you can keep people long-term is to develop them and create opportunities for them,” he stresses. “One of our employees started out washing cars for us, and then he became a service writer, then a salesman, then a sales manager. Now he runs five dealerships. I’ve got a ton of examples like this,” he says.

Mike Van Ryn adds: “In the end, we believe that developing people and companies in our community will foster the success of our community. Our training has worked so well for us, and we hope to share that success.”

-Zeigler Automotive Group is one of the largest privately-owned dealer groups in the nation with 71 franchises and 23 locations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and New York.

– Founded in 1975, the company ranks among the top 1% of automotive dealers in the U.S., and has earned recognition for its commitment to both customer service and employee satisfaction.

-Recently, Zeigler Automotive Group was named one of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in Illinois and Michigan.

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