The Most Horrifying Team Building Exercises

2021.08.26.

There’s a good reason why most employees tend to cringe at the words “team building.” That’s because it brings back previous deeply repressed memories of awful attempts by management to inject some sort of team spirit into the work environment. One of the big problems with the team building genre is the fact that it is so broad and can cover so many different activities. Unfortunately, many of these have absolutely nothing to do with building a team. Because team building has been a buzzword for the last couple of decades, bosses are more inclined to give a nod to the idea of spending money on activities that could benefit the business in both the long and short term. But when it comes to implementation, there's much room for things to go bady adrift. 

Many bosses and managers forget that team building should involve them. But rather than joining in and helping the team as an equal partner, they remain aloof and continue with their role of manager or boss. This is the road to ruin. If one person wants to remain in control, especially as the boss, then the whole exercise is made redundant. 

Another factor that has contributed to the eye-rolling reception to the idea of team building exercises, is the fact that many unqualified people decided to jump on the team building bandwagon. They then encouraged businesses to send their employees for specialist team building exercises. The general thinking was that by offering mountaineering, off-roading, kayaking or whatever, would be enough and the team would come together. But these are just physical exercises and they have no other purpose than to make people very nervous about what might happen in a dangerous situation.Here the idea is that by conquering your fear, you emerge a better person. This is great in the movies, but does not translate into a team building exercise in any shape or form.  

Reading through some online reviews of team building companies is an eye-popping experience. Whoever thought of these team building exercises should really be forced to repeat them, like sisyphus. We've made a list of some of our favorites. Brace yourselves...

Because one office was suffering from conflicts between the various people working there, a team building specialist was brought in. For some unexplained reason this bonehead thought it would be a good idea if all the employees stood in a circle. Then one after another each employee had to go round the circle telling each person what they didn't like about them. As you can imagine after 5-minutes almost everybody was in tears. 

Then there's a story of a team building consultant who's brought in to help the office work better together. Their solution was to determine that each member of the staff was some kind of animal. Unsurprisingly, the boss was the lion. One of the secretaries was a monkey. The only benefit for her was that her coworkers were told that they shouldn't tell her to tidy her workstation, as it should stay as a kind of unkempt natural monkey habitat. You really couldn't make this stuff up.

Or how about having to sit on the floor of the office, cross-legged for around 2 hours. Each member of the office staff had to hold hands and close their eyes. The team building consultant then described how they were flying over the ocean and heading towards the “Temple of the Dolphin.” Apparently she got pretty carried away and her vivid descriptions were pretty over the top. Trying to remain polite, everybody really struggled not to laugh out loud. Then the team had to watch videos of dolphins and point out the leadership skills that dolphins have. There are no words to describe the sheer idiocy of this. More disturbingly, the business paid for this new-age rubbish.

Here's a great story about how a boss being in control can get things so very wrong. There was a mandatory party organised on a weekend afternoon and everybody had to show up by a certain time. Hourly workers didn't get paid for this and would have preferred to have been at home with their families. Nevertheless everybody turned up and the boss even took an attendance list, like a school teacher at 8am in the morning. For the food and a big prize draw, all the employees had to wait for maybe 4 hours until that was available. On the other hand there was a lot of free beer. The problem was, as this was the boss's house, he didn't want people traipsing in and using his bathroom. Then it started to rain. 

One story was about how a business manager ended up being fired as he was a terrible person who managed to antagonize all the employees. The boss thought it would be a good idea to bring in a team building consultant and all go out of town to a country retreat, so that all the employees could get together once more and have some fun. Everything was going very well until, in the evening, the consultant suggested that everybody sit together. The consultant suggested that there should be a debriefing after this manager was fired, and that everybody should write down what they didn't like about the fired manager. Once they've done this, they were to stand up and shout out all the negatives they’d written. Once that was over the consultant then took a cardboard box and had everyone place their pieces of paper within it. She then presented the box to the owner and said that together, in the office, they should all burn the box and all the “baggage” inside of it. Totally bonkers and more like witchcraft then team building. 

So what can we learn from these terrible team building experiences? For one thing, don't ever choose something that will violate people's privacy, personal space, or their dignity. Keep in mind that if you're organising one of these things, that just because you and your close friends might enjoy it, doesn't mean it's appropriate for everybody in the workplace. What can be great fun for some can be a source of misery for others. This includes things like athletic activities and, God forbid, public performances. 

Another factor if you're organising a team building, is to ask yourself whether the activities you set up have absolutely any bearing on how people spend their time 364 days a year in the office. Keep in mind that team building cannot solve a morale problem. And it's often touted as a way of encouraging communication, but in reality, this is a job where the boss needs to step in and say what's what.

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