the 10 most horrifying team-building exercises

Last week’s post about team-building exercises produced some hilarious and horrifying stories. Here are the 10 most horrifying ones.

1. A slam book for grown-ups

“During a previous job, I worked in a team that was having trouble getting along, so they brought in someone to help us work together as a team. First activity? We had to go around the room and tell each other what we didn’t like about each other. We might have also had to add what we did like about each other but I honestly only remember the criticisms and the people bursting into tears. We went from simply not being able to work together to actively disliking each other in about 30 minutes. Then we ate a boxed lunch and ended the day by filling out personality tests.”

2. Nearly trampled by a horse

“My team did ‘horse whispering,’ where you work with horses to learn about effective communication. One of the horses got over-excited, galloped towards the center of the barn where we were being briefed, and nearly trampled one of my co-workers. It was a bonding experience to a certain extent, but only because we all thought we were going to die.”

3. Lions and monkeys

“We had an exercise run by a consultant who determined what kind of workplace animal each of us was. The boss turned out to be a ‘lion’ (surprise!). I turned out to be a ‘monkey,’ which was great. My coworkers were told that they weren’t allowed to tell me to tidy my workspace because it would stifle my natural simian creativity.”

4. Bathing with your managers

“I work in Japan, and my worst team building exercise has been taking a bath with my boss and supervisors, although only of the same gender. It’s called ‘naked relationships’ and is thought to build trust. After showering and washing your hair in a group facility, you sit in the bath (which is a natural hot spring) together and talk and bond. The idea is that when you are naked, everyone is equal and you will feel free to discuss things and joke about things that you wouldn’t in the office setting.”

5. Peanut attack

“My office had a ‘trust’ activity that required people to hold hands and touch each other, done after a snack that had large amounts of peanut products had been consumed. I got in trouble for refusing to participate. Participating would have meant risking death – yes I’m that allergic to peanut products. (In the last 12 years, I’ve been to the ER 7 times for anaphylactic shock, and all involved touching something with peanut residue or being touched by someone who had peanut residue on their hands.)”

6. The temple of the dolphin

“I once had to sit through two hours of a team-building exercise that first involved us all sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding hands with our eyes closed, while the leader described us flying over the ocean into the “temple of the dolphin.” She got very vivid in her description of this imaginary place. It was incredibly difficult not to laugh. After we opened our eyes, we had to watch videos of dolphins and point out the leadership skills they were demonstrating. I am not joking. We did that for well over an hour.”

7. Bathroom deprivation

“One of the top people at one place I worked organized a mandatory party on a weekend afternoon and made it clear people had to show up at 1 p.m. Hourly workers didn’t get paid for their time but had to show up (he had someone take attendance), and when everyone got there, they discovered that the food and the big prize drawing were not going to be held until three (or maybe four) hours later. The party was outside and he supplied a lot of beer and not much else. Partway through, it started to mist and drizzle. He wouldn’t let anyone who wasn’t a supervisor inside his home — not to get out of the rain, and not to use the bathroom. There were no other facilities. And they took attendance again when the food came out to make sure everyone had stayed.”

8. Purging ceremony

“My office went through an incredibly difficult period when we added a new associate and it went horribly. He had to be let go and it was hard on the entire staff, as everyone had resentment toward various components of his work ethic (or lack thereof). A consultant recommended a team-building retreat out of town, complete with cabins, dinners out, shopping on the owner’s dime, etc. It was all fun and games until the consultant held an increasingly uncomfortable debriefing session where we had to write down what didn’t like about the associate who was fired, then had to go around and share aloud. Then the consultant passed around a box for the slips of paper and presented the box to the owner and very seriously said, ‘When you are all at the office again, you need to have a purging ceremony and burn this box with all the baggage inside.’ The owner’s face looked like he wanted to pass out and the rest of us wanted to run away.”

9. Bonded through spitting

“We had to take a big gulp of soda, and spit the soda into a partner’s mouth! It was incredibly disgusting. I have no idea who thought that was a good idea, and who approved it. Some of the guys got into it, but most everyone declined.”

10. Outdoor terrors

“My boss was organizing an event for an offsite, and he decided that we should go canyoning. He knew that a colleague and I were afraid of heights (me) and small enclosed spaces (her). Both of us had been trying to slowly push our boundaries, and he thought this exercise would be fun because it would also assist us in something we were trying to accomplish privately. The event began with a 50-meter rappel. That’s a 165-feet drop. And as you dropped, the walls of the cliffs narrowed into this dark narrow space, with a mountain lake in the bottom. We gritted our teeth and did that part, only to realize the next stages were worse. It was a half-day event, and having started, the only way was to finish the course. There was hyperventilating and actual tears.”

So if you’re planning a team-building event for your office, how can you avoid having it become an event that people dread and complain about? These tips will help:

  • Don’t choose activities that might violate people’s dignity, privacy, or personal space. Something you might enjoy with close friends isn’t always appropriate for the workplace.
  • Realize that what’s fun for some people is miserable for others. This especially includes athletic activities and public performances.
  • A top complaint about team-building exercises is that they have no bearing on how people spend their time the other 364 days of the year, so ask yourself whether the activity really relates to the work people are there to do.
  • If the team-building is meant to fix a communication or morale problem, it’s probably not the right solution. Those issues require management to step in and take action.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. AD*

    AAM – I know in the original post you asked for examples of GOOD team-building activities. Did you get any?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, a handful of them — I think the common denominator was that they were focused on things related to work (like teaching colleagues how to do things).

  2. Anonymous*

    Holy cats, that really put our silly tug-o-war session in perspective for me. I’ll do it happily next time!

  3. Arbynka*

    I have never experienced a terrrible team building event but I had one “interesting” training moment. I worked as a receptionist in a big hotel in Prague (one of my summer jobs during my school years). Lots of international guests. I went to a training session with the hotel´s fire marshall about- what else- fire safety and fire evacuation procedure. So, first part went over well, then comes the evacuation procedure. “When you hear the fire alarm, make sure to get out before all of the guests start to panic around.” Oh, and he mentioned being careful running on high heels, I could sprain my ankle. So I asked if our guests are of no concern to us. He said : “Well, just don´t push one out of the way if he happens to be in front of you on your way out.” I told him that my manual says I am responsible for making sure the alarm has sounded in all rooms. He said :” Just shout out something, but don´t shout fire, people will think you are kidding. Just shout- I want to have sex-, they will all come running”. I informed him I will have to consult the hotel´s director about this because his instruction very much differ from my manual which I agreed to follow when I signed my contract. I went to talk to the hotel´s director – long story short, he was on this so called new receptionist hazing. Btw- I was told I was so far the only receptionist to bother to go to the director´s office (which any employee is suppose to do if any instruction directly contradicts any rule in a manual) thus making it possible for him to participate. He liked me quite a lot after this. He thought it was really funny.

    1. Alisha*

      My short-lived new job had a horrible, regular exercise, which my boss didn’t engage in – thus he glossed over it in the interviews accordingly. The last Friday every month, from noon to close, they threw themed, “team morale” parties. Attendance was MANDATORY, and folks who declined participation were required to waste a PTO day, or work from home. Being new, I would’ve had to waste 4 PTO days out of 20, b/c I could tele-work 120 days after hire. The poor, new line staffers couldn’t tele-work for the first 365 days, and only got 15 PTO days total, forcing them to attend, since declining flushed their vacation and sick time down the toilet, which was the point.

      If you showed up on “morale-building party” Friday, you’d better be clad in an embarrassing or skimpy costume that met exact criteria. You had to bring a potluck dish as well, and put $10 toward the “committee.” Each theme also required a mortifying action, like talking in horrible accents, or for the theme involving a certain popular show, coming in with self-tanned orange skin (shit you not). If you were caught working during party time, or did not follow party “rules,” you were subjected to a mandatory “punishment” that was meant to be hilarious, and aid bonding. Meanwhile, you’d be making up your work over the weekend, which tends to kill morale. My boss was so apathetic he didn’t care if I telecommuted those Fridays from the start – and that same apathy allowed my position to be eliminated, a fact I am grateful for in retrospect!

      1. Jamie*

        It’s official – I have no business complaining about my job ever.

        You have my sympathies…I can see why it was short lived.

        1. Alisha*

          It worked out okay for the time I was there though, as i never had to bear witness to the monstrosity. ; ) And happily, my workplaces have otherwise been placid on the party front!

      2. Vicki*

        I am so happy to hear that job was short-lived. I’vm surprised anyone stayed past the first one of these “parties”.

  4. Charles*

    yep, all very silly indeed!

    I would, however, wonder what those in Japan think of the Naked Relationships idea; given how communal bathing is very common in that part of the world I suspect that it isn’t as bad as it sounds to our Western ears. I’m not saying that it sounds good, just not as bad. It does sounds much easier (at least for me) than the bonding that a stereo-typical “salaryman” has to do in Japan with their bouts of binge drinking and karaoke. (I don’t drink and everyone would be much better off if I did NOT sing, thank you very much!)

    The peanut allergy sounds like a lawsuit just waiting to happen! I once got into trouble for telling a colleague (that I just met) at a dinner that the restaurant used peanut oil in their cooking (most high-end Chinese restaurants do; especially if the head chef is from Hong Kong or Taiwan as was the case in this restaurant) when she mentioned that she was allergic to nuts. She later excused herself and went back to her hotel. Later, I was blamed for “making her sick.” The manger said if I hadn’t said anything maybe she wouldn’t have noticed (Are f*cking kidding me!) Hopefully, someday more folks will take allergies more serious and not dismiss true allergies as some sort of dislike. Allergies can, and do, kill.

    1. Ariancita*

      Wow, that’s crazy that the manager thought she wouldn’t notice. Allergies can and do kill, like you say.

      1. Arbynka*

        “The manager said if I hadn’t said anything maybe she wouldn’t have notice”
        I am starting to believe people don´t know what allergies are and how serious they can be. I remember a “duh” moment in doctor´s office last year when the nurse verified my allergies to medications and then asked :”What happens ?” I got confused:”What do you mean what happens? I get all red and swollen and I cannot breathe.” She smiled and explained that they are making sure because many people have been saying they have allergies when they actually do not.

        1. Vanessa*

          Speaking from many years of working in a pharmacy, it’s unfortunately true! All day long I would field phone calls from customers complaining of having an allergic reaction to a medication when really they were experiencing a common side-effect. Then they would get mad when we refused to list it in their file as an allergy to the medication. On the opposite end of the spectrum there’s always a handful of people who experience anaphylaxis and write it off as a side-effect. Sigh…

          1. Arbynka*

            “…who experience anaphylaxis and write it off as a side-effect. Sigh…”
            It is hard to wrap my head around it. I experienced anaphylaxis twice. First was the “original” reaction, second time I had epipen with me and was able to stab myself before ambulance arrived. The first time was truly horrible. I just felt my throat closing up and tried to breath, then everything went black and I briefly woke up in ambulance. Just remember the sirens and paramedic telling me it will be all right and I blacked out again. Then I woke up in the hospital.
            And peanut allergy is truly scary. I did not know how many things have traces of peanuts. (Started to read labels because of a friend with allergy)

            1. Gene*

              Yeah, you get instant reaction when you stagger into an ER and croak out, ” … I … can’t … breathe … ”

              Then when you go to an allergist to find out what caused it and he calls in all the other doctors to, “look at THIS reaction!” I can eat olives, I can use olive oil, but olive pollen will try to kill me.

              1. Arbynka*

                I hear you Gene :) I am still scared at how fast it can happen. In my case I stopped breathing just before ambulance got there. I would never made it into ER by myself. And I am lucky we live so close to the fire house. They never found out what was the reason for this one – my doctor said probably overload of different things. It was a bad allergy season, that is for sure. My pollen allergies are not strong enough to just cause reaction like that. And I am happy to report that after a two years of allergy shots I hardly have any problems at all – not even a runny nose :)
                btw – they outlawed planting of new olives trees here because their pollen is so strong and many people have reaction to it.

          2. Charles*

            ” . . . experience anaphylaxis and write it off as a side-effect.”

            Yea, me too! I’m having trouble wrapping my head around that too. I’ve gone into anaphylaxis; and boy, is the epipen a life-saver (I mean that literally, not as a figure of speach).

            How on earth can someone who has experienced that just “write it off”? (not doubting you Vanessa; just astounded at some people. Perhaps it is a form of denial on their part? Kind of like the folks who suffer a mild heart attack and think that it is only indigestion)

            1. Vanessa*

              I know, it makes no sense right?!

              I too have experienced anaphylaxis and there is NO MISTAKING it. I think the people fall into either two camps: the reaction is somewhat mild (their throat only closes partially? They only get hives and swelling?) and so they write it off as not serious because they don’t want to deal with the stress of having such a challenging medical issue to manage. Or they are just complete idiots.

              For the record, many people experiencing urgent life-threatening emergencies call the pharmacy instead of 911. I wanted to hang up posters illustrating what you call the pharmacy for and what you go to the ER for. “Sniffles? Call the pharmacy! Paralyzed on one side? Go to the ER!”

        2. JT*

          Sadly, this part is true also:

          “many people have been saying they have allergies when they actually do not.”

        3. Rana*

          Yes. I’ve been trying to get this through the head of one of my in-laws who likes to tell people that he’s “allergic to fish” as a way of not having to deal with them trying to persuade him to try it. He thinks he’s incredibly clever for having come up with this solution (and tells everyone about it, which sort of negates the whole point, but whatever) and refuses to accept that his actions could cause problems for people who genuinely have allergies.

          1. Blinx*

            I don’t have any food allergies per se, but there are many foods I don’t eat, either because of the taste, or how they react with my innards. I just say “Fish doesn’t agree with me” and if someone presses me on the issue, respond “You really don’t want to know!”

          2. Flynn*

            There’s a local burger place that makes fantastic burgers (organic, gluten free, vegan, the lot), and I’m always asking for specific things to be left out.

            Anyway, they’ve started asking if I’m allergic (not because it’s me, just as a follow up question), which is awesomely sensible (I just say no, I just don’t like X, and it’s fine).

            1. Anonymous*

              I have a friend that is pretty severely allergic to onions, and he almost never tells the waiters or anything, because he’s ended up in situations where they refuse to serve him because they don’t want the liability. He just tells them to make sure there are no onions anywhere on his plate, and that seems to be OK. I thought that was interesting though!

              Though in my experience (which is not vast) if you are at a restaurant that uses peanut oil and you’re allergic, you probably can’t eat ANYTHING they serve. A little oil on someone’s fingers who is preparing a salad is enough. I do find it a little odd that this person would go to a Chinese restaurant and not mention the allergy.

          3. Laura L*

            That’s super annoying.

            Although, I think it would help if people would just respect other people’s food preferences and not try to get them to eat food they don’t like. Especially when those people aren’t generally picky eaters…

            As someone who has non-food allergies, it drives me nuts when people think allergies aren’t that bad or are “all in my head.” But, it’s also annoying when people try to get me to eat food that I know I don’t like.

            1. Ariancita*

              “Although, I think it would help if people would just respect other people’s food preferences and not try to get them to eat food they don’t like.”

              This. I never could figure out why anyone cares what some people do or do not eat.

        4. Blinx*

          Asking “what happens” is a perfectly legitimate question to ask, since there are all different degrees of being allergic. Reactions range from a slight rash, to hives, to nausea, and of course anaphylactic shock/death.

          Regardless, they’re nothing to fool with. If someone’s allergic to peanuts, wouldn’t they be proactive and find out what type of oil is used in the kitchen before ordering and/or going to that restaurant??

          1. Arbynka*

            “Reactions range from a slight rash, to hives, to nausea, and of course anaphylactic shock/death. ”
            Excellent point, Blinx. You are, of course, completely right.

          2. Alisha*

            I had a severe, as in anaphylactic shock, reaction to chocolate as a child, but I grew out of it. However, my husband’s fish allergy never changed, and even as an adult, he’s realized how explicit he needs to be with people about it.

            The first time he ate the Feast of the 7 Fishes dinner with my extended family, our cousin said the linguine marinara would be fine for him, as it contained no fish. Apparently, she meant “no visible fish,” but it was still made with fish stock – so his throat closed up and he got sick anyway. Now, my brother does the cooking, and fish is a side-dish on the holiday table, not a main course.

  5. Naama*

    I didn’t post this in the original thread, because it was probably only horrifying to me — but we had a motivational speaker who made us pair up and discuss our values, fears, and other pretty private things about ourselves. Loads of people had no problem with it: “My top three values are my family, my church, and personal growth!” But me? Yeah, I had an abusive childhood, and a lot of who I am comes down to how I’m surviving that. Not exactly something I want to share with the guy who gossips with everyone, or the lady who thinks she knows the answers to everything. I don’t believe in lying about my background, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I also don’t want to be forced to talk about my inner motivations, desires, and anxieties. Especially not in a work situation. I wanted to scream.

    Bottom line? Not everyone has the same comfort level sharing about themselves. Keep the personal stuff out of these exercises, or make them REALLY clearly optional. If it violates the personal-professional boundary, it shouldn’t be a surprise or a requirement.

    1. Arbynka*

      Naama, I so agree with you. Revealing “inner things” in a workplace can be pretty tricky – even if you are comfortable with it – and I am not.

    2. Anonymous*

      Like you, I keep it close to the vest. If I were ever made to perform in such a team-building exercise, I would just make things up. “I’m afraid of snakes. My top three values are hard work, valor, and honor. My most embarrassing childhood memory is the time I had a tantrum at Bergdorf Goodman when I was six.” Things like that.

      1. Nichole*

        Valor? Love it. I want to work there just so I have someone new to play “What Would Dwight Schrute Say” with. “I fear nothing. My top three work values are valor, vigilence, and a third v which will not be revealed at this time. My most embarrassing memory just happened when I revealed v’s one and two so easily.”

    3. Charles*

      Nope, it isn’t only horrifying to you.

      I, also, would make stuff up. Or I would be snippy enough to say things like “I’m afraid of answering stupid questions during a team building exercise.” (although, I might use the snakes thing instead?! That shouldn’t piss off any managers)

      How on earth someone can think that this king of exercise will help to build a team is beyond me.

    4. Long Time Admin*

      You don’t have to tell the truth. Really. Just say what others before you say, possibly in different words.

      Once someone tries to bulldoze the walls that I have so carefully built around myself, I shut down. They never get anything genuine (on a personal level) from me again.

      I’ve been working on those walls myself, and have made progress. But every time I reveal too much, I have one of those naked-in-public dreams that night. My subconscious doesn’t let much get past it.

      1. Kelly O*

        Same here. Trying to force me to share more than I want in that particular setting just makes me cling that much more stubbornly to NOT doing whatever it is you’d like me to do.

        I personally would have been tempted to say my top three values are pi, Planck’s constant, and the air speed velocity of an unladen African swallow.

    5. Jill P*

      Naama, I sympathize…I came to this website by Googling “team building sucks” because I went through this exercise. Unfortunately I was paired up with the department manager and I am a newish employee. So awkward! I ended up crying and feeling embarrassed.

  6. Joey*

    The problem with most team building stuff is that it’s typically a cheap attempt to do the managers job for him. They only work as an enhancement to a managers ongoing efforts. Nothing builds a team better than a manager getting the team fired up about a goal, getting in the trenches when needed, promoting the sharing of knowledge, going to bat for your team and providing positive consequences for team achievements.

  7. Chinook*

    Having worked in Japan, I found the communal bathing to be an interesting moment with same sex co-workers (I drew the line at mixed gender bathing). But, I was eased into it in my first week by a fellow Canadian who brought me to a local bath one night after work and walked me through the steps so that I wouldn’t feel so awkward doing it when we were invited by coworkers (as well as pointing out that people would stare at me because I was so white). As she put it, once you have had a conversation about various hair colours in the bath, you gel differently as coworkers. Some of my best memories were going with friends, coworkers and students to a touristy ensen and enjoying the view. I even convinced my mother to join in when she came to visit and she ended up doing it on her own when she travelled alone the following week.

    Ever since then, I have had a different attitude towards my own nudity and body image.

    1. Erik*

      It’s also very common in Finland to discuss business deals in the sauna. Part of the culture.

  8. Anonymous*

    Disclaimer: I hate team building exercises in general. However, I really dislike competitions of any sort. I’m just competitive enough that I feel frustrated by losing, but not so competitive that “winning” is a motivator, so it’s just stressful and irritating for me. I’m always a good sport, but if I can opt out of anything involving being ranked, I do.

    1. Jamie*

      I love rankings – I would rank everything all the time. Always.

      I work really hard to leave this part of me out of the office…a format for people like me to unleash this part of ourselves that is best restrained is reason 917 that these things are such a bad idea.

      There was talk in the comments about Susan Cain’s TED speech – so I looked it up online and there was another one which is about 40 minutes where she’s speaking to a corporation and starts off with a joke about the personal team building exercises – it’s pretty funny.

  9. Adrilicious*

    I once had a boss who, a week after I was hired invited me over for dinner on a Saturday. I figured it might be a nice way to get to know each other more, even though it was outside of our working hours. I agreed. As I walked in the door she threw her two year old son into my arms and told me I needed to know her kids if I was going to work with her because she works with me, but for them.

    Then she told me I needed to keep coming over for dinner with her and her family until we could communicate without words due to our “mental connection” as she called it.

    She also thought our team could bond by laughing about racist jokes about each of our cultural backgrounds. She made the jokes.

    Needless to say – we never “mentally connected” and the “team building” was totally ineffective.

    1. mh_76*

      um, yikes! That’s what pix of kids on desks are for! What if you were someone who actively disliked kids? I do know people who dislike kids. That’s akin to someone thrusting a puppy into the arms of someone might fear or dislike dogs.
      (I’m a dog-lover who hopes to have a dog of my own someday, when logistics & stars hopefully align. I don’t mind other people’s kids when they’re clean and content…but don’t want my own).

    2. Laura L*

      That. Is. Ridiculous.

      Also, why does a boss want to communicate to her employees without words? That’s a recipe for disaster.

      1. Anonymous*

        Off topic, but mh_76, you reminded me of a company I interviewed for that kept saying how close everyone was, one big happy family who did everything together, etc. A policy they were proud of said that Junior could come to work in extreme situations, i.e. snow day, sitter cancelled…in theory. In reality, about a dozen female employees brought their kids several days a week. The company had no separate facility for them, so they ran around all day. We’re happy as non-parents, but our friends’ kids are sweeties, and I’m empathetic to working moms’ plight. At the same time, the idea of working through tantrums or Junior scaling the conference table, monkeying with the file cabinets, etc. gave me pause. However, I gave them the benefit of the doubt…maybe I was being unfairly picky?

        Thankfully, the company decided for me. In the final interview session, the VIP hiring person, with no apology, kicked off with a cancellation. She said she forgot she had to bring Junior to work, “forgot” to ask her secretary to watch him for 90 minutes…and the kicker, “forgot” to read my resume or review my carefully assembled portfolio, despite five days prior notice. “I don’t even know what your background is,” she admitted, before demanding, “I need you to do tomorrow morning first thing, because I have no other openings.”

        “Please consider my candidacy withdrawn. Best of luck filling the position,” came out of my mouth with no guilt or hesitation.

  10. Elizabeth West*

    Ick. I hate team-building exercises. Most of them are junk.

    The best team thing in the world is potluck dinners. We had them at Exjob and one other place I worked, mostly for Christmas but sometimes just for the hell of it. Everyone brought food, and we all ate together and enjoyed each others’ company. The Chili Dog Day at Exjob was epic. No one was allergic to anything, but with potlucks you can bring stuff you can actually eat.

    1. Daniel*

      See, this totally goes along with what Askamanager was saying. I detest eating potluck at work. I’ve had some of the sloppiest co-workers who leave food in the communal refrigerator for weeks without realizing it might be good to throw it out. I can’t even imagine what their home refrigerator is like. I don’t want to eat other people’s foods when I have no idea how it was prepared, etc. I’ve talked to others who feel the same way. Every single time, coworkers say “did you try what i brought? did you like it?” and are totally offended if you don’t.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I guess you have to have some ground rules. See, we had an outside janitorial company who cleaned out the fridge every Friday night and if you left something in there over the weekend, it was GONE when you came back in Monday morning. Until they instituted that rule, we had the same problem. Afterward, people cleaned up, because they didn’t want to lose their containers.

        The offended people, well that’s their problem. I don’t eat mushrooms. If you put mushrooms in your dish, I’m not going to eat it. Sorry, but that’s MY choice. All I ever had to say was “I just can’t tolerate mushrooms,” which sounds like they upset my stomach or something. If I got crap from some of the more, er, down-to-earth employees, I would just give it right back, or point out that not everyone likes or can eat everything. Water off a duck’s back.

        As for sanitation, I’ve never gotten sick off a potluck. Maybe I’m lucky, but the few times I’ve had food poisoning, it’s been from either a restaurant or a vendor elsewhere (KFC, and improperly cleaned soda fountains at my high school being two notable examples).

      2. Elise*

        I’m in the pro potluck crowd. We don’t have a community fridge, so I don’t know or care what that is like. Most people just pick up something at the grocery store (veggie tray, cookies, hot dogs, etc). We have crockpots at work to heat things up and people are good about cleaning them so we don’t lose the privilege.

        Some people make something, but I’ve not had concerns. Those who would make me think before eating their creations tend to also be the ones to just pick up a pie from the store.

      3. Alisha*

        Totally with you, ladies, on well-done potlucks. I’ve enjoyed those at two previous jobs. My cooking skills are non-existent, so enjoying some home-made sushi, lo mein, or poppyseed roll on occasion ruled! The last place I worked at for a long time had two refrigerators. The one some folks used to store their lunches was NASTY (one of the 2 repeat offenders wasn’t used to kitchen duty at home, the other was fresh out of college and lived with her parents). But the other fridge, which stored the potluck stuff, beer/wine, and our drink mixers, was in good shape. We also had two guys with fish allergies and a couple vegans/vegetarians, and I had my IBD diet, so everyone was cool about eating or not eating as you wished.

        Of course, I think most folks would find potlucks irritating if they were frequent, mandatory, required you to pony up $$ along with your dish, and made overtime work for you, but most companies don’t have silly morale-boosters like the one I mentioned – and we’re all better off for it!

        1. Vicki*

          When you live 45 miles from the office and take the train to/from work, you do NOT want to be put in the position of being “required” to being food for a potluck.

          1. Anonymous*

            Well, requiring people to bring things is bad… but I’ve lived an hour away, having to train in, and if you pick up something sealed from the store it’s fine. Even refrigerated stuff should be fine… you can usually leave it out up to 4 hours.

            I think the potluck is the best sort of morale building that has been proposed thus far, if it is done during work hours and paid (or you have the option of leaving early and not getting paid, but not being penalized). Based on the premise that you’re doing work when you’re bullshitting with co-workers in the kitchen, but not doing work when you’re leaving early.

  11. mh_76*

    I know that this is about bad team-building exercises but I wanted to share one that was a lot of fun:

    They lined us up in 2 equal lines and gave each line a grapefruit. The goal was to pass the grapefruit down the line and back without using hands or arms and without having the grapefruit fall. Whichever line met the goal first “won”. Mind you, that was the early 1990’s and nowadays such a thing would be considered scandalous — we were all High Schoolers at a summertime camp and the solution that someone (possibly yours truly) came up with was to put the grapefruit between chin & “wishbone” and pass it down the line chin-to-chin.

    1. Elise*

      This is one of the examples of a bad work team building exercise. It’s fine for students or friends at a party doing it for a game (and in both cases, should be optional participation). It’s very bad for a work environment. First and third points in AAMs post.

    2. Vicki*

      Again, funs for one is not fin for all. This is the sort of thing I would loathe. It would be scary in HS. It would be totally inappropriate in a work setting. Ugh.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        I agree with Vicki. There are some people that I do not want to touch me, nor I them.

  12. mh_76*

    Sorry to be sooo blunt…but re-read the last sentence between the — and the ( . The point wasn’t to suggest that it would be a good idea for any workplace but simply that it didn’t suck like the other things mentioned. And were it to be suggested in a workplace, a different solution would most certainly have been thought of.

    1. Laura L*

      Oh, that activity definitely sucks for a lot of people. I did that at a parent’s work picnic when I was a 11 and I was not a fan of being that close to strangers.

      I wouldn’t like it now, either, even if it was with people I knew.

      1. mh_76*

        I was 15 or 16 … maybe I would feel different had I been 11 … or if I were an introvert …
        … but think of how boring a place the world would be if everyone agreed on everything

      2. Alisha*

        Pretty sure one year we had orange relays at Field Day, which we all loved because it was super-fun – and meant summer vacation was a week away! Third thru fifth graders also participated in potato sack races, 3-legged relays, and softball games, to name a few. I grew up in a southern-ish state with early summers, so lots of water and sunscreen were key. Besides ending the school year in a pleasant way, it was also nice because it gave us something fun to do while the 6th graders got sent to the jr.-sr. HS to learn about 7th grade next year. I dunno if schools do this anymore though – that was the 80s, and lots of things have changed.

    2. Vicki*

      Actually, I’ve heard of this being done in workplaces, with balloons. It doesn’t get “better”. At least one person will come up with the neck solution every time.

  13. Judy*

    Teamwork in general is overrated, nevermind team building excercises. In my firm we build the team by sitting together in a “war room” for hours on ends and discuss powerpoint presentation for client. The firm gets paid a ton. I wonder when will the client be wise up and fire our asses?!

  14. ihearthee*

    One of my former bosses – a real competitive jerk – decided that we were going to geocache (it’s like a treasure hunt) at a big park in town. Well, I had no idea that it was a race that would involve miles of running. Most of the staff was young and in shape and familiar with the exercise. I showed up, with my bum knee, and being overweight at the time, quickly realized that NO ONE wanted me on their team. It was a hot day, and the rules were kind of vague.

    The boss chose his dream team, and I ended up on a loose, disinterested team (I honestly think they figured they were set up to lose) because the main rule was that you couldn’t leave anyone behind, as in, the slowest person was to your detriment.

    Well, I pushed myself so hard that I damaged my knee even further, and finally someone said – why don’t you wait with the supplies, or something to that effect. I can’t really remember what the ruse was, but essentially, they all collectively breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be slowing them down any longer. I felt like a real idiot, and sat on a cooler waiting forever.

    The “prize” was a joke – the sodas in the cooler. By the way, the boss is a multimillionaire. There was no excitement, no bonding, no happiness, no team building, no lessons. All we learned is that our boss is more of a dick than we had thought (he gloated about “winning”) and was even more of a cheapskate than one might imagine.

    I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable. I would never have gone if I knew I’d be ostracized and made to feel like an albatross, a dead weight. I had hoped to get closer to my colleagues and to show some of my talents (I thought the day would entail all sorts of events). And I wouldn’t have participated in the race, but it was too late once I’d joined up when I figured out what it would entail.

    If you run a gym, then you can push your employees to do physical stuff like that. If you have an office full of desk workers, some of whom are older and out of shape, don’t make them huff and puff and feel humiliated.

  15. Ben Tadman*

    Tomorrow, on a Sunday, I’m going on an outing with colleagues as a team-building exercise. It’s all ready stipulated in my contract that I have to work some weekends but this is an extracurricular event that was technically optional but that in reality had some of us feeling forced into complying with. Shouldn’t these outings which take away from personal and family time be avoided?

  16. Truford*

    Employers need to also keep in mind that not everyone is physically capable of participating in a team-building exercise. Some of us are older and have health conditions that, although not apparent, are serious enough to prohibit physical exertion. That doesn’t mean we’re “party poopers” and refuse to participate in anything. We just don’t feel like ending up in the hospital (or dead) for the sake of trying to prove how much we love our co-workers by playing stupid games with them. And yes, those of us who are older are usually past all that. Just let us do our jobs, have a nice day, and go home. We have learned that work is not life, and our co-workers are not our family or our best friends. We’d like to keep it that way.

  17. Truford*

    And while we’re on the subject, here’s a good example of a thoroughly stupid team-building event: Paintball. I can’t think of anything that says “I’m totally committed to creating stronger bonds with my co-workers” more than running around in the woods, shooting at each other with toy guns. I’d be real wary of the brilliant person who came up with that idea.

  18. Truford*

    But then again, I admit I was fired from a job after 3 weeks for refusing to travel 80 miles to another city just to go bowling with my co-workers. Thank God. I’m sure hockey would have been next.

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