how to team-build — without trust falls, rope courses, or lengthy off-sites

When we hear about team-building, it’s often in the form of cringe-inducing exercises like trust falls, athletic events like rope-climbing that many people dread, or other practices that can easily cross over into violating people’s comfort and even dignity. So what are you to do if you’re a manager looking for a way to build a sense of team on your staff?

First, ask yourself whether team-building is really what’s necessary. Managers sometimes turn to team-building to fix communication, cooperation, or morale problems, but it’s rarely the right solution for those kinds of challenges. Those types of problems usually require a solution at the management and systemic level; an afternoon playing paintball or doing ice-breakers isn’t going to mend management challenges. And in fact, introducing team-building in those contexts can actually make the problems worse, because employees will be frustrated that they’re being asked to spend their time on activities that read as frivolous while the real issue goes unaddressed.

But if you’re sure that cultivating more of a sense of team and unity is truly what your staff needs, then think about team-building through measures like the following:

  • Creating ways for your team members to get to know each other better, without violating anyone’s privacy or dignity. This means remembering that what’s fun for some people (like public performances or athletic competitions) is misery for others. Look for things that are voluntary and low-key.
  • Creating opportunities for team members to get a deeper understanding of each other’s work. People don’t always have a good sense of what their colleagues are working on or what value they’re bringing to the organization, and increasing that understanding can make people appreciate their team members in new ways. But be careful – the solution to this isn’t to institute lengthy staff meetings where everyone recites a list of what they’re working on (which tends to just put people to sleep or make them antsy to get back to work). Instead, try using your role at the hub to spot opportunities to share information or connect people.
  • Creating ways for team members to have meaningful input into the direction of the team. This doesn’t mean that you should open up every decision to a vote, but rather than you should seek out and truly welcome people’s feedback into strategy and process, as well as whatever problems you’re grappling with at any given time. In fact, many artificial team-building exercises are built around group problem-solving, like having to solve a maze or build a balloon castle; skip the artificial activities and delve as a group in real-world problems your team is facing.
  • Establishing rituals. Any positive, shared experience can become a ritual. For instance, you might start holding optional monthly brown-bags about interesting developments in your field or start doing champagne toasts after major projects finish (with non-alcoholic alternatives available for those who prefer them).

And for anything you’re doing with the intention of team-building, ask yourself: Specifically how is this going to help our team get better results? If you can’t answer that, that’s a flag to rethink the plan.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 244 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha! We do have lots of introverts here. But my theory is they’re just more comfortable speaking up because someone is finally representing their viewpoint, which is normally horribly under-represented in articles about this stuff.

      1. born in the 60s*

        I’m one also but the “me too” aspect of it gets tiresome. Though I guess I sort of just said “me too” also.

      2. Felicia*

        I think introverts are also more likely to communicate more easily in writing – like on a blog post. Also the average workplace is designed towards extrovert preferences, so maybe we’re more likely to seek workplace advice.

      3. Melissa*

        I’m (mostly) an extravert and *I* appreciate you representing my viewpoint, lol. I actually like karaoke and team sports, but they seem sort of inappropriate for a work group especially in the guise of trying to solve communication or teamwork problems. Most of the ideas from that first article sound terrible, even to me.

  1. YogaLife*

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. All managers, HR , and trainers should read this. I’d add to bad team-building techniques, the “tell us something no one knows about you” introduction. Nice way to make people uncomfortable right at the start.

    1. Sharon*

      Agreed. Just in case people are wondering how that could be bad, I have an example from a job I had long ago. One of the execs (small company) suggested at a team building dinner that we go around the table revealing one thing about each of us that people would never guess. When it got back to him, his personal “secret” was that he had sex in a walk in freezer with someone once. Yeah, I really didn’t need to know that.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I agree that the “something no one knows” isn’t a good technique. I’m pretty open about the parts of my life I’m ok with coworkers knowing about. And not about the stuff I’m not ok with sharing in the workplace. So it’s difficult to something that a) isn’t already known, b) I’m ok with coworkers knowing, and c) is appropriate for the workplace.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          I also have a pretty clear line between personal things I don’t mind discussing w/ coworkers…and personal things that are not up for discussion with even friends and family, never mind coworkers. There’s very little middle ground, now that I think of it. I guess I’d resort to discussing obscure things that have happened in my life, e.g. some random thing I did as a kid that is not embarrassing and pretty much irrelevant.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            I think in the office world they are looking more for our extracurriculars or weird past jobs. Something like “I play the piano” or “I worked as a clown for a summer” don’t delve into “too personal” but are probably not things you discuss daily at work.

            1. NoPantsFridays*

              Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. Things like hobbies you might do outside of work — although those can get personal, too…

            2. Observer*

              The logic is theoretically sound. But, people forget that it doesn’t always work out that way. Not everyone has a “wacky job in the past” or “oddball hobby” that they are comfortable talking about at work (or at all, for that matter.)

            3. AnonEMoose*

              I usually end up defaulting to something like that. But it’s always a little uncomfortable trying to come up with something quickly. Especially since I’ve been at my current job for a number of years, now, so new material isn’t easy to find!

      2. Stunned Silence*

        We once had a team member respond to that by relating that his father was the first/oldest/something I can’t remember person on death row in his state. Awwwwwkwaaaard. Everyone was suddenly very interested in their hands. What was worse was the poor woman who had to follow that. When she said that hers was that she had once met Ellen Degeneres, it was if she was apologizing for it not being something horrible.

  2. Turanga Leela*

    Just wanted to say how much I love the idea of rituals like regular brown-bags. I would be so happy if my organization gave us that kind of low-key, optional professional development in a social setting.

    I’ve had great experiences with (short, voluntary) weekly meetings to talk about what different departments were working on. That was a pretty isolated job, so it was nice to get out of my office, learn about other people’s projects, and get their ideas and feedback on what I was doing.

      1. Chinook*

        “Brown bad lunch” is slang for bringing in your own lunch (i.e. not catered or supplied by the company) and usually implies something simple and lost cost like a sandwich. It is the exact opposite of a potluck as no one shares what they bring (no matter how much your neighbour may drool over your homemade brownies)

      2. Turanga Leela*

        Yep. I wouldn’t mind catered lunches or ordering in, either, but brown bag lunches are a cheap way to have lunchtime programming. I’ve been at organizations that did weekly brown bag lunches for interns and junior staff so that they could learn about the organization and the field, but you could easily adapt this for mid-level and senior staff as well. I’d love to hear from speakers about recent developments in the field, or from other departments or or even other companies we work with about what they’ve been up to.

      3. hermit crab*

        And for those of us in billable-hours type fields, “brown bag” can also mean “there is no billing code.”

    1. Jubilance*

      My company does general professional development brown bags, which are voluntary. My team (all the folks who report to our director) recently started doing brown bags where we share things that we did before coming to our currently company/role. It all started when a newish hire shared her PhD dissertation, and that led to others sharing their previous work experiences or academic research. It’s been fun to learn about different topics and also find out what my coworkers did before coming here.

    2. Sarahnova*

      In the UK, I’ve most frequently heard these referred to as “Lunch’n’learns”, but it’s the same principle – a low-key development/informative session, BYO lunch.

    3. Another comment on the situation*

      I am not so wild about the brown bag lunches. We have to sit in a dark room to watch webinars and take notes while trying to eat our lunches. I enjoy having the hour break to myself to regroup and recharge. It seems to me as if this is a way to get another hour of work out of you because just when do you get to take that hour that you just donated to work?

      1. fposte*

        If you’re watching a webinar, that doesn’t sound like a team-building situation, though. And of course if you’re non-exempt you should be paid for a work-required brown bag.

        1. Jamie*

          Yep – if non-exempt you need to be paid – although when I take up someone’s lunch with a meeting (rare) I give them the option of being paid or taking their lunch after.

          For exempt people I always tell them they can take their lunch after if they want. I know it’s not that common, but for some people lunch is about the break and not the food. I rarely take a lunch break, but I’ve had jobs where I needed that respite even if just to sit in my car.

          We don’t do brown bags – we always provide food if a meeting will take up lunch and I can’t avoid the schedule, but I don’t think providing food makes it lunch anymore than if my company fed me dinner it’s the same as eating at home on my time.

  3. CollegeAdmin*

    Last year, my department’s “retreat” was going to one of those wine painting bars, where they walk you through painting a landscape and there’s a selection of wine and beer. It wasn’t bad, actually, but all the other department retreats that I knew of involved going over work planned for the year.

    The original plan (before my coworkers and I convinced them to change to the wine bar) was to take a ride on “Codzilla,” a “high speed thrill ride” boat in Boston Harbor. They had not considered that some people might get seasick, have motion sickness, or just not appreciate a boat that acts like a racecar on water.

    1. btdubbs*

      Oh man, I’ve been on Codzilla before and that was the right call. There’s pretty much no way not to get completely soaked riding on it, which would make any post-Codzilla team building events miserable for everyone!

      In general, any kind of forced social situation (work or otherwise) should include an exit — no trapping people on boats!

    2. hayling*

      I did one of those paint parties once with my team at OldJob and it was really fun! Most people weren’t super artistic so it put people a little out of their comfort zone (which can help with bonding) but not in an extreme “ropes course” kind of way. We were all surprised at how nice our paintings came out.

  4. Rebecca*

    As someone who had to endure the stupid trust fall, three legged race, and stumbling along blindfolded all in the name of “TEAM” building, I salute this. One poor woman had had back surgery, and was expected to trust fall and try to cooperate in a three legged race. Absolutely asinine, and all this did was waste our time and put people at the risk of injury. The highlight of this nonsense was watching taped speeches by the old Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, because the HR person at the time was both a football fan and a Notre Dame fan. Ugh.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      At a previous job, the “Ropes course incident” was legendary. It happened before I got there, but apparently at a team-building exercise, one of the support staff tripped on a log and skinned most of her *face* and broke her nose, etc. They had to do an emergency room visit — poor woman. Luckily the incident nipped these ideas in the bud.

    2. Artemesia*

      There are so many people in the HR Training and management professions who think yelling at people like a locker room half time speech is ideal for motivation and team building. I guess it is the sports team = work team thing. I can’t count the number of times I have seen people pull those ridiculous ‘win one for the Gipper’ type speeches from films — and the more bullying and haranging the coach engages in the better.

      I have nothing against a team cheer or song or other short silly bonding event like that — but the substance of team building should focus on what the team is trying to do.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        Plus all those speeches are ridiculous.  What are respondents supposed to say?

        Oh what’s that now?  You want me to win?  You want me to increase sales?  You want me to ship more chocolate teapots?  You want me to be the best?  You want me to be on top of my game?  You want me to make the company as much money as possible?   You want me to be as productive as I can?  You want me to keep costs low?  Do more with less?

        THANK GOODNESS someone told me!  I had no IDEA that’s what I’m supposed to be doing!  If you didn’t remind me, oh overpaid consultant, I would be drawing on the walls of my office all day in crayon.

        Here’s my other favorite.

        Here are a bunch of insurmountable obstacles (the Great Recession, companies going bankrupt, everyone cutting costs, etc), but you’re right.  I didn’t “want it bad enough.”  Me and my thinking-inside-the-box!

        1. C Average*

          This cracked me up. I came here to respond to your other comment (I’m subscribed to this comment thread, and it’s getting me through an excruciating meeting), but saw this one first. You are on a roll.

    3. Jessa*

      This. These things never take into account disabled employees, or people with medical conditions that preclude things (I canNOT handle heat at all, it effects my already poor breathing and I end up passing out.) We had one trainer where I once worked who insisted in summer that taking the class outside was such a great idea. Then she insisted on teaching someplace you had to walk a long way to. I can’t walk distances EITHER. It was really, really fun to have to on five minutes notice, in front of a whole room of people who just LOVED this idea to death (and really had no right to my medical info,) to explain ADA, Reasonable Accommodation and NO I’m not going out there or walking that distance, and besides all of the above, I am lethally allergic to bees, so no damned way, I’m walking out to the other side of the building where flowers are. And that I shouldn’t have to presume an indoor class in front of computer stations would want to go outside suddenly with no notice.

      For the rest of that class which was two more weeks of training I was that annoying party pooper who everyone now hated. Because I ruined their nice outside things. Luckily we did not have any team assignments because nobody wanted to work with me after that. I didn’t last long there before finding something else.

  5. hildi*

    This is kind of a tangent comment, but I just want everyone to know that not all of us trainers love to make people uncomfortable with gimmicky games! I actively do not pursue role play in my training sessions. I just refuse to do it. Most role play, trust falls and all of those other types of games, are so emotionally threatening to most people that I don’t believe any learning is taking place. How can it when I’m more worried about protecting my ego, my pride, my sense of dignity?

    Also – managers, this: “Managers sometimes turn to team-building to fix communication, cooperation, or morale problems, but it’s rarely the right solution for those kinds of challenges. Those types of problems usually require a solution at the management and systemic level….” We get so many requests for training on these types of issues when the problem is more a manager unable or unwilling to manage. Or we’ll often get a request for a topic, visit with the manager about it some more and find out that what they really need is very different than what they thought they needed. And training isn’t always the solution. Further, if training is used, then the real transfer of learning takes place post-training through the organization’s or manager’s actions. Getting people together for 3-6 hours isn’t usually going to cut it. Which many good supervisors know; it’s really hard to get away from though.

    1. Alien vs Predator*

      Good on you. Yes, I’ve always thought that most of this stuff was way too gimmicky to really work. I have enjoyed some of the “personalysis” types of activities where you actually learn something about various personality types and how to work with them.

      1. hildi*

        I think most people generally are interested in learning about the personality types and how to work with others. There are some hard cases that thing that topic is a bunch of crap, but even the people that generally aren’t “people-people” take away something. I think the key is to not incorporate too many things that require people to self-disclose at a deep level. While most participants are interested in a general level of inquiry on the topic, there are MANY that don’t want to get too deep, revealing too much. That’s when people get their hackles up, I think.

        1. monologue*

          I like that test where there are basically four different compartments based on whether you’re loud or quiet, analytical or detail oriented. It doesn’t get too personal because you answer the test yourself and just reveal what type you are, and it’s pretty work focused. In the past as someone in the quiet category, it’s helped me to point out to some of my louder colleagues that they need to remember to yield the floor and make sure everyone in a meeting gets a chance to contribute. I’ve also heard feedback from detail oriented colleagues that it’s helped them work through issues with a less detail oriented person more constructively instead of just getting frustrated.

          1. hildi*

            Yes, exactly! The one I have been using in class is based the four dimensions of task vs. people focus and then whether you’re more direct or indirect. Sounds pretty similar to yours. I have personally gotten SO MUCH of understanding of why I do things the way I do them and how others perceive me. Doesn’t always change how I do things, but at least I understand their qualms. Or, it helps me not be as annoyed when I am dealing with my complete opposite. Like I tell people in class, “this information might help you take a step back and consider that this person isn’t aggravating you on purpose, just that they’re approaching this from a completely different perspective than you.”

        2. Jamie*

          This is dead on. I find the subject fascinating and I know I’ve said before (but I am nothing if not redundant) that our conversation here ages ago (seriously, years now, wow) about task oriented people vs relationship oriented people literally changed how I approach things and consequently I’m a much better manager and co-worker.

          Your gift is the ability to explain things and point things out in a neutral but very relate-able way. By that I mean you aren’t a robot pretending none of these things apply to you and you’re just explaining humans to ourselves. You’re a relationship person, but you make it clear that it’s not the only “right” way to be – you show the different types without judgement but with clarity of the different needs. So just as I came away with a much better understanding of how to give relationship people what they need in interaction, feedback, collaboration, etc. those people would come away with a much better understanding of how to give people like me what I need and how I work best.

          You give people directions to the happy medium when they don’t even know they are being guided, which is a genius move.

          Seriously, you know I like you personally, but that’s not why I’d take any training session you gave anytime. I can’t imagine anything less than having fun, learning stuff, and not having to worry about being personally invaded. You respect your audience…not by just refusing to ask them to share their most traumatic memory with strangers (that one still haunts me) but by respecting the differences between people and personalities. You aren’t trying to get everyone to conform and fit in the same box, just get people to understand each other a little better so we can co-exist so we don’t go through life thinking people are being different “at” us.

          Every relationship person I’ve worked with over the last several years has you to thank for my being a much more collaborative person than I was.

          (And I won’t admit this to anyone, but I’ve actually come to value the whole relationship building thing much more for myself…I’ve kind of grown as a person. Don’t get me wrong, fundamentally I’m still me and you won’t find me gathering everyone at lunch for an impromptu sing along – but coming out of my shell a little bit and muddling through the small talk for their sake has opened up more interesting topics on the other side of small talk and helped me get to know and like other people more. But like I said, you won’t hear that from me.)

          I am sad I don’t work with you.

          1. hildi*

            Jamie – wow. That is……thank you so much for those kind words. You captured everything I truly hope I am as a trainer. I really try hard to be that person you wrote about. If I think about this too long, I might get sniffly. I so appreciate you taking time to tell me this. I’m printing that baby out and keeping it for when I get kicked in the gut by someone that thought I sucked!!

            I have long thought you were a WAY better people-person than you give yourself credit for (and maybe that’s part of the growing-as-a person thing I didn’t hear from you). You’re great at the task stuff, obviously, but I have never really read you as someone that didn’t have a firm grasp on people and relationship dynamics. I’m sure that’s why you have one of the biggest followings on this site. People can tell that, too.

            What astounds me is how well we get to know people here (That post was several years ago, but I still remember our conversation well). I wish AAM readers could work together – we’d be amazing!!!

            (Seriously, thank you again for penning those words. It’s my birthday today and I’m serious when I say that was a perfect, unexpected, and much-appreciated gift you gave me).

              1. Jamie*

                I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what the actual post was about – we may not have even been on topic (it was a long time ago, I’m much better about that now.) Hildi – do you have better recall on this?

                1. hildi*

                  Oh man. Where is fposte? She and a few others have an uncanny ability to recall. But then again, it was all in the comments so I don’t expect anyone to follow that. I’ll try to see if I can find it. Standby….

                2. hildi*

                  Shell – that’s awesome! The original post where I first talked about this was from several years ago (and I’m thinking it was like 2008 or 2009). But the one you dug up I reiterated it again, I think. And what’s worse – back in the original one I know I was using a different moniker, but for the life of me I can’t remember it anymore. Isn’t that stupid? haha. I searched for the two names I’ve used recently (I’ve told so many people about this site and I disclose way too much about myself that I’m sure I’d be easy to figure out by people that might know me. Still….I’m not coming up with very original names, here) and all of those are from 2012. I know I was commenting before that so……the world may never know. What a doofus.

                3. Jamie*

                  I know it was before Alison corrupted us with the evil deliciousness that was cookie butter. So whenever the cookie butter discussion was, it was before that.

                  I’m so helpful, I know.

                4. hildi*

                  Jamie – ha! that is helpful. I really want to know what my previous name was.

                  Also – I now see that cookie butter is available at my local walmart! But I remember what a fun surprise it was to get that from you. My coworkers and I all stood around the jar with spoons (well, ok, we didn’t double dip – but we were only eating it with spoons). For us middle-of-nowhere dwellers it was like some kind of a new-fangled, big city treat we got. :0

                5. Jamie*

                  @hildi – that is totally it. I could have sworn it was way before 2012 but it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong.

                  Saved me looking since I was going to tonight – this was going to bug me. Thanks.

                  I feel this is going to be so anti-climactic for Woodward who asked for the link!

                6. hildi*

                  Jamie – I thought the same thing! It seemed like it was WAY before just 2 years ago. And when I read it through again my part really wasn’t earth shattering for anyone. Anti-climatic, indeed. But I distinctly remember that conversation. At least now we have solved the mystery.

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            task oriented people vs relationship oriented people


            I wasn’t here for that conversation, but if that contrast means what I think it means, that is exactly … a totally important thing for me to be aware of. My god. For ages I made a very, very bright line between “friends” and “co-workers”, and it was probably (I now suspect) because I am and have always been more task-oriented. It’s what helped me survive my miserable interim job between getting laid off a year ago and the job I have now. Mind you, a lot of what made the laid-off job awesome and a lot of what makes my present job awesome are the teams I work(ed) with – but I’d say I’m task-oriented with a side of relationship-focus, while some or even many of the people I’ve known in various places have been the other way around.

            I’m going to be thinking about this all evening.

            1. hildi*

              I think you’re on the right track (well, as I understand it!). So here’s something else to chew on that I’ve recently been able to articulate:

              Task oriented people can do the job regardless of whether they like the other people or not. I think well within their ability to compartmentalize (as you said above). In other words, I don’t need to be friends with you in order to work with you. “If you don’t like me, that’s ok. Let’s just get the job done, ok?” “If I don’t like you, I’m also alright with that. I came here to work, not be friends.”

              On the other hand, people-oriented people, have a hard time working with someone unless they know there’s a positive relationship there. I gently admonish us people-people that we need to stop being so damn sensitive to things. To which I get a resounding head nod from all of the task-people. People-oriented people have a hard time getting the job done unless they know there is no icky interpersonal conflict happening. In other words, I will work better if I know that you like me. To task people liking you is not a prerequisite to getting the job done. To people-people it is necessary to basically like and be liked in order to get going on something.

              Does that make sense? I have that to say and so much more in class, but that has been one of THE most profound things I have discovered along the way. It’s helped me so much personally.

              1. Mallory+Janis+Ian*

                . . . people-oriented people, have a hard time working with someone unless they know there’s a positive relationship there . . . to people-people it is necessary to basically like and be liked in order to get going on something.

                Wow, this really resonates with me. I feel really motivated toward my work when I’m connected to another person through it, and really demotivated when the feeling of connection isn’t there.

                I thought there was something wrong with me because I’m not really very motivated by tasks like many of the other assistants around me seem to be. I guess that’s why I’m willing to work for a high-pressure, high-maintenance boss who the other assistants say would drive them to quit by constantly redirecting their task focus. I never could articulate (to them or to myself) why the thing that bothers them so much doesn’t bother me at all. The way you put it, it’s clear to me that the difference is that they are task-oriented and would see my boss’ style as very disruptive. I’m more people-oriented, so putting the task on the back burner and focusing on my boss doesn’t feel frustrating to me like I know it does for them.

                1. hildi*

                  “…it’s clear to me that the difference is that they are task-oriented and would see my boss’ style as very disruptive. I’m more people-oriented, so putting the task on the back burner and focusing on my boss…”

                  You’ve got it. This is exactly the difference. As a people-focused person, you’re more concerned with maintaining/fostering an interpersonal relationship with your boss, at the expense of getting the task done. Priority. Your priority is the person and you wouldn’t want to jeopardize the relationship by not attending to your boss. Task-focused people’s priority, on the other hand, is to complete the task, at the expense of a possible relationship. That’s not to say that TF people are cold heartless bastards that don’t care about people. Likewise, PF people are not all bleeding hearts that can’t get a job done. It’s just more about tolerance level for fostering a relationship vs completing a task. It’s been a really freeing concept for me, so I am glad it hit home with you, too. :)

                2. A Non*

                  Oh very interesting. I would have told you I’m people-focused, because I don’t work well at all for a boss who dislikes me. But, constant task-switching and emotional neediness drives me up the wall. So I’m probably task-focused, but have had enough bad experiences with disapproving male authority figures to be sensitive there. Or I’m a mix.

                3. Melissa*

                  I had the same reaction as you, A Non – I think this comment made it pretty clear I’m task-focused. I love people but when it comes to getting work done, the actual project means a whole lot more to me than whether I am friends with people. And yes, emotional neediness and constant task switching would drive me banana sandwich.

      2. Nanc*

        I’m with you on the “personalysis” tests! At old job we had four department retreats a year–one of them a 3-day offsite. After 12 years the only two activities I thought were helpful were 1: The Kingdomality personality test (just do a search and it will come up, you can enter fake contact info if you don’t want the emails) wherein I discovered I was a minstrel-dreamer and shared an office with a black knight (we got along just fine) and 2: when they brought in a dance instructor and we learned country line dancing–that was just fun!
        After every retreat I would end up working evening and weekends to catch up on the actual work.

        1. Karowen*

          I just did the Kingdomality test because I was curious…That was actually fun! Completely useless, especially since I don’t know anyone that has taken it, but fun!

          1. A Non*

            Engineer-builder here. Which is absolutely not a surprise, as I come from a family of engineers with woodworking/diy hobbies. I’m in IT, which I see as just an updated and more abstract version of that.

            That was more interesting and useful than many personality tests I’ve seen.

          2. Jamie*

            This was fun and fast. I don’t think it was totally useless since it seems to show I’m a ….sociopath?

            Weird that I’m okay with that?

            Your distinct personality, The Black Knight, might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time.

            Your overriding goal is to win.

            You approach each task or situation as a contest to be won strategically and efficiently.

            Because you can control your feelings, it is not unusual for you to charm, as well as successfully delegate tasks and responsibilities to the more emotional types. You are often concerned with what’s in it for you. You seldom involve yourself in activities where you can not foresee a reward for your investment or effort.

            On the positive side, you can be analytically empathic and logically persuasive.

            On the negative side, you may be unemotionally manipulative as well as impulsive. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.

            1. KarenT*

              I got Shepherd. I’ll confess I didn’t see that coming! Although, it kind of makes sense. As a program manager I responsible for everyone else, and the characteristics of a shepherd were about being responsible for your flock. Huh.

            2. Nanc*

              I shared an office with a Black Knight and we often worked together on projects. We balanced each other very well and really had quite a bit in common. Just very different in how we approached the work. And both lists of our negative traits are spot on.

            3. Jillociraptor*

              I got Black Knight too, which is NOT what I was expecting! Maybe I answered the questions aspirationally…all I really want is to be HBIC.

            4. Aunt Vixen*

              HA. I got the opposite:

              Your distinct personality, The White Knight, might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time. Don Quixote was a White Knight as was Joan of Arc, the Lone Ranger and Crusader Rabbit. As a White Knight you expect nothing in return for your good deeds.

              You are one of the true “Givers” of the world.

              You are the anonymous philanthropist who shares your wealth, your time and your life with others. To give, is its own reward and as a White Knight you seek no other.

              On the positive side you are merciful, sympathetic, helpful, giving and heroic.

              On the negative side you may be impulsively decisive, sentimental and misdirected. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.

              I’ll grant them “sentimental”, but the rest is hilarious.

              1. Jamie*

                Too bad it isn’t fitting – because once we got rid of that pesky sentiment I could use someone like you in my master plan. :)

              1. Andrew*

                Another Black Knight here. Not what I was expecting. Since when does wanting things to run efficiently mean that I’m only in it for me?

          3. HeyNonnyNonny*

            Heh. Would be interested to see what other readers get…

            Your distinct personality, The Shepherd is to likely to tend to your human flock. You understand the needs of those for whom you are responsible.

            Shepherds are vigilant and reliable.

            You realize your obligation and commitment to the well being of those entrusted to your care. Shepherds are very dependable. You engender a feeling of comfort and stability to those within your charge.

            On the positive side, Shepherds can be empathic, caring, understanding, practical and realistic.

            On the negative side, you may be manipulative, close-minded and sentimentally rigid. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.

              1. HeyNonnyNonny*

                If this were a bad team building exercise, we’d be grouped together to build towers out of toilet paper rolls or something silly like that!

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Yeaaaah, this one didn’t work for me. I liked the ranking methodology, but I got “The Doctor,” which is all about sensing: “You follow the tried and true and do not waste time thinking about things that cannot be seen, touched, heard, felt or smelled.” I’m an INFJ. I live as far away from the tried and true, and as close to things that cannot be seen, touched, heard, felt or smelled as possible. :)

              1. A Non*

                I’m also an INFJ (well, probably, depends on the day and the test), and the engineer description is not who I am at all. But it is pretty accurate for how I work. I balance it out with a highly physical and artistic avocation.

                (My hobby actually involves lots of rope climbing – do an image search for ‘aerial dance’ or ‘aerial rope’ to see what I do. I think it’s the most awesomest thing ever and everyone should try it – but even I wouldn’t inflict it on my coworkers in the name of team building.)

            2. Cath in Canada*

              I got The Dreamer-Minstrel:

              “You can always see the “Silver Lining” to every dark and dreary cloud.

              Look at the bright side is your motto and understanding why everything happens for the best is your goal. You are the positive optimist of the world who provides the hope for all humankind. There is nothing so terrible that you can not find some good within it.

              On the positive side, you are spontaneous, charismatic, idealistic and empathic.

              On the negative side, you may be a sentimental dreamer who is emotionally impractical. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.”

              Partial credit, I think :)

            3. Pennalynn Lott*

              I got Prime Minister:

              “Your distinct personality, The Prime Minister might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time.

              “You are a strategist who pursues the most efficient and logical path toward the realization of the goal that you perceive or visualize.

              “You will often only associate with those people who can assist you in the implementation of your plan*. Inept assistants may be immediately discarded as excess baggage*. To do otherwise could be seen as inefficient and illogical.

              “On the positive side, you can be rationally idealistic and analytically ideological. You can be a bold decision maker and risk taker who can move society ahead by years instead of minutes.

              “On the negative side, you may be unmerciful*, impatient*, impetuous and impulsive. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.”

              *[So, so true!!!]

          4. hildi*

            I am the Benevolent Ruler
            “You are the idealistic social dreamer.
            Your overriding goal is to solve the people problems of your world. You are a social reformer who wants everyone to be happy in a world that you can visualize. You are exceptionally perceptive about the woes and needs of humankind. You often have the understanding and skill to readily conceive and implement the solutions to your perceptions.
            On the positive side, you are creatively persuasive, charismatic and ideologically concerned.

            On the negative side, you may be unrealistically sentimental, scattered and impulsive, as well as deviously manipulative. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.”

            This looks like it’s an actual in-person training – would people find this interesting if it was offered as a course at your workplace? This would be TOTALLY awesome. I might have to incorporate role play for this one. ;-)

            1. Elizabeth*

              I am apparently the only one who got The Merchant.

              Beyond a specific job title, a vocation takes on its own greater personality. This personality preference can give a broader understanding of the basic complementary style and types necessary to the kingdom’s survival, and perhaps to any modern organization’s success.

              Although the specific vocations influenced the names, it was no accident that certain personality types and styles gravitated to certain occupations. The personality of these jobs suited the inclinations of the job holders, and the predecessor to modern day job descriptions was born. The successful matching of a job-holder’s personality to the personality and unique requirements of the job was necessary for a kingdom to thrive, just as it’s necessary to an organization’s success today. The most successful groups are able to blend the differences into a powerful and productive entity.

              Even though people now have the freedom to explore many different career alternative, there is still a medieval vocational personality within everyone. This personality, properly identified and understood, can motivate success, encourage job satisfaction and promote contentment in the workplace.

              Your distinct personality, The Merchant, might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time.

              Your overriding goal is to always be competitive, for Merchants are the deal makers.

              Every situation is realistically analyzed for its profit potential. A well executed deal, even one that is profitable for all participants, can be its own reward for many Merchants.

              On the positive side you can be logically practical, rational and realistic.

              On the negative side you may be rigidly dogmatic as well as unmerciful and precipitous. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today’s corporate kingdoms.

        2. A Teacher*

          Thanks for this idea! We start interpersonal dynamics in my dual credit class and I’m always looking for personality stuff because its interesting and the kids like it!

        3. Witty Nickname*

          Oh, that one was really right on point for me. I got Prime Minister. The description fit several work conversations I’ve had today perfectly.

      3. Another comment on the situation*

        We did one where we found out what color you were. This is what I took away from it — gold = rule follower, green = experimental, blue = family/friends oriented, and orange = risk taker. I ended up a green and noticed that the people that I have a hard time relating to are orange. It helped me understand that they were born that way and I just needed to rethink how to deal with them.

        1. hildi*

          That’s really similar to the one that I have used in the past (True Colors). And I would expect a green and orange to have struggles because you are on opposite sides of the spectrum. In the one I do now, a Green translates into someone that is more task focused and indirect (slower paced). An orange is also task-focused, but direct (and faster paced). That’s where the rub comes – in your pace and timing. A Green would prefer to mull over details and make sure something is exactly 100% correct before moving forward. An Orange is much more comfortable with an overview, high-level details, and moving forward. Getting results is most important to an Orange, where to a Green following the process is key. And that’s just one example.

          1. Mallory+Janis+Ian*

            We did True Colors at my workplace a few years ago. I scored really high in both Blue and Green, with a moderate dose of Orange, and hardly any Gold at all. It was interesting to see that most of the faculty scored really high in Green (and low in Blue and Gold), while most of the staff scored high in either Blue or Gold (and low in Green). We didn’t have much Orange (neither faculty nor staff).

            1. hildi*

              I see a very similar pattern in government where I train. The Greens tends to be the analytical ones – exactly what I’d stereotype professors as. The Blues make sense to me in the support staff role because of the attention to people, etc. It’s not always exact, of course, but I have definitely detected lost of patterns in my organization. I would be if you were to look at a sales company, for example, the breakout would skew much heavier toward Orange. Fast paced and getting results. That would be my guess, anyway.

        2. Melissa*

          I’ve done True Colors and I got blue/orange, but that was years ago, in college as a resident assistant. I would imagine I’m different now (my Myers Briggs has also changed quite a bit, despite it being not supposed to change).

    2. Artemesia*

      Role play as skill practice is essential to skill building in training. But trainers have to be mindful of protecting people’s dignity e.g. practice the skills in pairs or triads and don’t do more demanding forms of role play until people are comfortable with the skills they are demonstrating. The worst is starting a program with a role play — right when people are feeling most vulnerable. But eventually if you are looking at interpersonal skills, you have to do them not just hear about that and that means getting up in front of people and demonstrating that you can ‘defuse a conflict situation’, ‘effectively interview someone for X’, ‘provide feedback to a subordinate’ etc. All those things can only be learned by actually demonstrating/practicing.

      1. hildi*

        Good points. I think role playing in the instances you described can be helpful if the course is a day or longer where you have time to build up to it, debrief properly, and build again. But even then the role playing I’ve been involved in has had very little impact on my skills (perhaps I just haven’t been to a good one yet!) Because we do it for like 1 hour out of a day of training. For my money that’s just not enough time. In that hour I’ve spent more time mentally freaking out about how stupid I’m going to look to the other person as I’m playacting. I think role-playing can be effective, but the conditions should be right for it – also the trainer has to be able to pull it off in a non-forced way. And I am not good at facilitating games and complex things in my classes. It’s just not who I am. And I’ve learned if you are trying to be someone you’re not when you’re presenting a class, you’ll bomb it. (And for context, the vast majority of the classes I teach are 3-4 hours, so that’s not even enough time to get into to the basics of the material! Sometimes I think I should have been a higher-ed instructor because I’d get to spend longer delving into content. I always try to do too much into too little time).

        Also, perhaps, Artemesia, I feel like defending my current practices of no role-play because I know that deep down what you’re saying is true and I don’t want to face it :) I think it’s because I know how uncomfortable it makes most people and I hate making people uncomfortable.

    3. Observer*

      I haven’t read all of the replies to this comment, but I do want to point something out. I’m sure you realize this, but it’s just something I think cannot be overstated. Sometimes what’s at stake is more than just immediate embarrassment or blow to the ego. And sometimes, you are also really putting people at serious risk. Some of the examples were simply horrifying, and should have been obvious. But even the less obvious ones can present a serious problem. (I’m thinking, for instance, of the boss who was pressuring people to do 5k runs, never mind the rock climbing.)

      1. hildi*

        Yeah, I agree. And it’s a good point to remember that it’s not just emotional “danger” people are in by doing these crackpot things. It can also be a very real physical issue for people. I think unless you’re the military or it’s explicitly in the nature of your business to be all active, I’d stay away from very physical things. It can be dangerous and people just don’t want to do them.

  6. JM in England*

    All of the so-called team building excercises mentioned here and in the article are a complete waste of time and money imho and do nothing to address the root causes of friction within teams. Plus most of them are geared towards the more extroverted members of staff, which is pure hell for introverts like myself.

    1. BritCred*

      As a known hater of team building… the suggestions made in the actual article – not the top where Alison said all the stupid things that wind people up – were good. And the best way for an introvert to be able to get involved with team building without having to feel out of place.

  7. Alien vs Predator*

    I recently ran across a magazine advertisement for a consulting company that would come to your office, provide your staff with some motivational speaking while a team was outside building a giant firepit, and then afterwards everyone would take turns walking across the coals barefoot as a team-building activity. I wish I could remember the name of the company that offered this delightful service. If anyone on here has had any experience with anything like this, I would love to hear about it. I’m sure we all would…

    1. JMegan*

      Motivational speakers AND fire walking? That sounds like a special kind of hell, pun definitely intended. I expect I would have a headache that day, and be totally unable to come in, darnit, and I was SO looking forward to the Team Building(TM)!

    2. Rebecca*

      I would not walk over coals under any circumstance, ever. There would have to be a life threatening issue behind me, with the whole coal thing between me and safety, and even then, I might stand and fight.

      How stupid to put someone at risk for serious injury and burns! All it would take would be for someone to panic and fall face first and not be able to get up, and sustain very painful burns and scars!!

      1. The _artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Many years ago – there were some people who went to a vacation resort and a “firewalk” was part of it.
        And unfortunately, it turned tragic.

        Any manager who condones or organizes such a stunt for his/her employees is, in my humble opinion, guilty of p**s-poor judgement and should be fired (no pun intended) immediately.

        Even if no one loses the soles of their feet.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I once got burned during a team building exercise. We did a cooking class, it was awesome, I was a little overzealous with a pot handle. Only acceptable burn to sustain while team building. I was given extra wine and special treatment by the lovely cooking school volunteers. If someone presented me with coals and wanted me to walk across them I would give them side-eye so serious I’d have to call my ophthalmologist afterwards.

    4. Jamie*

      That coal walking thing fascinates me because I don’t understand how it’s possible, but my only thought is can you imagine the stroke their work comp rep would have if they knew about this?

      The company that offers that, what do they pay for liability? It’s got to be through the roof.

      But yeah, no way…if I can’t team build without risking ending up in a burn unit then I don’t need a team. Goes to show some people will throw money at anything.

      1. Observer*

        I was thinking about the liability, as well. I suspect that no is telling the lawyers and insurance people.

        Stories like this are probably why lawyers are so involved in things they probably shouldn’t be…

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        From the UCLA Physics web site:

        “It is true that the temperature of the coals is over 1000 degrees F (535 degrees C), and that human flesh burns at much lower temperatures, but temperature isn’t the only part of the relevant physics. It wasn’t until the 1770’s that Joseph Black figured out the relation between thermal energy and temperature. (He later discovered Carbon Dioxide.) Different substances have different heat capacities. Water is the standard. It takes 4.18 Joules to raise the temperature of 1 cc of water 1 degree C. Our feet are mostly water. The coals have a much lower heat capacity than water. That means that the same amount of energy flowing away from the coals will lower their temperature much more than that same energy flowing to the feet will raise the foot’s temperature. If the foot stays in contact with the coals, energy will keep flowing until they both reach the same temperature. However, this takes time, and how much depends on the heat conductivity. There are good heat conductors, like water, and poor conductors/heat insulators, such as ash. The feet cool down the local area of the coals they touch, and it takes time for energy to flow from the rest of the fire to the cool spot. You can sometimes see dull orange footprints in the coals right after someone walks. Water is a good heat conductor and energy transferred to the foot is rapidly conducted away from the contact points so the temperature doesn’t rise to the burning point. Temperature, heat capacity, and thermal conductivity are all important in this demonstration.

        “A more familiar experience which involves the same physics is baking brownies in the oven set to 450 degrees F. Everything in the oven is 450 degrees, but you don’t fear putting your hand in the oven air. The air has a very low heat capacity meaning it stores very little thermal energy. Air is also a heat insulator. Your hand (mostly water) cools the air locally and heats up very little. If you stick your finger in the brownie, you might get burned. It is mostly water like your hand and has a pretty good heat conductivity. Thermal energy will flow to your finger raising its temperature quickly. The metal pan is another matter. It has a high heat capacity and a high conductivity. Touch it without a potholder and you might instantly burn your fingers.

        “What the physics tells you, is that if you walk fast and don’t stay in contact with the coals very long, you won’t get badly burned. If you believe in mind over matter or the protective power of faith, then time shouldn’t matter. This could be a life threatening delusion.

        “Even knowing the theory, firewalking is still dangerous in practice. There is a lot of energy in a glowing firepit at 1000 degrees F. Second degree burns in the form of blisters are common and more severe burns requiring a trip to the hospital have occurred. Sometimes a hot coal will stick to the foot causing a burn. There can also be hot spots in the fire, pieces of metal, or even pockets of hot steam locked up in the wood. Falling down in coals can be fatal. We will take care to make our walk as safe as possible.”

        So, basically, it’s poor heat conduction and the insulating properties of several layers of ash.

    5. krisl*

      Dave Barry (humorist) wrote a column about that kind of thing.

      Really funny, including “Still, you might think that employees would draw the line at walking on hot coals, on the grounds that they could, theoretically, burn their feet. This would seem to be especially obvious to employees of Burger King, a company whose main product is a graphic example of what happens to flesh that is exposed to high temperatures.”

  8. SherryD*

    IMO, job “switching” or “shadowing” can be a great team-building exercise. As in, Barb in sales spends a day with Mark in accounts receivable, and sees how he does his job. Then another day, Mark spends a day with Barb so he can see first-hand how her job works.

    I think a lot of people would love to take a day away from their normal duties to get a taste of another department. And it could help make different departments more responsive to one another’s needs. I agree with the article though, these types of activities should be voluntary!

    1. Nanc*

      As an introvert, I would actually love the shadowing thing! It would be nice to shadow someone for a day, spend a day gathering my thoughts and then meet for coffee or something and give them feedback on what I learned about their job. And vice versa.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I had been considering something like that with my job. We had complaints that people in departments didn’t know people in other departments… the resolution was to make happy videos about why people like their jobs. …It didn’t quite fix the issue.
      If someone has the time, they can sit at my desk and watch what I do. I think it would be fun for me as long as the observer is interested. And knowledge sharing is always useful.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I’ve heard this suggestion before, and I truly don’t understand it. Maybe my job is uniquely boring, but if someone shadowed me they would just watch me write, think, and type. I guess they could sit in on my conference calls (which ARE super interesting, and would give a good sense of what my team does). And then I’d feel like I have to entertain them all day. Uck!

      1. Windchime*

        Same here. Today I am writing a quick little program to split a huge file into smaller ones. Most days I sit and write SQL queries. I like it, but I would think it would be horribly boring for Susan from Accounting to sit and watch. Also, I can’t code and talk at the same time.

      2. Melissa*

        I was thinking the same thing. And if someone got assigned to me during a data analysis day, it would them watching me crunch numbers all day on the computer, which I love but most people hate.

    4. Julie*

      I successfully petitioned myself to do some of that at my last job as part of my training. I had previously worked with a different team and had never even met my new coworkers, even though we had maybe 55 employees on the opposite side of the cube walls.

      For the ones who went along with it, it was great. It gave us a chance to learn. The other part was really bad. One coworker wouldn’t turn on her computer because it turned out she didn’t do work on Tuesdays and had successfully hidden it for 5+ years. It got ugly when we all realized what was happening but at the same time, it was really for the best. She’s still there and I’ve left but she’s been given a chance to retire at the end of her grant.

    5. LBK*

      YES! I loved job shadowing back when my division used to do it. It gives you a chance to interact with people outside of your normal circle but without being forced to make small talk, which is basically my version of hell. Since the main topic of conversation is supposed to be work, it gives you something natural in common to discuss and you’re not required to really contribute anything except any questions you have. I love that as an alternative for introverted people, and it sometimes has the added advantage of improving your work productivity once you understand how your counterparts operate. We actually had someone adapt a huge piece of our workflow to their department once they shadowed here and realized how well it would work for their role, and it made a big difference to their overall process. It was awesome to be able to get that kind of collaboration going.

    6. Clever Name*

      I guess I don’t understand the point of job shadowing. Would it be for a few hours or a whole day? Is the person being shadowed supposed to explain what they’re doing? If someone shadowed me today, they would have spent 2 1/2 hours with me holed up in the conference room reviewing a report (I needed the solitude) where I switched between figures and tables and writing notes. Would that be especially interesting or beneficial to someone? I have no idea.

  9. ThursdaysGeek*

    I like how a previous team leader handled one aspect of team building: birthday lunches. There was a calendar that went out monthly with birthdays and other events on it. If you didn’t want people to know your birthday, you weren’t on the calendar. If you did, and I saw that someone on our team was on it, I would send them an email, asking if they’d like to go to a team lunch, and where and when worked for them. We’d set up a time (usually, sometimes they didn’t want a lunch) with an outlook appointment to the team, and I told them to forward the invitation to anyone not on our team that they also wanted to invite. Team members could come or not, some came to most of the lunches, some didn’t. My team leader bought the lunch for the birthday honoree (she paid with her own money), so we knew we were important to her. It was completely optional, on many levels.

    1. hildi*

      I think optional is the key for a lot of these kinds of things. Forced “fun” is only going to piss people off, make them do the opposite, or make them really mad. But when it’s all optional, I think it sends a signal that the decision-maker respects that not everyone will want to do it; that we’re all adults and that we can and should be able to choose the activities we participate in.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        The team size varied, but we usually had 10-15 or so. Lunches usually had 6-8 participants, with some almost always going, some almost never going.

  10. Jill-be-Nimble*

    Ooh! Somehow, I missed the original thread the Top 10 Cringe-Inducing list came from. Those were fantastic! Could you please repost the link?

    I thought I remembered another one with brooms and bagels between the knees, but that wasn’t this one!

  11. Livin' in a Box*

    A very major company that I can’t name does monthly team building weekends at the resort where I work. The main activity is drinking (and falling down, and puking). Day drinking is slightly above trust falls, but also not a good idea.

    1. ClaireS*

      Hard partying is not uncommon in my industry. I’m not against a good party but partying with colleagues does not appeal to me.

  12. Maxwell Edison*

    In addition to the usual complaints about these exercises, I’d like to add this: they take away from work time. When we’re so overloaded that we’re having to do work for one project while listening in on a meeting for another project, it’s hard to feel good about taking an entire day for getting in touch with our inner wombat.

    1. hildi*

      TOTAL aside, but did you know wombat poop is shaped like a cube? My daughter and I just learned that in a Ranger Rick magazine and we’ve been telling everyone. I had no idea. And will never forget it.

      1. Jamie*

        I did know that – and they leave it as markers for themselves. Kind of like Hansel and Gretel with the bread trail – except gross.

        1. hildi*

          That’s even more interesting! Last night to kill time to avoid falling asleep , she started asking me about crazy animals and of course she sucks me right in. So I go there with her and we start thinking up crazy things we’ve learned about animals. There’s some kind of a mammal called a Binturang that smells like buttered popcorn. I desperately want one of those.

          1. Sarah in Boston*

            I can totally attest to the truth of that! I had a chance to sniff in the vicinity of a Binturang at a zoo once. Definitely buttered popcorn.

            1. esra*

              That seems like a terrible natural defense. What predator would be put off by the scent of delicious buttered popcorn?

    2. Callie*

      When I was a public school teacher, we had at least one “team building” crappy thing in the week before school started. No one was interested in it. We were busy thinking about the 2374895485743 things we needed doing in our rooms before the kids arrived. School administrators are the WORST about coming up with cutesy, cheesy, and totally unnecessary time wasting team building things.

  13. Anon for this*

    Paradoxically, the best team building exercise I have ever seen comes from the most dysfunctional team I have ever worked on.

    It’s an annual “Staff appreciation picnic.” I was dreading my first one, because I had no idea what to expect, and because I was anticipating trust falls and rope climbing and all the rest. But as it turned out, it’s not like that at all. It takes place in a large park, and the day looks like this:

    Arrive and set up potluck
    Walk in the woods for anyone who is interested, general mingling for anyone who is not
    Baseball for anyone interested in playing, cheering for anyone who is not
    “Thanks for all your hard work” speeches from director and managers
    Leave early and go home

    It happens during work hours, so it’s pretty much mandatory. But I really appreciate the lack of structure and formality once we’re there. Everyone can participate to their level of comfort and interest, and there is genuinely no pressure for those who just want to sit and watch all day.

    Of course it doesn’t change the dynamics once we’re back in the office. But I think it’s a brilliant way to recognize everyone, and to allow them a day to genuinely relax and recharge away from the office.

    1. Nanc*

      This actually sounds quite lovely! As a redhead I hate the sun and outdoors, but for this I’d break out my parasol and go for a walk and cheer on the game.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        It sounds nice to me too. As a fellow pale person, I’m just happy when there’s notice about outdoor activities so that I know to bring my sunscreen.

  14. Sidra*

    I love the suggestion to do a champagne toast.

    I worked with a group that often did “champagne” (non-alcoholic, as the manager was a Mormon) toasts to celebrate a finished project. It was nice to be included in that celebration (usually about 30 minutes) and chat with the team I’d been working with. It really helped build connections. I definitely fall on the introvert side of things, and thought this was a great way to celebrate and debrief, without all the phony gimmicks.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      30 minutes is the right length of time for a celebration, too. Enough time that it really feels like a break; not so long that you waste the afternoon.

  15. A Non*

    Ah, timely. My husband was just at an all-staff shindig that involved employees throwing pies at management. This in a big retail store that has been falling apart due to bad management.

    My husband and several others absconded to a back room while that was going on.

      1. A Non*

        I’m sure that was the idea. But when there are major issues that management has repeatedly refused to address, I don’t see that actually making the situation better – it’ll just drive the antipathy deeper, if anything.

        1. hildi*

          It would be so painful, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the planning phases of stuff like this. What was the conversation that drove them to possibly think this would be a good idea?! The mind boggles.

          1. A Non*

            The shindig was a welcome for the new store manager who is supposed to right the ship – at least it gave him a fair warning about the utter mess he’s stepping into!

  16. Lucy*

    My former employer brought in a coach for several “team-building” workshops, who made us complete a Meyers-Briggs assessment and then separate into “Introverts” and “Extroverts” in the beginning of the first session. It was awful, and made everyone uncomfortable. It’s nice to let people get to know each other more organically- we started a “Food Friday” where once a week, someone would bring in a treat and we would chat for a few minutes in the kitchen. No pressure to join (or to eat, if that wasn’t your thing!) but it was a nice way to mark the end of a work week.

    1. hildi*

      “…complete a Meyers-Briggs assessment and then separate into “Introverts” and “Extroverts” in the beginning of the first session. It was awful, and made everyone uncomfortable.”

      Lucy – do you mind sharing more about what specifically made it so awful and uncomfortable? I’ve done things like this in the past (maybe not right off the bat in a class), but I do ask for a lot of interaction in my classes, but kind of at a low-key level. Anyway, I was wondering if it was how the coach handled it, or was there too much self-disclosure, or something else that made it painful? I don’t always get really specific feedback from my participants so it’s great to hear here what people are thinking.

      1. Cat*

        It would upset me because it would be asking me to pigeonhole myself (or be pigeonholed) in a way that (a) I might not feel accurately reflects me or how I work (e.g., I’m fairly introverted but not on the extreme ends of the scale, and exert myself at work due to the nature of my job in such a way that a lot of my co-workers don’t realize it); and (b) it may affect the way people treat me in ways I don’t think I fair (e.g., I would not be okay with people saying “oh, she’s introverted, so I will email her this when otherwise I would have spoken to her in person”). That is not a kind of moderation of interaction that I want; I should be able to draw and communicate boundaries like that myself.

      2. Snarkus Ariellius*

        I can tell you what was so awful and uncomfortable for me.

        My wackadoodle boss just discovered Myers-Briggs.  How she survived over six decades on the planet without knowing that was amazing, yet the day she discovered it was the day the office came to a grinding halt.

        I was an intern, and I didn’t feel comfortable saying that I didn’t want to do the “informal” Myers-Briggs assessment. I did it with the entire office.  Our results were shared with everyone.  Then my boss reassigned projects based on the personality type she wanted.  It was the middle of my internship so I got nearly everything I was working on reassigned to someone else.

        I was ticked that A) I felt pushed into it; B) all the results were shared; C) my boss reassigning things; D) being pigeonholed for the remainder of the summer, e.g. “That Snarkus is an IJHB so she shouldn’t be doing that.”; and the results were a quick way to write off everyone else’s behavior.

        I will never understand the obsession with M-B.  Since then, I will never take the test, and I calmly explain why.  Yet a few coworkers JUST HAVE TO KNOW what my rating is because…I don’t know…if they don’t I guess they think they’re working with a complete stranger?  I had one coworker take it for me based on her interpretation of my personality just so she would know how to deal with me.  I guess knowing me for three years was pointlesss.

        Seriously.  I hate that test so much.

          1. Snarkus Ariellius*

            I love this. I’m going to use it from now on.

            All humor aside, the M-B devotees really DO act like that test is the end all, be all, and if you haven’t taken it, you’re factionless destined to roam office buildings with no group to call your own.

        1. hildi*

          Ugh, that sucks. And leaves a terrible taste in your mouth. Your boss went completely off the rails by reassigning work based on your type?! No, no no. I usually tell people that it’s a starting point to get to understand someone – like one of the many tools in your toolbox (which I’m sure that’s a horrible, cringeworthy, cliché. I can’t think of another one so if someone has an idea…..). But really all of this stuff should just be a way to highlight the differences in how people think, how they perceive, and how they naturally would prefer to operate. I have gotten away from MBTI because I think it focuses more on in the inside processes of how someone thinks – which is way more complicated and intense than what people demonstrate. It’s too hard for other people to observe, thus, they make these generalizations (or pigeon-holes) based on a sliver of an assessment. Don’t get me wrong, MBTI has some really excellent uses and it’s stood the test of time – but it’s no panacea. That’s why I like the one I am using now – about observable behaviors. Because people can and do change their behavior to fit a situation or demand. We’re not so one-dimensional that we’re always an ENFP or whatever.

          Anyway, I’m not trying to talk you out of your experience. Sounds like that was totally crappy. And your boss used the results in the way wrong way.

          1. Jamie*

            I hate when something fun is ruined for someone because people misuse it. This is why we can’t have nice things.

            Tbh the only place I’ve ever heard it discussed is online with one exception, I don’t know how it came up but my brother mentioned he was an INFJ. I was kind of surprised, being an INTJ, and told him he should take the test again since I wasn’t sure he had enough feelings to warrant an F. He said of course I didn’t think so, since you have to have feelings to recognize them. :)

            Sounds mean, but totally wasn’t – he’s awesome and knows I have just oodles of way too many feelings – I just don’t use them for anything productive.

            I’ve tried taking it at different times and in different moods, but I always get the same result – I’ve heard others vary when they are in a different state of mind. What I don’t like about it is I need more of an essay format for some of them because life isn’t as black and white and it’s not as good as it should be at fleshing out the circumstances so I can answer the question properly.

            For example: You believe the best decision is one that can be easily changed

            Yes, if by easily changed you mean if practice shows that there is a better or more efficient way to go AND the end result still meets the requirements of the stated goal then of course there should be a simple revision process by which decisions can be changed, reauthorized, and reissued with a new revision date.

            No, if my easily changed you mean that there are no definite parameters and everything from lunch to assigning parking descends into a free for all of chaos and anarchy.

            The questions are too vague.

            1. krisl*

              I’m an INTJ, too. Some of those questions – there’s no right answer. For me, knowing about my type was helpful. It explained why sometimes I feel very different.

          2. Snarkus Ariellius*

            To be fair, I always hated personality tests like that because I felt they were a shortcut in lieu of truly getting to know someone. The questions were way too vague. (I’m also not a fan of making snap judgments based on people’s office decor.) I’ve heard it way too much from motivational speakers or consultants who honestly believe they can teach executives emotional shortcuts in what can be a complicated process, which speaks to a really good point you made.

            We don’t all fit into neat little boxes. Some of us have good days, bad days, neutral days, etc. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t get to know someone well by making up stupid rules or snap judgments. M-B and its devotees fall into that as evidenced by the weird devotion to needing to know your label. It’s not all that far off from Divergent.

            I have other reasons, but that’s the gist of why I’ll never take the M-B test. According to people affiliated with it, apparently that’s my right too.

            As for that internship, I got pissed when one of my fellow interns went around me, hijacked what I was working on, called my contacts, and basically did the whole thing for me but poorly because there were smaller things he didn’t know. When I complained to the boss, she said, “Well he’s an EHAQ so you have to expect that from that personality type. Try to channel his strengths!” I had no backbone at the time, but I wanted to say, “I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care. He ruined the whole thing because he didn’t talk to me first.”

            I have met 2-3 people who have introduce themselves with their M-B label. And in those circumstances, I do say with a big smile on my face, “I don’t know what that is but nice to meet you.”

            1. krisl*

              The boss clearly didn’t really understand MBTI. It’s not an excuse for doing the wrong thing.

              It can help people get in touch with why 1 person is constantly talking, and another person doesn’t say much or why someone is never on time. It’s not an excuse though.

              1. hildi*

                I agree. And I can see what you mean Snarkus about MBTI devotees. NOTHING should be given that much power. I still maintain all of those assessments are great starting points for showing that people are truly different and if you’re butting heads with someone, the first step is to consider if you’re all just approaching things differently. But your boss was/is nuts to reassign work and then allow that person to just do his thing because he’s ENFP. I always end my classes by telling people that now that they have some more awareness over the ways people are fundamentally different, what’s not ok is to dig in your heels and say “Well, this is just the way I am. Everyone better get used to it.” WRONG. That’s abusing the tool and that’s what gives the whole concept a really bad name for people. It frustrates me.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m telling you guys, that app idea I had for a none sexual/non romantic site where people can hook up to text each other to look engrossed in important things to avoid socially awkward situations would be a huge hit. Why didn’t I go into programming?!

          1. Anonylicious*

            Kickstart that and you can hire a programmer. I bet you would get funded in record time, because that is genius.

    2. Gwen*

      We do occasional potlucks at work (there’s a big Thanksgiving one and we had a nacho bar earlier) which are fun. People have a chance/excuse to hang out in the kitchen and socialize for a bit if they want to, or some just fill a plate and head back to their desk if they’re busy.

    3. MaryMary*

      At a previous job, the team next to mine spontaneously starting having “tea parties” once a week in the afternoon. A couple people on the team realized they were tea drinkers, and it grew from there. Everyone would dig out the assorted varieties of tea from their drawers and share with the team, and people took turns bringing a tea-party-themed snack (shortbread, lemon squares, scones). There was a little joking about tea parties being a female activity, but turns out men like to have warm drinks and eat snacks too.

      1. Ellie the EA*

        I’m so glad to hear that this worked at your other job. I’ve been thinking about suggesting this at my office – a chance for us to get away from our desks in the afternoon but not the same pressure as a happy hour.

    4. squid*

      Once a supervisor had the team I was on (about 8 of us?) each complete the Meyers-Briggs and share the results with the group. The improvement: we printed the sheets, and then also had the opportunity to highlight the bits and pieces that really resonated with us and cross out the bits we didn’t feel applied. It felt less pigeon-holey that way. I suppose it could have been invasive in some contexts but I think everyone there at the time was happy to do so

  17. C Average*

    This is good stuff.

    I’m in week two of a two-week summit with my global team, and we’ve been doing lots of team-building stuff. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve done and what I’ve thought about it.

    Day1: Insights Training. This is an exercise where you take a survey and are assigned a profile based on four colors (blue = analytical, green = relationship-driven, yellow = high energy, red = power-driven). It was actually pretty interesting to see our team’s makeup. I will never entirely trust personality tests, but it seemed like a decent catalyst for talking about our communication and work styles. Suckage rating (with 1 = sucked like nothing has ever sucked before and 10 = better than your favorite thing ever): Good solid 7. I actually learned some stuff I think will help me communicate more effectively with my team. Yay!

    Day 2: Group presentations by function. Lots of Death By PowerPoint, followed by a too-hard writing exercise that I dug and everyone else griped about. Gotta give this one a 5, and based on the group’s reaction, that’s generous.

    Day 3: More group presentations by function. I can’t tell at this point whether the presentations are boring or whether there are just too many of them. It’s a lot of meetings. I’m starting to get twitchy about all the work that’s going undone and/or getting done in the early mornings, at night, and surreptitiously when I’m pretending to follow along. I’m sure the presenters worked hard, but this is still a 3.

    Day 4: Same as Day 3.

    Day 5: Indoor rock climbing in the morning followed by tour of our R&D facility, presentations by several high-level specialists about what they do, and a visit to our company archive. I gotta be honest. This whole day was awesome and I loved it, and I personally would give it a 9 only because I’m saving 10 for a field trip to the unicorn farm. All that said, nothing that happened made me feel one iota closer to my team. I just got to spend a fun day doing cool stuff at my company.

    Day 6 (yesterday): Meetings and presentations all day. So bloody boring I was tempted to chew off my own limb to escape. I am meetinged out. I don’t think I have two weeks’ worth of meaningful attention to give to people talking at me, even if the material is fascinating. Give me your PowerPoint deck and I’ll read it and ask you questions. I’ve got work that’s going undone. I’m coming undone. MAKE IT END. Suckage rating: 2.

    1. hildi*

      ” I actually learned some stuff I think will help me communicate more effectively with my team. Yay!”

      This thread is like a gold-mine for me, so sorry I will be bugging everyone. Do you happen to remember any of the stuff you learned that will help you? Or how/why you think it will help you?

      1. C Average*

        People got to speak up about how they felt their profile fit them, and I learned that some of my colleagues value praise more than I would’ve guessed, some need more time to reflect than I would’ve guessed, etc. Because I delegate to my geo counterparts a lot, it was good to be reminded how to do so more effectively, and how to follow up. I also got to express some of my own preferences.

    2. blueberry*

      this made me laugh. sorry the majority of your time there is sucky, but hopefully the trip to the unicorn farm is coming soon.

    3. SimonTheGrey*

      Did that color-sorting experiment in college in the writing center I was part of. In ours, Green was analytical and goal oriented, blue was relational-driven and empathetic, red was activity-oriented and extroverted, and yellow was highly organized and numbers-driven. I scored as one of the two highest greens in the center, which apparently is really rare for women under that system. Our highest blue in the department, usually female, was a guy. Also, there were maybe half a dozen greens, and about that many of the yellows and reds. Essentially everyone was blue.

  18. Ali*

    My old boss would take time on our conference calls (once we went through the work-related/agenda items) to have one person give like a little personal bio about themselves. It was not voluntary. If he told you before the call you were participating, you had to give your bio and be open to a Q&A from the team afterward. In a way it was cool, but in another there wasn’t a ton of interest and everyone thinking it was the most fun thing ever. Only 2-3 calls into this exercise, though, he went on a medical leave and then subsequently resigned after, so we never finished this. Prior to the giving your life story exercise, he tried having us all send him “shoutouts” about other team members that he’d read on the call, and he’d be disappointed if no one sent any. We are not a problem team or a group that doesn’t like each other; it’s just that this stuff felt forced and fake and he was the only one that was all over it. So while it wasn’t the worst team building idea ever, it didn’t really get us enthused either.

    My new boss (a peer who was just promoted within) is a little more down to business and does not incorporate games on conference calls. Haven’t heard any complains about the lack of games yet…haha.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      When asked to say something about myself, I never say anything interesting. If I say I’m crafty, people ask about craft projects and ask for my help. If I say I’m a dressmaker, people bring me pants to hem.
      I stick with the most boring bio possible. Everyone will think I am boring, but there is no extra work!

      1. sophiabrooks*

        This is so true. I do crafts and make costumes for theatre. I do not want to make your Halloween costume or even care about your Halloween costume. I mostly say I like to read and watch TV.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        I say I like crossword puzzles. People usually don’t care, and occasionally I meet someone else in the office who likes them too. Sometimes people will stop by my office to talk about that day’s clues, which is fine with me.

        1. Jamie*

          This would make me like you. I love crossword puzzles – and this used to be a safe answer before words with friends. Now you mention it and everyone wants to know what your WWF username is.

          Nothing is safe anymore.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            Ooh, I love a good crossword. Preferably cryptic or Sunday NYT.

            I’ll happily give my WWF name out to anyone who asks! (wonderbrit, if anyone fancies a game. Same name on Upwords, too, which is even better).

  19. Serin*

    When I interviewed for my very first job, one of the questions the boss asked was, “Talk to me about how you define cooperation.” It wasn’t so much that he wanted to hear my answer as that he wanted to signal to me that this was going to be a vital part of the job — and it was. That was the best team I ever worked on, and one of the reasons was that the boss had high praise for anything we did to make each other’s lives easier.

    (Best boss I ever had, first job out of school. Makes the rest of the career a bit anti-climactic.)

    1. Cajun2Core*

      I am curious how you answered the question. I was once asked for my definition of “teamwork”. My answer was “Never saying, ‘That’s not my job.'”

    2. Toothless*

      I think I said something about all of us helping each other because of being focused on the same goals. I mean, I was 22, and I’m guessing what I said wasn’t a diamond of brilliance, but if I’d said, “Cooperation is that thing people do when they’re not good enough to get the job done on their own,” that would have been information to consider before hiring me.

  20. Jamie*

    The best team building exercise is regular audits. Internal and external – nothing pulls people together like improving toward a common goal and having someone knowledgeable and helpful pointing out all their shortcomings.

    Sounds facetious, but seriously, I never feel closer to someone at work than when I’m auditing them or preparing them for an external.

    And not just because I’ve got an external coming up this week which I’ve been living and breathing for a while…and my boss was mocking me today for being the only one in the world who enjoys these things…which I thought I was hiding rather well, but apparently not. I guess it’s not “cool” to enjoy judgement and an honest appraisal of one’s work. I’m sorry, I work very, very hard as does most everyone with whom I work to live our processes properly and excuse me for enjoying written proof of our remarkable awesomeness.

    Seriously though, audits are team building. Every so often it strikes me how lucky I am in that I get to criticize people for a living. For someone with my temperament that’s custom made, but that most of them still like me when it’s over means the team – it was built.

    Everyone go audit something today and start building those teams!

    1. MaryMary*

      I find this fascinating. It became part of my job over the past year to create and implement an internal audit process. It’s not as natural of a fit for me as it is for you, Jamie. I liked creating the process but I don’t enjoy doing the actual auditing. Since this was the first round of audits ever performed at the company and there was a lot of, um, room for improvement, I also did not enjoy discussing the results (lots of angst and finger pointing). I didn’t consider the team building aspect, people were pretty united in their dislike of the audit.

      1. Jamie*

        When it’s a new process to your company, absolutely there will be hostility. And a lot of “and who do you think you are” kind of thing.

        If you have any questions about this I’ve learned quite a bit from implementing an auditing system into a company that had nothing like it before and I’d be happy to share. Mention it in the open thread which I won’t read until Saturday since I’ll be in an external audit all Friday – but I love discussing this part of work so if I can help shout out in the open thread.

    2. Joie de Vivre*

      You’re not alone Jamie! I also get mocked for my audit enthusiasm.

      To be fair, the first time we did them it was like trying to get cats to march in a parade.
      But after teams got to see their achievements clearly (and publically!) recognized and others saw practical improvements made in their departments based on the audit feedback, it’s been far easier to get cooperation.

      And you’re 100% correct – when done right it builds up the team.

      1. Jamie*

        That is absolutely right – herding cats until they see the results. Three keys to get people on board:

        1. Feedback from the people who will live the procedures. Not invited, not welcomed, beg for their expertise if you have to while writing procedures. Because anyone with a book of standards could write procedures and issue directives – which will be loaded with inefficiencies. Collaboration with the people on the ground is the only way you end up with elegant procedures which meet the requirements you need to meet without adding unnecessary layers of complication. Collateral benefit is the perspective shifts from something you’re doing “to” them to something you’re creating “with” them. Good procedures will absolutely make a managers life easier, so then the audits are about you helping them police their procedures and not an outside thing.

        2. Explain why. Explain how it will make their life easier, save the company money, get a certification, whatever. When something is non-negotiable explain why. If it’s a regulatory thing, just something tptb won’t move on, don’t just say because you say so – let them know the reasoning. Explain it nicely without emotion until you know they understand – then limit the venting about it. You’re not a therapist and it’s not healthy for them to dwell…you’re sorry they don’t like X, but it’s non-negotiable and move on.

        3. Notice the good as well as the bad. Every internal auditor I train knows this is not only how we make sure departments are in compliance, but it’s a chance to highlight some great employees which may not otherwise be visible to tptb. If someone is extra awesome note it in the report, and put a bug in the ear of someone who can do something about it. Use concrete specific examples of people as how to do things right. Praise in public, criticize in private. It’s not a game of gotcha – I had an auditor make a joke about how he liked telling people what to do. We had a talk and when I was confident he was power trippy and he delighted in getting people in trouble he was immediately off the schedule. Fortunately I have people audit in teams so no one had any negative consequence to his improper motives – but I don’t need people like that.

        Auditors need to walk a line between being a neutral observer and not looking for gotcha, but not being afraid to bring to light things that are out of compliance or opportunities for improvement. And it’s not as easy as you’d think to find people who are comfortable auditing the COO and issuing him a corrective action. I’ve written CARS for the owners of my company and never had an issue – I’ve never written one that wasn’t valid and it’s what they pay me for – but wow is it hard to get people who won’t get weird about that when you’re first starting out.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          I worked in a customer service department for a major retailer once. We got audited once a quarter. My team lead (before he was fired) implemented a daily morning audit “book”, where we’d go through the transactions of the previous day (custom orders, returns and refunds, and other transactions where there’s a higher likelihood of fraud and theft). It was a great way to learn – and master – all the p’s and q’s of the job. And it was a great way to make sure our department always passed its quarterly audits.

          When he was let go, I continued the tradition, even after we hired the most incompetent worker in the history of ever. Every single morning I was writing out pages and pages on her mistakes from the day before. I also wrote out what should be done the next time. She took it to HR and the store manager and said I was “bullying” her and using the audit book as a means of harassing her. I flipped the book open and showed the store manager where I’d recorded *his* mistakes. . . and *my* mistakes. . . and the mistakes of the assistant managers and other dept employess, too. Damned if he still didn’t insist that the book get thrown away because it was “harming Incompetent Employee”. You can guess the rest of the story: we failed our next two audits — horribly — and I quit after that.

    3. Julie*

      You are speaking my language. I think you see what people are made of during audits plus I love the mix of order and chaos that comes about.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes – the mix of order and chaos! I know the feeling well but never heard it put into words before – that is beautiful.

        I have a sign on my door right now- a laminated print out from an e-card – that says “I’m not anxious. I’m just extremely well educated about all the things that can go catastrophically wrong.” It’s got a cartoon of a woman sitting with her head in her hands. That’s the sign that it’s external audit time!

        Preparing for an external is like having one of those machines that shoots tennis balls pointed right at you, on the fastest setting, with infinite ammo and you just keep hitting every one right in the sweet spot of your favorite racquet.

        It’s weird but gearing up for an external audit my brain feels more alive and engaged than at any other time – because it’s periods of intense hyper focus on individual tasks and otherwise every other item endlessly cycling through my head. I chase this feeling – I want this all the time.

        1. Joie de Vivre*

          Exactly! How can you not love that feeling?!
          Not to mention the satisfaction of a successful external – questions answered, documentation relevant and up to date, KPI’s met or exceeded…. It’s a beautiful thing.

      2. Melissa*

        I love work that is a mix of order and chaos. I don’t even know what an audit is, but I kind of want one.

  21. TotesMaGoats*

    I’ll offer up what is to date the team building exercise that got the best reviews.

    Split into teams about about 6 (preferably with people you don’t see everyday, if your office is set up that way)
    Provide each team with a small puzzle. <25 pieces
    Have the teams, in silence, complete the puzzle

    What's the catch? Make the puzzles different and change one puzzle piece from each puzzle with another. The point being that they have to figure out that one piece is wrong and then find their missing piece. All about thinking (literally) outside of the box and seeking out help.

    My team loved this. It satisfied the competitive folks and the introverts and the extroverts got to talk it out when we were done.

    1. MaryMary*

      At a past job, someone set up a large, complicated puzzle in a common area during one of our stressful periods. It was a fantastic, low key team builder. Whenever someone needed a break or to step away from their computer for a minute, they could put a couple puzzle pieces together. Sometimes there were small groups of people working on the puzzle, often groups that didn’t interact with each other daily, other times a solo puzzler. Some people had mini-meetings while working on the puzzle. It gave you a much needed sense of accomplishment that at least something constructive had happened that day, and then everyone was happy when the puzzle was complete.

      1. hildi*

        That’s a really cool idea – plus, I bet it helped your subconscious work on a problem while you were doing another activity. Like they always say you get your best ideas in the shower or on a walk? When you’re doing something totally not related to the problem you were originally working on.

        During Christmas in our state Capitol building, we have dozens of Christmas trees on display that groups across the state decorate. It’s a much-loved tradition, and I’ve noticed in the past few years they have a large puzzle set up in one of the halls that people can work on. I think that’s a fun little diversion/activity for those that like it.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        I would love that! Unfortunately we don’t have the space at work (our lunch room doubles as a meeting room). I don’t own any jigsaw puzzles any more (left them all in the UK when I emigrated), but reading your comment made me realise how much I miss it. I’d have to find space in a room the cats aren’t allowed in, though…

        1. krisl*

          I bought some of those large white cardboardish things you can get at K-Mart, Target, etc. I put those over the puzzle after I work with it so the kitties can’t take the pieces.

    2. hildi*

      I’ve read about an idea like this – good to hear a review on it.

      You said in silence – so not verbal communicating, only gesturing? After a while I’d assume that someone figures out to go and check another group’s puzzle? Was the class about team building or were there other applications for the activity?

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Yes, no verbals at all. Just gestures and some really expressive eyebrows! Someone did eventually figure it out and watching that realization dawn was fun. It was an icebreaker activity for a geographically separated team of about 40 people. It was focused on teamwork but the silence and going to the other table part was to remind people that our team is more than the people in our office and there is expertise and assistance in other places. Basically, you aren’t alone.

        1. hildi*

          Hmm…..I like that. I got a request for a communication class (which wow! huge topic). One thing they mentioned during our discussions is that even though there are the same offices/role statewide, they don’t always reach out to each other or follow the same general practices. Your last point made me think this activity could help reinforce that point. Thanks!!

  22. Apostrophina*

    Mercifully, I’ve only been involved with two workshops of the trust-fall variety (one high school, one college). I’ve never ended up participating in any exercise more dangerous than falling, with my feet at ground level, into the arms of other people.

    Being a non-participant, though, allowed me to see the thought process of other people reluctant to participate (yes, I was the only non- in the bunch by the end; turns out dropping from heights is the one area of my life where I have a consistent ability to say, “Nope!”) I’m not sure what the dynamics are elsewhere in those groups, but I can vouch that the stragglers felt there was something wrong with them and struggled, at a very I/me level, to overcome it and do the exercise. It had nothing to do with trusting the other people in the group or not; it didn’t even have to do with cooperation, really. It made me wonder what the point was.

  23. AvonLady Barksdale*

    The best team-building activity I experienced at my old job was the Friday morning bagel drop. Seriously. It was once a week, provided by the senior sales staff, and while no one was required to participate, it meant that people from all different areas of our department came together once a week. Since we were all in different corners of the floor, some of us only saw each other on Friday mornings. It did wonders for boosting morale and encouraging camaraderie, especially when the bagels were late (gasp! It was a travesty!), and all because senior staff decided to spring for a weekly treat. When I changed companies, I still ate a bagel every Friday, but it lost its “specialness”. Then I moved to a city where the bagels are absolute crap and I miss my old company so, so much.

    1. the gold digger*

      For my former employer’s bagel day – also every Friday – the lowest-paid employees had to supply the bagels and everyone who had ever worked in that department – there were many exes because it was such an awful place to work – would come by to eat. They were not doing it right! Your way is much better.

  24. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    We had one of those “team building” courses once.

    It was STUPID. But, it did build morale, because all of us, including our managers, had to take part in this course, and we all laughed together – AT IT. So by sending a group as a team through a ridiculous exercise – yes, it was a complete waste of time, unless you build morale by allowing your employees to make fun of the process.

    And then, we got to tell upper management – instead of wasting the company’s money on things like this, give us education we DO need…

    And so they did.

  25. hildi*

    We just had a staff day with my coworkers (half of us are trainers and the other half are HR analysts). My supervisor asked me and my coworker to come up with a way that we could have a personalized word cloud made for everyone. So, we found a huge list of positive adjectives and printed off one for each person. We passed each persons’ paper around the entire group so everyone had a chance to pick words for that person. They just put a checkmark next to the word they felt described the other person. When we were done, my coworker and I tallied up each of the words/checks and entered that into It created a really cool word cloud, customized for each person based on what their coworkers find to be their best attributes. We printed them in color and laminated them. Everyone really thought that was cool – it was better than going around and saying to a person’s face something nicey-nice (which is nice, but can get awkward). And everyone came away with a visual reminder of the traits most people like about them.

    1. Another comment on the situation*

      My boss did this for us. She then made up a colorful word cloud with our name in bold print and the words formed around them in a nice frame for us to display on our desks. Unfortunately, she is a bad speller so I am embarrassed to have to show people my frame.

      1. hildi*

        Oh man! That sucks. A for effort, but F for execution, man. I was really scared of misspelling something on theirs, too, since I had to type in all the words from scratch. I’ll make a new one for you :)

    2. Woodward*

      Oooh! I absolutely love this! Not sure when I’ll use it in the future, but I definitely am going to! Thanks for sharing.

      1. hildi*

        you’re welcome! Oh, and I didn’t make it very clear but we told people they could pick as many words as they wanted. And I’d say that was actually key in making the word cloud work (since the size of the word is based on how many times that word is used in the text). What we found is that most people had some very prominent words because almost everyone saw that same characteristic in them. I would be happy to email you the list of words we used. We can exchange email addresses on the LinkedIn group, unless you’re not part of that.

        1. Theguvnah*

          This is amazing and I really want to replicate it at an upcoming staff retreat! I’m wondering if I can get people to fill it out in advance though and present the finished versions at the retreat. Do you feel like that would take something away from the exercise?

          1. hildi*

            I don’t think it would take away from the exercise. We only allotted about 15 min to do this and for the first few passes people were joking and being smart-alecky, but after that everyone got down to business. Then we collected the papers and my coworker and I actually input in the words throughout the day and had them ready by the end of the day. But that wasn’t ideal because we missed lunch and some other portions to get it done. It took us about 10 min per person to complete theirs.

            So, no, I think if you did it in advance it wouldn’t take anything away from the objective. The only thing is that people would presumably be doing it on their own at their desk or something? They are sort of out of the “zone” so might not understand why you’re making them do it, etc. Lots of explanation would help. Or if you have a weekly staff meeting or something you could easily slip it in. I do think it would be easier for logistics to have everyone doing it at the same time (e.g. staff meeting) versus doing it individually at their desks a various times leading up to the retreat.

  26. This will out me*

    My firm did a client whale watch that ended up in really rough water with everyone puking right after lunch. I took dramamine and a xanax and hid in a remote corner of the boat I found where no one was puking. Once things calmed down and we were almost to shore, I was on the top deck w/ some of the partners. (I was a young associate at the time). They commented on how relaxed I looked despite all of the previous chaos. I admitted that I had hid away w/ dramamine and xanax. They were only annoyed that I hadn’t shared.

  27. cat*

    My worst team-building experience: We had to drive two hours away from work and spend the night in cabins (the women all got their own cabins, while the guys had to share one cabin – I’m a woman and my cabin had four queen size beds and a set of bunk beds, which I had all to myself).

    I was preparing for bariatric surgery, a fact which I didn’t want to share with anyone at work, so I couldn’t eat anything solid and could only drink clear liquids. Fun when locked up with co-workers for two days straight – fielding the questions at mealtime was the best!

    Then the first day was all “motivational meetings” in a conference room, which was bad enough on its own, but the second day was an actual ropes course, complete with climbing a telephone pole (seriously) and jumping off while being belayed by co-workers, as well as a half mile zip line, which I couldn’t do at the time because I was over the weight limit. It was traumatic, isolating, demoralizing and awful. I cried. I then quit six months later. The lack of sensitivity in planning the “team building” event was a big motivator in my looking for another job.

    The worst my current job has made me do is laser tag, which is still horrible, but is nothing like being forced to climb a telephone pole when you’re 140 pounds overweight and then jumping off, trusting that your co-workers will be able to catch you. I actually want to cry just thinking about it now, three years later.

    1. Observer*

      What on earth were these people thinking!? I shudder to think of what could have happened. You don’t have to be that overweight to worry about your co-workers catching you (although I realize that it makes things worse.)

  28. cajun2core*

    This is so old that I doubt anyone will see this since the thread is so old but along the lines of #1…
    Our new Dean (I work at a University) had us submit pictures of “what we did over the summer. Most people just submitted pictures from trips they took. I just submitted a picture of me in my garden. Nothing that anyone didn’t want to share was shared and it was quite fun and we all got to know a little about our co-workers. I doubt that anyone who did not submit pictures was “harmed” in any way.

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