team-building events are weird and not very useful

I recorded a piece for the BBC about team-building events: how bizarre and ineffective they can be, and why employers often schedule them without putting real thought into how they’ll produce better results … or even use them as a substitute for more meaningful work on communication or cooperation issues. (And it includes some of the weirdest team-building stories that have been reported here!)

It’s four minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. Foreign Octopus

    Oh my god. Everything from the horse nearly trampling a colleague to spitting soda in each other’s mouth (arghhh!). Why? Just why!?

        1. New Job So Much Better

          Ewwww, sounds like that “Human Fountain” act on AGT (or one of those tv talent shows) last week. The guys spit in each other’s mouths, then rinse, repeat, to music. *shudders*

      1. Mina, the Company Prom Queen

        That’s disgusting. And they were probably told they weren’t ‘team players’ if they refused. Just eeeewwww.

      1. SpellingBee

        x100000000000! I also shuddered and involuntarily made the “eeeewwww” face when I heard that. Who in their right mind would think that was a good idea???

    1. Positive Reframer

      There was a group for a while that made a “chocolate milk machine” thing with 3-4 people *shudder*

    2. Chaordic One

      For a while it was a thing for couples (usually same sex couples) to spit into each others’ mouths. I thought it was gross at the time and was told that it wasn’t any worse than French kissing. I haven’t noticed it for a while and thought it was going away.

    1. Amber Rose

      Dear God, NO.

      I’m having flashbacks to sex ed in high school when we ended up tied to a member of the opposite sex for a while, and that was just some string and awkward closeness, not like… Augh. D:

        1. Amber Rose

          I was paired up with a random dude and we were tangled up with string and had to work together to get apart, and to this day I have no idea what the point was. It was hell for shy, socially awkward me though.

          High school sex ed was a weird time. Actually high school was a weird time. I was in the experimental class, I later found out, which meant everyone else was doing the usual lesson plans and we were doing some different things in each of our classes to see how that went.

          I still have nightmares. :|

            1. Amber Rose

              Me too! But man, do I have stories now. In hindsight they’re hilarious. In a shocking, wtf kind of way.

              How many other people can say that high school was angsty AND surreal?

          1. Sandman

            My daughter’s future sex ed curriculum reportedly includes using clay to sculpt human genitalia. In a co-ed class. In middle school. I’m already looking forward to discussing that one with the administration.

        1. Amber Rose

          When I think back to my high school years, I realize just how completely and utterly effed up that whole experience was. I mean, high school is a bad time for most kids, but it’s sort of surreal, looking back and realizing that no. None of that was normal. Not any of it.

          I don’t think teachers today could get away with pairing up boys and girls and tying them up with string. Could you imagine? Parents would be rioting in the streets.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            I just don’t understand what it has to do with sex ed.

            Then again, most team building exercises have very little relevance to job duties, so I guess it doesn’t have to make sense.

            1. Amber Rose

              Dunno. I actually don’t know what most of what we did in that class had to do with sex ed. But, much like these team building exercises, it probably makes perfect, warped sense to the person who came up with it.

              1. pugsnbourbon

                If you went to a public school in central portion of the US, it’s likely that it was “abstinence-based” and therefore not about sex at all.

                I think I was also tied to a classmate at one point, to symbolize how having sex with someone ties you to them, irrevocably, FOREVER. Which I now know is not true at all.

                1. LavaLamp

                  This reminds me of a story my dad tells about his history class growing up. Apparently they segregated people based on eye and hair color (I think blondes were separated from brunettes) and let one group mistreat the others to simulate Nazi germany. It did not end well.

            2. Sarcastic Fringehead

              I mean, ideally “sex” ed would also teach about healthy relationships and how to communicate with partners, but this sounds like it might do more harm than good.

          2. Baby Fishmouth

            My (Catholic) high school decided to pair up boys and girls and make us plan a wedding together, as well as plan our future house, children, jobs, etc. Not as bad as tying us up with string, but still an awkward AF project!

            The worst part was that there were more boys than girls, so boys had to be paired together – but being a Catholic school, and therefore unable to encourage gay marriage, the premise for those groups was that they were ‘Roommates who happened to be planning somebody else’s wedding together’. *eye roll*.

            1. Amber Rose

              Oh geez. That’s weird and not cool.

              The only other super weird project I had with classmates was the day my teacher put us in groups and we had a competition to see which group could come up with the most euphemisms for… uh, body parts.

              My favorite was “purple helmet warrior.” But we came up with a lot. I think our group won.

              1. Lynn Whitehat

                I teach a sex ed class (Our Whole Lives) where we do that. First we have the students list as many words as they can, and then as a class they agree on which words are acceptable to them to use. We also discuss which ones are medical/scientific, slang, or for children. It has a few benefits.

                1) It “rips off the band-aid” that yup, we’re talking about sexuality, and that means we have to use words related to sex and private parts.
                2) We agree early on on which words the students are comfortable with. That way, in the rest of the lessons, we are not endlessly derailed by students collapsing in helpless giggles at language that sounds “weird” to them, nor are we derailed by endless debates about whether e.g. “boobs” is disrespectful and inappropriate.

                If there’s time, we also ask for synonyms for “knee”. They might come up with “patella”, and then that’s basically it. OK, so why did we fill a whiteboard with a hundred synonyms for these other body parts, and we only have one for “knee”? You can get some interesting conversation out of it.

                1. Amber Rose

                  See, I get that for a new subject. But we did this activity in high school. Where I’m from, sex ed starts in fourth grade. That means by high school, most of us were on year seven of sex ed classes, plus full access to the internet. There was no awkwardness left. It was boring, and annoying.

                2. sfigato

                  My college human sexuality course did this, and I found it really helpful. It gets you away from the beavis and butthead “heh heh, she said ‘doing it'” and gets over the awkwardness of talking about sex. I, a total stranger with zero experience teaching, approve of your methods.

                3. Mad Baggins

                  I did that in sex ed. IIRC we did similar “get used to it, this is what it’s called” exercises in middle school and high school. I think this is a really good sex ed ice breaker.

            2. Deery Lou

              We had to do this stupid thing called The Reality Store once. You’d walk into the gym and tell the first station what job you wanted. The job I wanted was not in “the book” AKA the big binder of jobs with salaries, so I had to pick something else. Then I went to the next table and they asked me if I wanted to get married or not. I chose no. Then at the next table, I had to roll and die and that told me how many children I would have, and lucky me, I rolled a six. Then we had to keep going through different stations. It was basically a bigger version of the Game of Life.

              It was HORRENDOUS and I made my displeasure known, but hell, if I could go back now, after I rolled that six, I would have looked those people right in the eye and said, “Can you tell me where the Planned Parenthood table is so I can get some abortions and a tubal ligation?”

              1. Amber Rose

                Pffft, what? That’s so weird, but sounds kinda funny. I would’ve preferred that over our teacher’s usual activity, which was movies about something horrifying.

              2. twig

                This reminds me of Theo Huxtable and the “Real World Apartments.”

                The Huxtables basically set up this same kind of thing in their house after he’d complained about being a teenager and how much easier it would be when he was out of the house (or something like that)

              3. Mad Baggins

                Wait why would you have to roll the dice to see how many children you’d have if you chose not to get married? I get that some people choose to do that IRL but in a game for children it sounds like you’re rolling for a random amount of immaculate conceptions.

                1. Karyn

                  I assumed this was high school. And middle schoolers (at least) know that you don’t have to be married to have a baby.

            3. AK

              Oh my goodness I had to do this to! My partner and I got points docked because we closed on our house 3 days before the wedding date so legally we were living together before marriage which didn’t make it a “true” Catholic marriage. My teacher was not amused when we pointed out that we were both raised Protestant and we were planning on raising our “kids” Protestant as well.

                1. AK

                  Haha I know right! I can’t remember if we were told to assume we could afford the down payment and mortgage payments or if we were “gifted” the down payment as a wedding present.

            4. Annoyed

              Wow. All of these stories make me glad I went to HS in the 70s in California. Before Reagan and Falwell and not in Middle America.

              We learned about BC, STDs, abortion, etc. and it was all accurate information. I didn’t know it then of course, I just took their word for it, but I do know now that they were actually educating us properly.

              This included info on Planned Parenthood and demos (yes, multiple) about how to properly use a condom and a diaphram.

      1. Parenthetically

        I nominate “horrible/bizarre/surreal/WTF stories from high school sex ed” as a weekend open thread topic.

      2. J.

        This whole subthread is making me retroactively appreciate my all girls’ high school. O_O It wasn’t perfect, but yikes.

      3. Bluedolphin

        Same here for flashbacks! For our ed class we had to chew up Cheetos and spit them into our own cup. We then had to mix the cups depending who “slept” with who. It was to demonstrate the mixing of fluids.

        At prom this teacher ate Cheetos while he took our tickets to remind us…

    2. Murphy

      ” During the day co-workers will be required to cuddle each other in a variety of different positions and will need to switch partners every two hours – so that you have a chance to bond with everyone.”

      D-:

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        This is the less mild version of the link I shared in the open thread last Friday about the orgasm meditation company. Did you see that?

      2. The Vulture

        “required to switch partners after two hours” EXCUSE ME TWO HOURS OF CUDDLING ONE OF MY COWORKERS, I DON’T THINK SO.

        Give me a quick sec, just have to go scrap all the skin off my body. Should release a lot of oxytocin!

        1. Allison

          I don’t even wanna cuddle my boyfriend for that long! It gets physically uncomfortable after a while.

          1. aebhel

            Right? I’m married and I have kids and I don’t even want to cuddle any of THEM for two hours!

        1. Jadelyn

          Oh god, now I’m imagining a new fic trope: bad teambuilding AU. Trust falls! Stranded in the wilderness together! Etc.

          1. TardyTardis

            My brain is offering me the Hogwarts version, because I write a lot of HP fanfic. Brain! Stop that!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        That’s actually a relief. I just saw the post on Evil HR Lady cause someone mentioned it in the comments of the podcast post yesterday.

      2. Daria Grace

        Hard to tell. As far as I’ve been able to work out it’s a real established company. It is possible they are trolling with this particular service

      3. Four lights

        Actually, sorry, I read the tweet wrong. It’s a legit company. The cuddling is just the beginning. The Google reviews mention team ice building.

    3. Falling Diphthong

      Note: The company is looking to hire people with professional cuddling experience.

      Literally, it says that at the bottom of the page.

      1. Quickbeam

        Madison WI had a Cuddle House for a while where people could pay to be cuddled. It got shut down; even hyper liberal Madison side eyed that.

      2. Tada

        Cuddle Therapy is the next big thing, for real. Google ‘Cuddle Therapy’ or ‘Cuddle Party’. You can even get hands-on training to become a certified as a cuddler for “only” $1600 to $3600, not including travel to & 3-5 days in Portland, OR.

    4. Allison

      You know that video of the cat going “oooohnonononononono”? That’s my reaction. I don’t even want to read that, I know enough. I know too much.

    5. Daria Grace

      This one has made me feel a bit better about my office’s feelings sticker chart where every morning we have to put a sticker with our names next to an emoji representing how we’re feeling. If it’s a negative feeling we may be called on to justify it in front of everyone in staff meeting. I thought that was invasive but this is so much worse

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        OMG, did you also email me about this a while ago? If not, there are two offices where this is happening. (I still have the letter in my queue to answer.)

        1. Mookie

          This is a thing in my office too. Unsurprisingly, everyone goes for the smiley emoji day in and out because, self preservation, why the heck would you not?

          1. PB

            This is awful. People are allowed to have negative emotions. You shouldn’t be “called on” to “justify” it. At work, no less.

          2. Not A Morning Person

            Yes, there is research I read from Harvard Medical School showing that having to be happy or thionking you need to be happy when you aren’t feeling super upbeat can actually make you UNhappy. It’s apparently due to the pressure of believing that there is something wrong with having normal human emotions that are occasionally sad, anxious, worried, or whatever. Feeling all the feels including the sadder ones makes you feel happier when you are really happy. When did we start thinking that the normal human condition is happiness? ‘The point is that when we try and avoid sadness, see it as a problem, and strive for endless happiness, we are in fact not very happy and, therefore, cannot enjoy the benefits of true happiness.’

            1. TardyTardis

              This is why one thing in um, Wishcraft, is a Hard Times Journal where you can whine and moan as much as you want. Also, you can set a timer and wallow in despair until the timer goes off. It’s kind of neat in its own little way.

        2. Daria Grace

          I did. There’s a few new details that make it even weirder. Will send you an update on the weekend

        1. Kat in VA

          I would, too. I have Epic Forever Resting Bitch Face™ and even if I put a smiley face next to my name, my actual EFRBF would belie that sticker.

      2. beckysuz

        That is just….bizarre. Also I’m not nice until my third cup of coffee and I don’t feel I should ever have to justify that

      3. AnonEMoose

        I have to know…is the poop emoji one of the options? Because if it’s not currently, I know people who can print custom stickers.

    6. tra la la

      Maybe as a threat? “It’s either mandatory cuddling or mandatory board games! What’s it gonna be?” Everyone: “ZOMG BOARDGAMES!BOARDGAMES!!!”

      1. Annoyed

        Well sure because there are so many males, who are otherwise restrained that would take advantage of the opportunity to creep on women because they “had to touch” them so it’s totally “not their fault.”

    1. Indigo a la mode

      Thanks for sharing! I must be weird – I always, ALWAYS prefer reading things to watching or listening, especially at work.

      1. Kes

        I’m the same, I’ll take an article over a video any day (and I always stop those annoying autoplaying videos that so often accompany articles these days).

      2. Jadelyn

        Not just you – I can’t stand stuff that’s audio or video only, with no transcript. I have ADHD and my brain literally will not focus on audio/video if I don’t have something to read at the same time. I can sit there and stare at it and I just…will not retain anything.

      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hi, a request to stay on topic please and not derail on this! (As context: My pieces for the BBC are generally radio-only, but they happened to put this one on the BBC News site as well.)

        1. Blue Eagle

          It’s not really de-railing – – just letting you know that there are a bunch of us that do not listen to the podcasts, but will read the transcript (and we thank you for the opportunity to have a transcript)

            1. AnonEMoose

              I feel on the things coming up a lot. Different issues, but…yeah…I know what that’s like.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius

    I worked for someone who loved team building activities because they were suggested in management books. (My boss was OBSESSED with management books.) Except my boss was a terrible boss.

    About half of us never wanted to attend because these events fell outside of work hours, and kids weren’t welcome. Some events required us to read a book, which felt like homework. But the biggest reasons of all…

    My boss allowed one toxic person to bully and sabotage work. He saw her openly bully people, and he did nothing about it. My boss also didn’t trust anyone who wasn’t part of his inner circle, and that toxic person was part of his inner circle. A bulk of the work was only assigned to the inner circle, regardless if it was part of the outer circle’s job description.

    I have zero desire to spend time outside of the work week with someone who is actively trying to get me fired, and my boss won’t do anything about it nor does he trust me to do my job. Plus the only reason my boss did these things is because a book told him, and most of the time those events didn’t really work because we weren’t a private entity.

  3. Sally

    These sound awful! It really seems that the bosses don’t give these things ANY thought at all. They can’t possibly be thinking “would I enjoy this?”

    I’m about to start a new job that has frequent fitness challenges. I’m interested in these because I’d like to be more fit, and it’s hard for me to get exercise without having an outside reason (meeting a friend for a walk, hiring a trainer at the gym, etc.). I just hope they are not fanatical about it and that it’s truly optional. Everything else about the company seems normal, and I met with quite a few people, so I’m assuming it will be fine. I guess I’ll find out.

    1. Videogame Lurker

      Improv can be useful for formulating scripts when dealing with a difficult consumer, or unsafe situations, or other things.

    2. Sally

      I’ve done improv to be a good sport (not at work), but I’m not good at it, and it’s really embarrassing for me. I think, in the end, it was good for me to try something that was outside my comfort zone, but I definitely only would do it with at least a majority of people I trust and know. Otherwise, there’s no f-ing way!

    3. anon here

      we did Improv, sort of, at a recent meeting.

      the Llama group health insurance manager had gone to some conference where someone who actually knew improv talked about using it to improve customer service.

      Llama group health insurance manager remembered maybe a third of what was discussed at the conference, and imparted that to us, with a lot of “oh wait” and “no, this” thrown in.

      Then we had to practice party planning using “yes and” in teams of two.

      Most of us are commercial and personal llama property and casualty. “yes, and” will work amazingly in our customer service conversations.

      “Hey, I decided to start offering flaming juggling classes in my unsprinklered hay-bale building! I have coverage for that, right?”

      “my 15 year old gave my Jaguar keys to his drunk 16 year old friend with a learner’s permit who hit a pedestrian – the company is going to pay for everything right? And not raise my rates, because it wasn’t my fault!”

      “I just bought an $150k Porsche and want it insured in my company name for tax purposes, but I don’t have a business auto policy in place, and I’m picking it up in an hour. You can get me an insurance card in 15 minutes, right?”

      1. AnonEMoose

        I could have had a LOT of fun with the party planning “yes and” scenario.

        “We should have an open bar.”
        “YES – and we should bring someone in to teach everyone how to breathe fire! While on a hay ride! Oooh…do you think we can fit the bar on the bale rack?!”

    4. Bea

      This sounds like all my nightmares rolled into one, minus the bears. I would rather fight bears IRL than improv.

      1. Anon for this

        It wasn’t bad. The facilitator was trained in it. We had a couple of exercises that were illuminating. The whole thing lasted about an hour.

    5. Lucille2

      I’ve had to participate in role playing in many soft skills trainings I’ve attended. I simply cannot do it. I don’t know why, but I get more nervous doing the fake scenarios and being judged then stepping up and facing conflict in real life. I once did a mock interview with a supervisor to help me prepare for an interview for an internal promotion. It was the biggest interview bomb I’ve ever had, and it wasn’t even a real interview. The real interview went great! I was much more confident and more natural than the mock one. I just don’t buy into role playing/improv for training or team building. It’s too forced.

      1. AnonEMoose

        I’ve mentioned before – one of my hobbies is tabletop RPGs (Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder…).

        I think it’s a lot more awkward to basically be me when role playing than it is to be a character.

        So I can be a magic wielder with a dragon ancestor, or a vampire, or an orc, or… with no problem. But it feels way weirder to try to be me in a fictional scenario because I’m second guessing whether that’s really what I’d do or say.

        1. Fluff

          This is so me. The Oscar for best elf / mage goes to Fluff. Role playing in real life? I try, try, try so hard and fail so spectacularly that my co-workers actually want me to do team building role play because apparently I am the only entertainment in the yearly “RaRa session.” I am sooooo bad. Now if we had lightsabers….

      2. Not A Morning Person

        I don’t know how your experience with role play was done, but in my experience, we conduct the role play in in small groups of 2-3 people all at the same time. No group has to come up and do their role play in front of anyone else. It works really well that way. We don’t call it role play, we call it practice, and it’s only done after we’ve reviewed what a good conversation/interview/coaching session should look like, provided a template, and had people fill in what they need/want to cover. Everyone just talks in their small groups and practices their conversations that way. No one gets put on the spot in front of the whole group and they typically say they feel better prepared for their upcoming conversation.

  4. Susana

    I thought the forced cuddling was the worst.. but spitting soda into someone else’s mouth? EWWWW!!!!!!

  5. BRR

    “Real team building isn’t about one or two events a year” Bingo. I can’t really add anything to that, it just sums it up perfectly.

    1. Leela

      Yes! It amazes me that keeping a team functioning well (something you need to have happen year round) is most attended to once or twice in a 365 day period??

      Like one or two days a year is going to bail out a team that’s otherwise not functioning well? Or like you’re going to go well “Hmmm….our team isn’t functioning well. Shame we have to wait five months until the next team-building event to course correct”

  6. Amber Rose

    I’m not a religious person, but excuse me while I go fervently pray that I never need to have physical contact with my coworkers in any way.

    1. frostipaws

      Employees frequently hug each other at my workplace, like daily, which in a way is very weird, since we work with inmates and are not supposed to touch them, or vice versa.

  7. Videogame Lurker

    Those exercises are weird, and I’ve yet to find one that was relevent to the job of the participants. If the exercise was more like “In small groups, roleplay the following scenario, and how it would be or should be resolved. Each group member will take turns as each role” would be more constructive, IMO.

    Not… spitting soda into each other’s mouth.

  8. pomme de terre

    As an internal comms person, it often falls to me to advise on icebreakers and team-building activities. Everyone hates them…but they often build camaraderie via everyone collectively complaining about them. It’s like an O. Henry story!

    1. NCKat

      Do you have spitting or cuddling exercises? I’d forcefully refuse to participate in either type, no matter how much of an outlier that would make me.

  9. Sally

    About 16 years ago, my team was asked to create a team building day. It was a LOT of work, and I hope people enjoyed it or at least didn’t hate it. I don’t think the team building day was really necessary because our smallish team genuinely got along well with each other and worked well together. I think it went fine, but I strongly agree that these kinds of things should not take the place of the day-to-day team building that goes on when people make an effort to work together well and when there is good management.

    Skip the rest of this if you’re not interested in our specific example! :-)

    We called the team building day The Big Event, and it included a scavenger hunt in our buildings and within the streets adjacent to the office (this was pre-9-11, so you could easily get into other office buildings). I think we also had some puzzles for teams to figure out together, and I vaguely remember building something out of office supplies. We created four teams, and we put people from each job type into each group. We also made sure to have men and women in each group. There were people on my team whom I didn’t know very well, and I got to know them better, which was nice.

    My company also had a great program for onboarding, which really helped me because I’m shy around people I don’t know. It was called The Hunt. I got a list of team members with their locations and a question to ask each person. The questions were relevant to each person’s position, so it helped me know who to contact for what. Also, everyone met me so they knew who I was, and I was able to put faces with names.

    1. Doug Judy

      I love the onboarding idea! In a large organization it can be hard and intimidating to figure those things out. In my experience onboarding sets the tone for the job. OldJob had horrible onboarding, they just showed a video about the company and told us to go online to figure everything else out. They didn’t even touch benefits, time off, payroll. They said “ask your manager” for everything. Dude, you’re the HR onboarding team. It’s literally your job. Not a surprise but that job sucked.

      I’m all for team building but my philosophy is it has to be completely voluntary, during the work day, free for employees, and relevant to their jobs or good for the community (volunteer days). OldJob had team building activities but they were all after work and we’re never totally free to the employee. I didn’t go to any of them.

    2. the gold digger

      We had something like the hunt at my old job. I can see how that would be really useful! Unfortunately, in my case, they made us do it in teams and so I didn’t start until I had already been working a few months. (They had to wait for other people to be hired.) By then, I had already met people.

      But it is something I think I will suggest for my current job. They don’t have a good process.

      I also like your team-building day. There was no physical contact. As long as I don’t have to touch someone or share intimate stories or spit or camp or hike or do it on my own time, I am fine.

    1. Canada Goose

      But are they actually effective at team-building? Or are they just a way to have fun? Some people do seem to enjoy the events our management impose on us in the name of team-building, but it never actually results in a better-functioning team.

      I wish companies would just have a social program for those who want to do this stuff together for fun, and not try to legitimise it by calling it team-building! It’s nothing of the sort.

      1. the gold digger

        Are you sure about that? Something can be fun and useful. My boss gives me a hard time for scheduling social activities when I go to corporate – I take someone out for every meal, including breakfast, and last time I was at corporate, I hosted a donut happy hour for all the women I knew there and for the three new people (also women) on my team. (I work for an engineering company that is about 7% women.) My intention was for the new people, who do not work in the corporate office, to have some contacts in corporate so when they need something, they at least have someone to call. Even if the CEO’s admin or the receptionist don’t know the answer, they know where to send us.

        I do think it makes a difference to have shared food with someone. It’s a lot harder to ignore an email from someone you have met in person and had some kind of personal conversation with.

  10. Aphrodite

    Your timing on this is weirdly accurate.

    I just got out of the All-Campus In-Service the college holds for the spring and fall terms. I was forced to go listen to the speakers (the president, the new EVP and some godawful speaker from Los Angeles whose primarily vocabulary consisted on “uh” and “um” and “right?”–help me, god–in a sea of PhD gibberish. Many people are staying to take two workshops but I get out of there the second I can. I hate this stuff. Why don’t they let it be optional where those who like the useless cheerleading go and enjoy themselves and those of us who just want to do our jobs, and do them excellently, can do that.

    I hate this shit. Management never sees what crapspeak this “better communication” stuff is when you have a rock-solid heiracheral foundation in place where many of the management treat staff like shit. Then they roll this all over us.

    Ear plugs saved me, at least a little.

  11. seller of teapots

    This is timely. I’m part of planning an annual meeting for my team, who all work remotely, and there’s some pressure to come up with a “team building” event. (Last year we did one of those “escape room” things before dinner.) I’m disinclined to consider them, for all these reasons. But I also don’t want the team building to default to drinking! If anyone has participated in something in this situation that wasn’t terrible? Let me know.

    1. pleaset

      Shared learning experiences are powerful in building teams.

      Find something that most people want to learn, and have them learn it together. Or have some topics that people want to learn and that others can teach, and do classes.

    2. Guacamole Bob

      When I worked for a community-oriented nonprofit we’d occasionally do things like wander around a public art exhibit in a local park together, which was fun and felt kind of relevant to getting to know the community we were serving. Is there an industry-relevant museum or tour or something you could arrange? In my current industry there are good behind-the-scenes tour options in a lot of places, where you arrange to go see the control room and other stuff that’s normally off-limits.

      Otherwise maybe just consider the meals to be the team building? Maybe set up some rules that you can’t sit next to the same person at lunch and dinner, and that you have to switch seats between the main course and dessert? Or a couple of low-key icebreaker-type things over the course of the day, as long as they’re work-related.

    3. misery loves sick time

      I had a horrendous annual meeting, but we did do one of those “build things out of random provided materials” and that was fun. That was during the day, though, not after it.

      If anyone made me do an escape room, I’d… well, having to tell my boss about claustrophobia probably wouldn’t get me any MORE retaliated against than I am right now.

      1. I'd Rather Not Say

        For what it’s worth, the escape room we did was more like being on the set of a play (several connected rooms with various props, etc.), and there was a button by the door, so you could leave any time you wanted.

    4. CDM

      My husband’s employer had team building events at their fall meeting every year. Like your team, everyone worked remotely and at different clients so they didn’t often get together, and employees brought spouses/SOs/friends to the event, so it had to be a very inclusive activity.

      Amazingly, they came up with a lot that weren’t terrible. One year it was ice sculpting. Another year was Texas Olympics, (Try to catch the jail keys from the cell, toilet seat horseshoes, snuff can shuffleboard, build a toy wooden barn, answer trivia questions, culminating in heats of armadillo racing). Creating a company song at a jazz club (which was far more interesting than it sounds, the facilitator of that one was amazing). An outdoor drumming event (we had tourists filming us, lol)

      All were set up in a way that people could sit on the sidelines and watch if they preferred, or use the ever-present food and drink to take a short break from the action.

      Having had those experiences, as opposed to what my employers think of as team building, has led me to believe that doing fun things together that don’t scream “work-related team-building” might be more effective in building work relationships and employee engagement.

      1. Crystal

        “…doing fun things together that don’t scream “work-related team-building” might be more effective in building work relationships and employee engagement.” is exactly what a successful team building should be!

    5. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser

      My group (about 300 in the division) had a team builder in the post-lunch lag part of our all day event, where a local non-profit brought in the supplies to make hygiene kits for the homeless. It was good. Each round table had boxes (shampoos, soaps, etc) and the bags to put them in – how you as a group organized your fill stations and approach was up to you. The team that assembled the most, correctly, won recognition or something. (They give away swag with the organization’s nam
      I felt a lot better about that than some of my previous team building events. In a very small group, of about 25 at a previous company, we had a cooking class where we worked together under supervision to cook and assemble the meal we all subsequently ate. I’m 100% certain some of the folks had never seen a profession stockpot at the chop and fill it level (it included international folks that flew in, and we were all MBA level).

    6. Kiwi

      Mini golf’s pretty good. It’s about luck as much as skill, and people tend not to look down on people who’re awful at it. We’ve had a pretty diverse group playing it and as far as I could tell, people enjoyed fooling round with it.

      1. seller of teapots

        Oh, that’s actually a fun idea! Because, as you said, it’s not a big deal if you’re terrible at it. And honestly, you can just hold a golf club and walk around with your team and not even play, if you’d prefer. But for competitive people (we ARE a sales team), it’s also pretty fun. Okay, this might work!

    7. Not A Morning Person

      Is there a museum or a park that has a docent or a manager that can provide a short overview of their work or something interesting? Examples of what I’ve seen:
      A visit to an air and space museum with a brief tour and then time to wander on your own
      A visit to a park where there was a wolf habitat and a presentation on taking care of the wolf pups and then time to wander on your own.
      A visit to a museum of old medical equipment and a presentation on some of the older practices and then time to wander on your own
      A meeting at a zoo and then time to wander on your own
      A visit to a garden with a presentation and then time to wander on your own
      Many of these options might make good scavenger hunts
      A ice cream truck and a cookout, just the opportunity to eat together and everyone had name tags that were color coded so you sat with people who had the same color, typically people from other teams so you could meet people you didn’t normally see in person
      Sometimes “team building” is really just meeting people and learning a little bit about them as people, like Golddigger says, so you have a face and a name and feel a little more connection to them.

  12. Falling Diphthong

    That first one–mutual criticism–was used by the Oneida community, back when they were a free love cult rather than teapot makers. The idea was that it prevented resentments from building up, if you expelled them on each other once a month.

    Probably works best if you are part of an actual perfectionist society determined to stomp out anything that might cause people to veer away from the group.

    1. Pam

      I doubt it- I don’t think this would work for God and all the angels. (When you cut in front of me, you made me spill my manna!)

  13. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    I don’t hate team-building (or think it has no value) like many folks here seem to.

    That being said, on my last (100% remote) team, we decided that at one conference our team-building activity would be sitting next to each other in a coffee shop while we each read quietly. Delightful!

    1. Matilda Jefferies

      That is my kind of team building!

      My previous job did a lot of things wrong, but they did team building really right. It was an annual event in a park that was halfway between our two offices.

      Rough schedule was:
      *Morning: arrive around 10:00. Activities included cards, volleyball, hiking in the park, or just hanging out and chatting with colleagues
      *Lunch
      *Afternoon: baseball for those who wanted to play, or sit on the sidelines and cheer for those who didn’t
      *Around 3:00 or so there was a quick speech from the director – thanks for all your hard work this year, greatest team ever, etc – then we were done and on our way out of the parking lot by 3:15.

      I don’t love a lot of team building activities, but this was a really good way to do it. The day itself was mandatory, but the specific activities were not – we were expected to be onsite, but once there we could do pretty much whatever we wanted.

    2. Canada Goose

      I think the reason so many people hate team building and think it has no value is that the activities presented as team-building are usually nothing of the kind. Actual team-building is a very different beast and cannot be done through a one-off session of forced interaction and/or jollity.

  14. Hiring Mgr

    In my experience, these types of things work better when they’re just “fun” time away from the day to day and not really meant to improve teamwork or any job related stuff..

    1. Indigo a la mode

      I agree! My team of four went hiking, which ended being a great way to chat and get to know each other better and cheer each other up the hard parts. But to be clear, we only chose to hike because we all have dogs, like to hike, and genuinely enjoy being around each other. (Plus, our boss was training to climb Mt. Rainier and a teammate had a hundred-mile running race coming up.) We would never force that on people who we weren’t sure would be into it.

      A fun lunch or local sporting event or whatever would have the same effect without making anyone feel awkward. Team-building doesn’t have to be that fraught.

    2. SoSo

      Agreed. At OldJob they were always incorporated on a Friday afternoon during work hours, catered lunch was provided, and it was only 2-3 hours long. Usually we were released after for an early start to our weekend. They also let people in the department rotate on who planned the event, so there was always something different. Some of the things we did in my two years were a department game of Family Feud, a rocket building contest (think middle school rockets with empty soda bottles and PVC pipe), a ginger bread house build-off, and a murder mystery party where the groups had to solve the murder together. It was always done in randomized groups so you would get with people you might not work together, and it was actually a nice break from work. They also allowed others to sit out if they needed to for a big meeting, a project deadline, etc.

    3. Student

      I would prefer an extra paid day off to do whatever I want with whomever I want, if the goal is to have “fun” time away from the day-to-day.

      I mean, that is also objectively cheaper for the company, because you don’t have to host us all at some location or pay a consultant to walk us through trust falls.

    4. Marion Ravenwood

      Agreed. Our team away days are essentially us all getting together at our director’s house, usually on a Friday. Everyone brings a dish for the table (sometimes homemade, usually not) and we do a short debrief about our latest big project – we have one in the summer after our awards and one in the winter after our AGM/all staff event. That takes about an hour, and then it’s just sitting around having a few drinks, eating nice food and chatting. The last couple of times we’ve done a craft activity in the afternoon as well. There’s no obligation to stay late, people can bring their kids if they want, and it’s just really relaxed and an opportunity to hang out and get to know each other better.

  15. A username for this site

    One activity I’ve found tends to work oddly well as an icebreaker is to have everyone introduce themselves, where they’re “from” (town, branch office, state, whatever’s appropriate), and one unique fact about themselves.

    The reason this works is that in any group, there’s some very ordinary people who have a cool unique fact about themselves (they play the accordion! They went to boarding school in London! They kite surf!). Some people don’t have anything unique about themselves they’re comfortable sharing at work. And some people have a great big wide comfort zone and thrive on the opportunity to say something ridiculous in a group setting.

    This last group is what actually works as the icebreaker, and it pretty organically gets everyone loosened up: the only people who shared are the ones who wanted to, and now everyone else is asking follow up questions and are less self-conscious because they weren’t going to say anything near as silly as THAT.

    1. JokersandRogues

      I may have told this story from the mid-90s before.
      Management decided in its infinite wisdom that we must come in at 8 am on a Saturday for a “team-building/educational” seminar because there was no time during the week. All salaried/exempt, btw. Low salary, but still.

      They had an ice-breaker where we had to tell one fact about ourselves that no one knew.

      Usual stuff, usual stuff, oh really?, yeah ok, aannnndddd…my supervisor, who suffered fools not lightly nor practiced much restraint on his saber-wit, decided he would introduce chaos for the stupid choice to make us come in on Saturday.

      He said, “Hmmm, oh, I know! I stripped my way through graduate school and paid completely for my tuition and living expenses.” Silence…..and then one of the friendly female managers said jokingly, ” Oh! That’s where I met you before!” He raised one eyebrow, and said, “No, honey, you wouldn’t have been in this kind of bar.” The guy next in line to speak looked at him, looked at management up at the front, and said, “He wins.” and refused to say anything else.

      We skipped the rest of the ice-breaker and proceeded to doze to the presentations they felt were so important. I haven’t found anyone that was there that remembers anything about that meeting except supervisor’s icebreaker. He was a awesome supervisor, and I do miss him. Not just for derailing but because he defended his team, he gave assistance, he gave direct feedback, good and bad.

      1. AnonEMoose

        “No, honey, you wouldn’t have been in this kind of bar…” BWWWAAAAHAAAHAAAHAAAHAAA! :: wipes lunch off monitor::

        That’s hilarious; I can see why you miss him. And there’s no way I could have been that funny at 8:00 am on a Saturday.

    2. Marion Ravenwood

      At my last team away day we had quite a few new colleagues attending for the first time, so we played ‘two truths and a lie’. It actually worked really well as an icebreaker and helped people get to know a bit more about each other, as well as getting us all discussing which things we thought were true, lightly quizzing the person to get more details etc, and then it gave people a potential talking point for later on in the day too.

    3. Not A Morning Person

      And at one training class I remember, I came in late that morning while they were doing introductions that included one of those, tell us something about you that we don’t know and I said “I’m Not A Morning Person.” At least everyone laughed!

  16. Belle8bete

    I want more information about good team building. Clearly they exist!

    I subbed in at a camp where the counselors had a week’s worth of training—all team building, it seems. Never mind all the other things that are actually more important than that—like first aid or how to deal with hoards of kids. Ugh. They also interrupted my regular classes I teach in the same community center for their “team building scavenger hunt.” I was annoyed.

    I’m in a performing art, so our team building things are often pretty weird because we have to do things like catch each other, climb on one another, and not accidentally hurt each other onstage.

    I would say that some of the “group thinking” work I do for creative ensemble thinking is good for most humans—but the setting and reasons for doing it needs to be right. I know that’s improv can go over well team building but also for using a different part of your brain.

    Challenge by choice is key, though.

    1. Amber Rose

      We do a lot of lunches. BBQ, pizza, chili, etc. People may come and go as they please, and sometimes there are dollar store games to play. The last one was this hilariously terrible “pin the mustache on the cow.” It was pretty fun to watch.

      There’s also usually beer, which helps.

  17. Elmyra Duff

    I love, love, love my job and the company I work for, but the very first thing they made us do in new hire orientation was come up with a word to describe ourselves AND a little dance to go with it. Then we’d go around the room and do everyone’s dance and say everyone’s word and this socially anxious introvert WANTED. TO. DIE.

    1. Jadelyn

      You have my deepest sympathies, one socially anxious introvert to another. I can’t even imagine how humiliating that would be.

    2. Cait

      That is the stuff of nightmares.

      And I unashamedly judge people who enjoy those types of things. Seriously, we’ll never be friends lol

    3. Amber Rose

      The word is “anxious” and the dance is me shuffling right out of this room to go hide in the toilet.

    4. ThursdaysGeek

      For next time… you want to introduce your dance as “The Elevator”. Then stand there, and stare straight ahead. When asked, answer in a deadpan manner “the elevator has no steps.”

  18. 653-CXK

    One Christmas party a couple of years ago, our VP/director thought it would be a great idea to team build during the party. She had stickers for people name themselves after elves and decks of cards to build card houses while we were waiting to be served food.

    Unintended consequences ensued: Some of the people were using the cards for card games and solitaire (or simply leaving the decks unopened at the table), and the elf names ranged from corny to wildly inappropriate. The capper? The director’s oh-so-uninspired speech which sounded forced Because Their Boss Was There.

    The next year, the director gave the money to the managers and told them to fund their own Christmas parties. All we had were pizza, soda, cake, and raffles, and we had a much better time.

  19. cinnamonroll

    My company team building event is a (non mandatory) day where we volunteer for a local organization. It varies from year to year. One year it was building/yardwork for Habitat for Humanity, another year it was a brainstorming/marketing session with a group that serves at-risk teens (this was a great year, as the recipients were thrilled for this type of assistance, and our team volunteers were mostly but not all marketers, and everyone brainstormed/planned together, which gave the creatives better appreciation to the admins, and the admins appreciation of the creatives.

    1. Crystal

      May I ask if you enjoy this and do they ask you ahead of time what organization you’d like to volunteer at? I work in CSR so I’m always curious!

      1. cinnamonroll

        About four weeks before the chosen date a calendar hold is sent out (so they can plan on how many people will be available), and it is optional to attend (I missed some years and there were no repercussions). Often the organization that is selected is tangentally related to our work. (So if we were marketing llama feed, the our volunteer efforts might be at llama shelters, llama food banks, llama-wool knitters who donate to hospitals), even if the actual activity for the organization is different from our daily jobs (paint a llama shed, sort and stack canned foods, help set up a charity auction for sweaters).
        At the event, often work is broken up into 4-5 smaller teams, and anyone can volunteer to lead a team. So one team painters in room 1 may be led by the VP of Sales, the team in room 2 is led by the district admin assistant, the team in room 3 is led by a contract specialist. The president might be paining on team 3, our corporate lawyer on team 2. And because we are onsite, we are connected to the recipients of our efforts – reminded of the good others do and how our work team by acting together to help.

  20. Bend & Snap

    My company’s orientation, which I had to do not very long ago, had a section on “welcome appropriate touching” and an exercise that included hugging the people at your table. I ran away.

    1. Annoyed

      The ONLY aporopriate touching at work is grabbing someone away from a falling box, speeding car, etc. or patting them out if they are on fire.

  21. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    I love my department’s idea of a team building day (although admittedly we are a smallish group of 10 people). We all go to lunch at the employers expense and then go home early. We already work well as a team on a daily basis and since coincidentally we have a very low turnover, I know as much as I want to about my coworkers.

    Team building seems to only be of real use for groups of new people or departments that already have issues that need to be addressed. Admittedly, a workshop on “effective email communication” would be No Fun!, but if that’s a problem, a scavenger hunt or cuddling (shudder) is not going to solve it.

    1. Not All Who Wander

      Gotta disagree with part of that. IME there is no team building exercise or retreat that will improve the function of a team with serious issues. If anything, forcing people who are just barely hanging on to a civil & professional relationship into forced bonding time will push them over the edge into open warfare. (THAT was fun to try to bridge when I got stuck as team lead).

      It’s like having a leaking roof causing ugly water stains but deciding to redecorate with the latest cool color instead of figuring out why the roof is leaking & fixing that.

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

        But I’m not advocating for a bonding exercise, I’m advocating for a “fix the leak” type of team building. That’s why my example was “effective email communication.” I think that a good team building exercise for problem departments should be more like a career development workshop that directly addresses one of the group’s problems, not gimmicks like mountain climbing or group hugs. Honestly, if there are people who are so immature they can barely be civil & professional they just need to be managed out and a new team built.

    2. Chaordic One

      I think you’re probably right about this. Sometimes, you just have to encourage professional relationships and professional conduct within the workplace and forget about everyone being friends.

  22. Justin

    I can see useful team building exercises being like a set of hypothetical scenarios or something like that, in an informal environment, maybe with food and general chit chat afterward.

  23. Jennifer

    I get to do this next week. Unfortunately my team needs it the most because of me. I am very afraid.

  24. Kyubey

    This reminded me of my friend’s old company that wanted to do an intimate puja circle in the office. I hadn’t heard of that until she told me about it and it is definitely not something the average person want to do with coworkers… D: She quit and I don’t know if the office ever ended up scheduling it

    1. scribblingTiresias

      ….Don’t google that at work, folks. o_O;
      Why on earth would anyone think that was a good idea?

  25. Pamplemousse

    Right after I started a new job, my employer had a team building “game” where all employees where divided into teams and sent out on the streets to accomplish treasure-hunt type tasks, do silly performance skits and physical stuff, approach strangers with weird questions– all on public streets while being photographed and video-taped by fellow team members. Then all the teams reassembled to see all the embarrassing photos and videos. It was the first and last time I ever participated in any event at that employer. I gave my employer that one opportunity to show that it could provide decent social activities, and I was embarrassed and humiliated. TRUST BROKEN! Never again. I have said no to all other team building events and social activities.

    1. Marthooh

      “Not a team player!” is BusinessSpeak for “No sense of humor!” which is SchoolSpeak for “Shows resentment at bullying.”

  26. twig

    I used to work at a housing development that did quarterly team building — it was usually a chance to get off site and do something neat (rafting, skiing, working on habitat for humanity houses) It was okay.
    It often felt like an excuse for the CEO to take us all to do something that he wanted to do on the company dime.

    BUT one time, there was “team building” for only part of the team. Here’s how it went down:
    Our development had a main office for the developer and the majority of the “business” side of things in one building. Across the parking lot was the sales office where I and a couple of coworkers worked, greeting buyers and giving them maps to model homes etc. (about 4 people in our office VS 10 in the development office)

    There is an annual rib cookoff in the city next to us, and you can buy a whole table for your company/family whatever, and they bring the ribs to you (rather than going to each vendor to buy some to try).

    One day, those of us in the sales office got an email. “There is still one seat available at the [Development] table at the rib cook-off if anyone would like to come. This is a teambuilding event, so no spouses or family allowed”

    Huh. It’s a teambuilding event that they “forgot” to tell 4 team-members about until there was only one seat left….

    I guess I’m not part of the ACTUAL team…

  27. Crystal

    I’ve worked three places as an adult, all three have done team building in different ways and all three were fun and succeeded in their goals of making my working group tighter and more bonded.

    Things they had in common:
    +were not mandatory
    +were during work hours except if drinking was involved
    +involved food

    In the field I work in cheesy icebreakers are pretty much mandatory (there was an NBC sitcom that could’ve been about my office) so I like them. Introverts wouldn’t really apply to work in the field/Department I work in.

    So there you go. :D

  28. Gatomon

    I once worked at a place that was a fairly effective team, but then spiraled into dysfunction due to bad management decisions. So management decided to fix the issue with Team!Building! during staff meetings.

    It was awful. Management tried a few different things that flopped before getting lazy and making a recognition bucket where staff could leave anonymous compliments/praise for coworkers, and randomly selected responses would be read aloud in meetings. It turned into a complete popularity contest, where the same 3 – 4 people were recognized every single time. It was just a core handful of friends nominating each other over and over again. And because management never recognized anyone any other way, it bred even more resentment between staff.

  29. Pulling the ejection seat handles

    Whenever there is team building, I set an alarm on my phone for about 10 minutes in. If the event is terrible, “Sorry, just got paged, I need to go work on this before it effects production.”

    My other rule is if I walk into a team building thing and chairs are in a circle, I turn around and walk out. Every single time I’ve stayed it’s been one of the horrorshows designed by extroverts to torture introverts where we all tell an embarrassing story about ourselves, share criticism of each other, sing something stupid, do a dance or be forced to do some improv crime against sanity.

    If I’m forced to do one of the improv things again, I swear when it’s my turn to come up with something to act out I’m saying “A giant comet hits the Earth and everyone dies,” then lying down and not moving or speaking again until the session is over.

  30. sheworkshardforthemoney

    Our back to school team building is this week. We have an hour long meeting, everyone talks about what they did this summer. Then we go to lunch and the director pays for everyone. Then we all go home.

  31. Astrid

    I went to my first team building event 17 years ago and it will be etched in my memory forever. A bunch of litigators playing tug of war? Dodgeball? We basically played the meanest childhood games that reward ruthless behavior. I didn’t think much of my colleagues before the insanity and even less afterwards. We were at a location far from public transport, so I ended up having to call a cab to flee from there.

  32. Vique

    I think there are some cases where team building for the whole team is not possible. I worked in an industry with 24-hour coverage, so by definition not everyone could participate. And this would lead to events starting close to shift change, which was annoying/ridiculous. Sure, I want to spend time with people I don’t actually want to spend time outside of work and THEN go and work a 12 hour night shift.

  33. Jemima Bond

    These examples make me feel much better about the aluminium foil giraffes (my team-building activity nadir).

  34. Batty Twerp

    Just a fun fact – hubby told me about an article he found on the BBC about bizarre team building (our department is planning an “away day” – I’m fortunately(?) not going to be in the office that day!). He started describing a few and I couldn’t help thinking they sounded familiar – turns out he’d found this article (or a transcript, I’m not sure) completely independently of me listening to the same thing!

  35. londonedit

    At one company I worked for years ago, we’d all go on an away day once a year – usually on the Eurostar, so we did Lille, Paris and Brussels over various years. We’d get a ridiculously early train, and then the owner of the company would stand up in the middle of the train carriage and yell out instructions for ‘fun’ exercises for us all to do on the journey, like making us swap seats so we were sitting next to someone from a different department, and drawing pictures to represent how we saw ourselves within the company. I’m sure everyone else on the 07:20 from Waterloo really appreciated that.

    I also had to herd ducks on another company away day (which, having read AAM for a while, is now even more hilarious). But thankfully I’ve never had to cuddle any co-workers.

  36. Doctor Schmoctor

    Ugh. When people start throwing the word “team” around at work, it usually means “be another drone, or else.”
    “Or else” means no opportunities, no promotions, just stay in your place because you’re not one of the cool kids. That’s OK, I don’t want to be one of them.

  37. DuzzleJ

    Aargh! One of the District Managers decided to enforce team-buildings for every branch under him, once a month.
    One of the most stupid of his ideas involved picking a name out of a hat, and then writing down three compliments about that person.
    It may come as a surprise to District Manager, but that idea really does not work so well when all the people on the team hates each other! One ‘compliment’ I got that lovely day was that I can tell the time.
    So much bad feelings.

  38. MMac

    Our last team-building activity was a brisk hike.

    Parts of it uphill.

    And I’ve recently had a heart attack.

    I couldn’t keep up. I spent the entire hike several hundred feet behind everyone, watching them all vanish into the early morning mist and reflecting on what this said about our team.

  39. A CAD Monkey

    At former ToxicJob, the “team building exercise” was to take all the women in the office + many of the female clients to the casino (party bus style). The men got to stay and work for the day. We might get a provided lunch if the male partner thought about it.

    There was also the annual sandcastle competition that was a voluntold event. As someone who uses SPF100+ or else burns and looks like a boiled lobster for a week (and another week of painful peeling), this was something I dreaded doing.

  40. Karyn

    My girlfriend told me about a mandatory team-building lunch thing she couldn’t get out of. Crappy food, loud music, and “Everyone get up–we’re going to learn a new dance!” She told her boss that she’d given it one hour, but was on deadline and wouldn’t give them another. He nodded, and she left.

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