was our workshop facilitator too controlling?

A reader writes:

I recently spent a week away at a workshop, with about 20 other people. It was in a remote place related to the topic of discussion (we’re ecologists). The venue was a bit big, and there was a 10-minute walk each between the meeting place, the eating place, and the place where we could get internet reception. Our meetings were scheduled from 8:00-5:30 every day, with a half-hour break and 40-minute lunch. With a 10-minute walk between the meeting venue and canteen, this meant we really only had 15 minutes to eat.

By 5:30, many of us ran to the place of internet connectivity to download messages/speak to our families, and then in the tiny breaks we otherwise had during the day, were dealing with our devices trying to send messages out. Many of us have senior roles within our organizations and cannot postpone approving payments or responding to advisory requests from members of congress.

The facilitator was extremely strict about starting times, use of devices during sessions, and side conversations. She would stop the session to call out people every time they spoke during a session, even about very benign things (requesting help plugging in cell phones, that kind of thing). If people were late for a session, they had to sing a song — even if they not more than five minutes late.

We did agree to ground rules from the beginning, but the insistence on these things was far more of a distraction than the behavior of the workshop participants, which was generally professional.

None of us pushed back against the facilitator’s strictness, because we couldn’t quite tell what was reasonable. Can you expect people to completely put aside all other personal and professional obligations from 8-5:30 for a whole week? Or did the facilitator need to cut us some slack and structure time to allow us to reply to deal with work and family? I have three young children and by unlucky coincidence my partner also had a three-day work trip that week. We left the kids with a trusted sitter, but it required juggling a lot of logistics. I have come to expect that I can do these things during the work day and, as an adult, should be given the required flexibility to step out and take phone calls or respond to urgent requests. I am realizing, however, that there are jobs that don’t accommodate these kinds of tasks, and I wonder if I’m out of touch?

You’re not out of touch. That facilitator was obnoxious.

Her goal sounds like it was about control more than it was about minimizing interruptions — because if were about interruptions, what’s with stopping the session to make someone sing a song, which sounds like it happened multiple times?

You’re adults. You should be assumed to be capable of determining your own priorities and discreetly stepping out if something urgently needs your attention. If for some reason that would truly cause problems and it had to be prohibited, that should have been communicated before you arrived so that you could decide if it would work for you or not. Similarly, if there was a genuine reason why you truly couldn’t quietly ask for help with things like phone charging, that should have been addressed at the start and people given a chance to iron out whatever they might need for the day before the session started. And all of this should have been accompanied by an explanation of why such stringency was necessary, because people generally do better when they understand why things that otherwise seem unreasonable are being required of them.

That’s not to say that people are never rude or distracting in workshops, or that facilitators never need to rein them in. If someone is disrupting others, a good facilitator needs to address that. And if someone is stepping out of the room so often that they’re missing crucial things or affecting others’ ability to focus, it makes sense to have a quiet word with them on a break to see what’s going on. But that’s not what happened here.

Moreover, facilitators also need to be able to adjust on the fly. When it became apparent that the long walk for internet reception was causing problems, it might have made sense for your facilitator to adjust the schedule to accommodate that. The point of a workshop, after all, is for the participants’ benefit — you don’t want them rushed or stressed by things that could be mitigated on the workshop’s side. Nor do you want them resenting the facilitator, because people learn a lot less from people they’re irritated by.

So this sounds like just a bad facilitator with a punitive bent who was more interested in control than in effectively facilitating.

{ 602 comments… read them below }

  1. Elenna*

    I would have been very tempted to improvise a song about how stupid and pointlessly punitive those rules were. I probably wouldn’t actually do it, but I’d be tempted.

    1. sacados*

      Yeah the song thing is just … beyond. (How in the world is that not MORE disruptive and time consuming than just letting the latecomer slip quietly in the back?!?)
      I hope there’s some way to comment/leave feedback on the workshop as a whole, I think OP would be doing the organizer as well as future participants a favor to let them know how the facilitator was overstepping.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The goal is public shaming, and dread of that forcing compliance on everyone else.

        This specific bit of nonsense should have gotten some coordinated pushback from attendees. (As I type safely in the abstract–I get this stuff is much easier when abstract.)

        1. pancakes*

          It’s wild to me that it didn’t. The letter writer specified that many of the attendees “have senior roles in our organizations.” What is going on in these organizations that has left people in senior roles confused about whether being made to sing a song is an appropriate way to handle lateness?!

        2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Exactly this — It’s something we do at band camp when a kid leaves their badge/room key laying around. The embarrassment of singing a song in front of the group to get it back is a deterrent. But that is at camp. With teenagers. Where replacement keys cost $100 so there is a somewhat legitimate reason to curb the behavior. Not a professional development session with adults.

            1. littledoctor*

              Honestly I don’t even think it’s appropriate to do that to children. I don’t agree with public shaming as a way to promote positive behaviour.

              1. Formerly Ella Vader*

                I was just going to say the same thing – I used to work at and manage a residential summer program for teenagers on university campuses with replacement-key policies. Some young people are just not well equipped for that particular adult responsibility when new to them and part of an intense overstimulated month with all new routines. We help by scaffolding it, encouraging/modelling wearing the key on a tearaway lanyard with nametag and cafeteria card, and having them share rooms so that they don’t have to pay for a new one until both keys are lost. We also lobby the university-housing landlords to move towards keycard systems which can re-code cards more cheaply than cutting a key. We are honest about some of the staff members having trouble with keys (which is harder for us because we don’t have roommates), and how we take responsibility for workarounds and accommodations. None of that involves public ridicule. It’s important to me that our program participants feel comfortable approaching staff for help solving small problems (lost key), and that our responses to the small problems might encourage them to approach us on larger ones (roommate gone AWOL, participant needs morning-after pill, interpersonal strife between participants, family issue at home, etc).

                1. Jessica*

                  This is beautiful. I love hearing people like you speak up because I think many of us are just so accustomed to the “discipline and punish” mindset that it’s hard to break out of it and think about how we could actually treat people with understanding and compassion.

                2. MS*

                  We used to do stuff like this at the church camp I attended as a kid. Like if you put your elbows on the table there was a song everyone else would sing if they caught you and you had to get up and do a dance skipping around the tables to the song. Then if you got mail at camp you had to sing a song in front of everyone to get the mail. Then one year we stopped doing it because someone had complained about it a previous week before our church was there, so the camp had to stop doing it. Totally ruined half the fun of mail and the dining room for us. I can see why this could be a bad idea and a very stressful experience for kids that don’t like attention like that and thus the reason for stopping this, but for most of us it was a fun part of camp. Mail and dining were way less fun with the songs removed. I would find it very odd though if this same kind of practice was done at a business conference for even the smallest disruptions. Totally different in a kids camp setting where it was designed to be fun versus punitive.

              2. Caffeinated Panda*

                Thank you. My daughter – who is in choir and loves to sing! but is also autistic and can’t handle being put on the spot – would absolutely have a meltdown if this happened to her and it would be the only thing she would remember from camp. It’s one of those things that adults think is a “fun” way to enforce something but is devastating to some kids.

                1. SatchelofSparkles*

                  I was recently diagnosed with autism, and had to do this in my late teens. But luckily my brain decided it was all in good fun, I leaned into it and got loud and energetic… which the facilitator seemed slightly dismayed by.

                  Cue my confusion, if you don’t want me to have fun singing a song, then why on earth would you ever ask me to sing in public?

                  Accidental Malicious Compliance for the Neuroatypical win!

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Satchel of Sparkles well done!
                  I’m neurotypical but don’t much like the limelight. As a teen I’m pretty sure I’d have sung something to reflect how it made me feel, maybe “Gotta get away” (Stiff little fingers) or “I Don’t Like Mondays (Boomtown Rats – yes I was quite the punk back in those days)

              3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                Agreed. When I said “somewhat legitimate reason to curb the behavior” I did not mean it was a legitimate reason to embarrass the kids. Public shaming isn’t the way to do any of this… even for a $100 replacement key but especially for someone being two minutes late.

              4. Not going to happen, let's move on...*

                Ah, shame! The short-sighted man’s way of getting things done. Sometimes. Usually with long-term negative ramifications.
                Yet we do often persist.

              5. allathian*

                Yeah, I agree. Public shaming is never good at any age. If that had happened to me as a kid, I would’ve asked them to call my parents to come and take me home. I would’ve much rather spent my days alone at home all day while they were at work than at a camp. And my parents would’ve agreed that humiliation wasn’t okay. They never used humiliation as a punishment when we were kids, either.

              6. BabyElephantWalk*

                Exactly. How does the fact that it’s children make it any better.

                If you’re acknowledging that you explicitly wouldn’t do it with an adult, it’s extra gross that you put children through it.

              7. Lady H.*

                I agree. Especially as someone who is working through a LOT of shame and trauma of being a kid with undiagnosed ADHD who was publicly shamed a lot by teachers, I cannot stress enough how much this comment made me sad.

                It is harmful even if it seems like it’s something kids are laughing at or going along with — which is something that I bet a lot of teachers would have though about me, since I was also a little goofball and desperate to blend in. Kids who lose things, particularly kids with ADHD, aren’t going to suddenly develop those skills because they have to humiliate themselves. You can teach the skills needed to keep track of important items and the consequences of losing them (which I imagine is important because it could be a security threat, but shaming — especially public — should never been part of that toolkit.

          1. Anonymous4*

            I’d either sit there laughing a little and shaking my head — “No, thank you, I’m not going to do that, hell has not yet frozen over” — or, if the guy made me mad, I’d stand up and start belting out the soprano line of the “Hallalujeh Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” It’s about five minutes long. And it gets up into the stratosphere.

            You want a song? Here’s one. Enjoy.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              As a classically trained singer, I’m going to keep this in my back pocket just in case. :D

              1. Saraquill*

                I’d attempt the Queen of the Night aira from The Magic Flute. No I’m not a talented singer. The poor performance adds to the spite.

                1. IndustriousLabRat*

                  Came here to say this, haha. Not even the whole thing… just the best bit where she really lets it rip in a range only dogs can hear.

                2. PeanutButter*

                  I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

                  I can be loud and very enthusiastic when I do sing (alone in the car.)

                  If anyone insists I sing, on their own head be it.

              1. Pikachu*

                So much drama in Workshop B
                It’s kinda hard being pro at ecology
                But I, I somehow some way
                Keep comin up with funky ass sh*t nearly every time I’m late
                Just here to learn a little something for the bees
                And make a few friends as I breeze through

              1. Jasmi*

                Yes! And keep it going when they say you can stop – say ‘I haven’t finished yet’ – and keep singing.

              2. Rose Absolute*

                That’s the one that sprang instantly to mind! Closely followed by ‘It’s a small world after all…’. Which might be considered cruel and unusual. But the facilitator was lucky to have a group of serious senior people who wouldn’t dream of, for example, planning a schedule for who would be late and what they would sing (an entirely foreseeable consequence of trying to pull that one on my team).

              3. Very Social*

                This is the song that doesn’t end
                Yes it goes on and on, my friend
                Some people started singing it not knowing what it does
                And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…

            2. kitryan*

              For me, the end bit w/all the Hallelujahs will always be punctuated with ‘look up’ because the high school chorus conductor used to say that between each Hallelujah in every rehearsal, so in performance, we’d all be looking at her to see her cut off gesture at the end and stop at the right time.
              I sung the 2nd soprano part btw :)

              1. tamarack & fireweed*

                My school choir used to perform it each time a principal left/retired. In 9 years of secondary school this happened three times. I was a tiny soprano the first time, settled into my alto role the second and was entrusted with the tympani the third.

                (I think a lyrical Italian aria would be better tho.)

                1. kitryan*

                  We did it every year at the Winter Festival, which was the winter festival because there was always one Jewish song and a couple generic winter songs, so it was obviously not a Xmas Festival. Since all the choirs sung this one, I performed it all 6 middle/high school years, so I remember it well. We did get to sing other stuff that was more fun but this was a yearly tradition. I wonder if they still do it-there’s a different director now, so maybe not.

            3. Jane*

              KING OF KINGS!
              AND LORD OF LORDS!
              KING OF KIIIIIIINGS!

              (Don’t mind me… We altos will just be down here saying “forEVer! And EVer!”

              1. ElizaTheeGreat*

                As an alto and sometimes second soprano, I’d be the person jumping between both lines for funsies.

              2. Everything is Fine*

                That will learn me for eating while scrolling through the comments!!!! 4 years of high school choir as a soprano has drilled that section into my head! LOLLLL!!!!

              3. PattM*

                4 years in HS choir and I can still see the sheet music! Soprano part was great and flashy, but the alto line is where its at! forEVer! And EVer!

              4. yala*

                Look, we have a note, we stay on that note. It’s fine. Who doesn’t like a nice D, with the occasional F for variety.

            4. Dhaskoi*

              I’d have been sorely tempted to perform ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.’

              Probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to actually do it, but I would have been tempted.

            5. Susan Ivanova*

              Would you do some of the other parts, or just wait silently while it plays in your head? I am also a soprano who can do about half a dozen Handel Messiah pieces completely off-book. I suspect I’d end up doing a mix :)

              1. paxfelis*

                It’s a brand new day
                And the sun is high
                And the birds are singing
                ‘Cause you’re gonna die!

            6. Reluctant Mezzo*

              I sharp right out of the higher lines, alas, but I do like climbing the ladder anyway.

            7. The Witch of Sanity's Annex*

              guess my upbringing shows, I’d have started with “When I was a lad I was gloomy and sad as it was from the day I was born…”
              or quite possibly “Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Charlie
              On a tragic and fateful day…”
              If they really pissed me off though…they would get a chorus of Alice’s Restaurant.

          2. Esmae*

            Right, it was iffy in college when the penalty for having your cell phone ring in class was having to dance to the ringtone until it went to voicemail.

          3. Usagi*

            I remember at a summer camp I went to that had an unofficial rule like this. There was a first-time, young camper who had to sing in front of the group for… something, I don’t remember. She couldn’t do it, and started crying. So the next day, one of the older campers purposefully did the same thing, and when the camp councilors “forced” her to sing, she led all the campers in one of those call and repeat camp songs. The kids all loved it. She did that every day until the councilors lost interest, and the unofficial rule was unofficially forgotten.

          4. banoffee pie*

            I still don’t really agree with that kind of public shaming. Plus the punishment is differeent for different people; some kids would love the chance to sing in front of everyone, for others it might trigger a panic attack.

          5. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

            Crap like that is why my time in organized sports and high school band was short and fleeting, even as a kid I had zero tolerance for crap like that.

        3. anne of mean gables*

          I don’t want to play like I’m super tough and brash, because I’m vehemently not, but I think I’ve got a pretty accurate gauge on this: it would take WAY more than this to get me to sing a song in public. If someone pointed a gun to my head? Absolutely yes, I’d sing. If a smug conference facilitator told me I had to because I was five minutes late? Absolutely not. I’d walk back out the door before I sang in front of colleagues.

          1. nobadcats*

            My co-irkers would hear a rendition of the Eurythmics “I Need You”* in my wrecked Marianne Faithfull voice.

            That’d show the facilitator.

            *Not an appropriate song in any work context, but one of the only ones I know by heart.

          2. A lawyer*

            Yeah same here, if told to sing I would just say “no” and sit down, and then leave if continued to ask to sing.

          3. yala*

            My best friend would absolutely not do this under any circumstances, and would probably be catatonic for the rest of the week.

            Me? I would find an appropriately inappropriate song, deliberately come in late, and then for some reason, not be made to do the thing at all.

        4. Velawciraptor*

          We had a management consultant come in for a session for the management teams from our offices across the state and pull something like this. He also had some athletic interests outside of his day job, and the bullying style of coaching came out in his interaction with the group. He didn’t do the song thing, but…

          He laid out some guidelines and made some promises at the beginning of the session and asked for our agreement to those guidelines (including coming back on time to sessions). Well, a session got out late ahead of lunch and some people wound up coming back late. He made a stinking fuss about people not living up to their agreement. Mistake.

          Arguing with one lawyer about the terms of an agreement and their fulfillment? Doable, but it can be a pain. Doing it with a room full of lawyers? Pretty foolish, but to each his own. Doing it with a room full of public defenders? Dang near suicidal. The session degenerated into an argument about who breached first and how the leader’s initial breach had necessitated people’s lateness because people had to use the then shortened break time to deal put out fires that had cropped up in their respective offices during the morning sessions. The 15-20 minute digression because this guy wanted to flex his authority rather than let people sneak back in quietly as they could was more disruptive to the process than anyone coming in late could have been.

          It was hilarious.

        5. WellRed*

          I can’t understand why it didn’t. We’re they afraid of some public punishment like a stockade if they didn’t sing?

          1. t*


            To the OP, wrote “None of us pushed back against the facilitator’s strictness, because we couldn’t quite tell what was reasonable”

            You’re adults. You can and should have either pushed back collectively, or just said “no” individually. If someone told me to put way my phone for that much time I’d say “I won’t look at it for small things, but I have kids at home, so have to respond if my babysitter or partner calls. I’ve instructed them to only do so more emergencies so I can focus on our time together.”

            And on the singing, just say “No” and sit down.

            Matter of fact.

            1. Science KK*

              That approach could work with a reasonable person, but I don’t see a person who didn’t properly plan a schedule and forces grown adults to sing for being a few moments late taking it very well.

        6. LaLa762*

          I can absolutely see my Gen X self saying, politely, “Oh, no thank you. I’m not going to do that.”
          BUT, that would have been impossible for younger me to think/do.

        7. I Do Not Sing Along Thanks*

          I would never, never have sung a song in front of colleagues. If my “Haha, wow sorry about that” didn’t do it, then ignoring the next request and sitting down probably would have. If they still wouldn’t stop, I’d demand a refund and leave. Life and work is stressful enough without having to put up with such infantilizing drivel from someone who obviously was not going to be able to help me learn anything. I’m good with being ultra rude to people who deserve it

      2. Medusa*

        I would either have a) put a karaoke track on Spotify and sung my heart out, or b) said “I’m not doing that.” and then just sat down.

    2. Artemesia*

      Yeah. I am not particularly creative but I immediately composed a song about the sort of person who punishes grown ass adults like this to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. I would not have hesitated. I can’t believe a room full of professionals put up with this and didn’t demand longer lunch breaks and a break for touching base with the office. On the up side — those 10 minutes walks did provide some needed exercise.

    3. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Facilitator wants to disrupt the workshop with a song? Ok. I’d go full malicious compliance and sing the entirety of Bohemian Rhapsody guitar solos and all. Turn it into a sing-along, put on a show.

        1. Justme, The OG*

          “This is the song that doesn’t end” or “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” would have been what I chose to sing.

            1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              “Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo..” etc. ad nauseum, belted out at the top of your lungs…

          1. MizShrew*

            This is an occasion that calls for Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” In its entirely. Sing the acoustic guitar bits. String it out until the facilitator BEGS for it to stop.

            Then you’re also giving your coworkers plenty of time to go charge their phones, get a snack and call their kids. ;)

            Seriously, that facilitator deserved to have everyone walk out on them.

            1. zenocelot*

              “Twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.”

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh I would have sung SOMETHING. Not sure what, but SOMETHING. Because I cannot carry a tune to save my life. and I would have BELTED IT OUT. Then see if she really wants to continue this little farce.

        I doubt anything presented at this workshop was so earth shatteringly important that a little leeway couldn’t have been accomodated.

      2. Ms. Rogerina Meddows*

        “Sing the entirety of Bohemian Rhapsody, guitar solos and all.” Of course, because what other way is there to sing Bohemian Rhapsody! :)

        1. Scarlet Magnolias*

          A rendering of “With catlike tread” from Pirates of Penzance always goes down a treat!

          1. Nessun*

            Sure, but you really need to do the both-feet-up-down jump on “tread” every time you hit the chorus!

          2. SpookyScarySkeleton*

            Thank you for reminding me of this song, my teenage operetta phase, and that I can still sing about a third of it from memory.

          3. IndustriousLabRat*

            Oh no! Flashbacks to my time playing violin in the pit orchestra for a local Light Opera company whose repertoire ran almost exclusively to G&S…

      3. Leems*

        I know many, many soccer chants that are based on popular songs and basically loop forever. I wonder how many rounds of “When the Crows Sh*t On Your Car” I’d get through before I proved my point. (To the tune of When the Saints Go Marching In. Come on, Minneapolis City!)

            1. Semi Bored IT Guy*

              The version I’m thinking of is usually sung by college students (from a pretty northern school) at sporting events … I think the verses are no beer, no snow, no refs, and no sex … and I’m forgetting one or 2 somewhere

      4. Ellen*

        I’d have sung the song “I’ve got no fvcks to give” I found it on YouTube sung by a guy an a ukulele

        1. LisTF*

          Try Jesus…..please don’t try meee-eeee-eee by Tobe Nwigwe seems very appropriate in this situation

      5. Justice*

        Adapted from an improv show I used to do:
        “Here’s my I’m sorry song; it isn’t very long!”
        And then sit down.

        1. Wintermute*

          They used to do something like that at Ed Debevik’s restaurant, for birthdays. They’d get everyone to gather around like a typical chain restaurant birthday hoopla, and sing “this is your birthday song. it isn’t very long”

          I love that place.

          1. Justice*

            That’s it exactly! But I learned it from ComedySportz. There’s a lot of overlap between the improv and Ed Debevic worlds, at least here in Chicago!

        2. Worldwalker*

          I’d take the opposite approach:
          99 bottles of beer on the wall….

          (and if everyone hadn’t fled in horror at my singing voice by the time I got to the end, I’d start putting those bottles back up on the wall)

      6. Doubleblankie*

        I was just thinking the exact same thing! Bohemian Rhapsody would have been incredible especially if everyone else joined in.

      7. rnr*

        That would be incredible. And getting everyone really into it would really take the wind out of Facilitator’s sails, because this is obviously meant to shame the poor person who walks in a couple minutes late.

      8. Kit*

        The me who I’d like to be would have pulled out the old “oh karaoke is mandatory is it?” standby and opted for the Champs’ greatest hit.

        Sadly, actual me enjoys singing enough that saying Tequila, no matter how enthusiastically, would not cut it and I’d end up with something else… if I was feeling particularly rebellious I could pull out non-English lyrics, though, NDH and Kpop are both in my repertoire.

      9. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I can’t sing, at all. But if forced I’ll do the full ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ by Pink Floyd.

        Out of key.

        You’ll never ask me to sing again.

      1. Anonym*

        Bonus if you have the presence of mind to add, “let’s not delay the proceedings any further.”

      2. FrenchCusser*

        Yeah, I’m pretty good at saying, ‘No, I don’t’ when someone tells me I have to do something I don’t really have to.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I’m good at saying, ‘No, but thank you!’ and then I sit down and look on expectantly.

          Yeah, I love the look on the person’s face when they realize I don’t shame well.

          1. Cold Fish*

            Not out of shame or anything but I would be extremely uncomfortable and awkward. In situations like that I’m told I have a very impressive resting *itch face. I would probably just stare at the facilitator with unintentional RBF in full display until asked to sit down.

        1. birb*

          I use “it’s against my religion” “No thank you, I’m allergic” and “doing so would endanger our agents in the field” pretty regularly when people ask me to do stupid embarrassing things I don’t want to do. I’ve found that an absurd answer with wide-eyed innocence and a polite tone tends to confuse people long enough for me to walk away and make it their problem and not mine.

          1. Beth*

            “I do apologize, but participation in gratuitous public displays of attempted social humiliation in support of an incompetent and overly controlling facilitator is personally abhorrent to me and not to be enabled. Thank you for attending my Ted talk.”

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I do wonder if a firm push-back on day one from several people willing to Be Awkward might have worked? “I agree to turn my phone off during this session; I will not sing a song.” “I will not pause my presentation so you can make latecomers sing–let them quietly sit down at the back.”

        This is a bad facilitator not planning adequately. But once that became evident, it seems like everyone felt they had to still comply. (And not comply maliciously.)

        1. Wonderer*

          I gather that everyone agreed to these rules on Day 1, but probably it was because they didn’t think it was really serious that they would be expected to sing. I would definitely push back on this the second I was actually asked to sing – that’s the point to say “When I agreed to these rules, I assumed you were joking about actually enforcing this requirement, because it’s obviously juvenile and not appropriate for this group of participants.”
          However, if someone else came in late and was willing to sing then I’m not sure I would stop them… maybe that’s worth thinking about. If they were uncomfortable with singing, then I’m sure I would support them. Next time I see something ridiculous like this in the ‘agreed meeting rules’, I’ll definitely think more carefully about whether I would really comply.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          People are obviously going to be arriving late when there’s a ten-minute walk to and from the only place you can have an internet connection, when in a remote place. It’s unrealistic, nowadays, to expect people to be unavailable all day, when they have babysitters. I’m just imagining logging in at 5.10 to see a message from the babysitter along the lines of “where’s the epipen?” and having a heart attack before the next more reassuring message arrives.

        1. nobadcats*

          I lived in Vietnam for a few years. I played many games of chicken on one-lane muddy roads to remote cities for several kilometers. No one can scare me anymore.

          Sorry, this may seem like boasting, but at my age, I’m not intimidated by petty tyrants trying to flex at me. Come at me, I have the confidence of my managers behind me and my reputation. How very dare you?!

          1. Ally McBeal*

            I lived in NYC for ten years, where I learned to play Patriarchy Chicken with men who swerved directly into my pathway after making eye contact with me. I’m 5’0 but have broad shoulders and used them to full advantage. Sic semper tyrannis! (lol)

            1. Artemesia*

              I didn’t know the name for this — bt now I do — I am 5’8″ so have more substantial heft but long ago learned to not step into the gutter for bullies —

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                We’re straying off topic here but…
                Once a guy like that was striding towards me, with a “get outta my way” look on his face. My dog didn’t notice, and was sniffing at a tuft of grass. I didn’t pull him out of the way, because heck, I don’t see why I should. As the guy pushed past Brioche, he just nonchalantly lifted his leg and squirted right on the guy’s trouser leg. The guy didn’t notice, and I didn’t say anything. But I giggled all day at the thought of him suddenly realising he stank of dog pee.

          2. t*


            The OP should act like an adult and not play along with this nonsense. Is being on time important for respect and a good meeting? Sure, so try hard to be on time, or better yet be on time.

            Is not looking at phones a lot important for participation? Absolutely.

            But these petty rules? No. Step up OP (and colleagues) and don’t play along.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Does making it easy for participants to communicate with family and work between each session reduce the likelihood of people being late? Absolutely!!!

      4. Bagpuss*

        Me too. And I might well simply walk out of the session if she tried to force it. Public humiliation is not my bag.
        Sure, aim to be on time, apologise and try to minimise disruption if you are, but that’s it.
        If you can, I would feed back about how inappropriate and counterproductive her rigidity and behaviour were.

          1. Properlike*

            This and “I would do anything for love…” – I envision everyone doing thematic rendetions using key words, or a round-robin where every person takes the next line of the song. “Malicious compliance.”

      5. Aunty Fox*

        Yeah, I think I would actually walk out of the event for good rather than sing in front of people I have a professional relationship with.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Excellent suggestion. My dad had that on vinyl. I believe it was actually spelled “Phuck You Symphony.”

        Cee-Lo Green’s F-ck You also would do, especially if you added the American Sign Language performance (below).

          1. RJ*

            How have I gone nearly 12 years without seeing that? Video was AWESOME. Thank you for the best laugh I’ve had in a week.

    4. Ex-Teacher*

      Time to break out a list of overt F-you songs: You’re No Good, You’re So Vain, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), Shame Shame Shame, and I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of.

      1. KateM*

        I really loved the “I’ve No More ****s to Give” at some point. (Yes, I was heading to burnout – why do you ask?)

    5. Hosta*

      Everyone here is in management
      Or some other senior role
      And we’ve all been adults for a very long time
      And so we find this rather droll.

      Rules like this are fit for children
      They embarrass a dignified soul
      And we all see it’s not about time
      But a desperate need for control.

    6. nobadcats*

      I would have and have refused to participate in such ridiculous punitive actions like singing a freakin’ song. I’m a grown up person! Fortunately, I’ve been backed up by my managers in these instances (there have been a few). And, yes, even if it was only me making complaints about this, yep, I’d still would do it. Kick me out of the session for the day, I’ll go back to my hotel room and read my book and write up a report later.

      Also, only having X minutes to eat or even take a break because it’s X amount of time to get to the site where food is is ridiculous, and I would have cited my mobility issues preventing me from taking appropriate breaks. And why did they not just cater in lunch for the participants? Were they meeting in Windsor castle and couldn’t have food in the grand hall?

      I mean, this retreat sounded like it had a LOT of issues, not just a magazine rack, but an entire comic book store with a comic book villian.

    7. Alexander Graham Yell*

      “Okay, can I sing anything? Okay, great. I’ll do it from my desk. Yeah, I’m gonna perform 4’33″”

      (For anybody that didn’t grow up with musical nerds in the family, from the Wiki: 4′33″ is a three-movement composition by American experimental composer John Cage. It was composed in 1952, for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs performers not to play their instruments during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements.)

      1. Mr. Tumnus*

        I had a similar thought. I would want the group to join me in a performance of John Cage’s “Musicircus.” Short version: you decide the next notes by the roll of dice. There is no plan, no harmony, no melody. It’s pretty hideous, in my opinion, but just what this facilitator deserves.

      2. Pippa K*

        Haha excellent. Long ago I worked at a small classical music station and John Cage’s 4’ 33” was an occasional tongue-in-cheek solution to equipment glitch or DJ error. Long unplanned silence followed by a calm voice: “and that was John Cage’s 4’ 33”, performed by local musicians. Next this afternoon we’ll listen to…”

    8. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      To the tune of Green Day: “Do you have the time? To make me sing a song? About nothing and everything all at once? You are one of those quite con-troll-inggg fools! Neurotic to the bone no doubt about it! Frankly you’re giving me the creeps! Sometimes you’re just being weird!”

    9. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      I made up a song based on Green Day in my head. That insulted the facilitator and the time taken to sing the song. “Do we have the time? To listen to me sing?”

    10. Arts Akimbo*

      Stupid and punitive pointless rules,
      I’m going to complain about this workshop.

      –To the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”

    11. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Treat ’em to ALL the verses of “Baby Shark”. (Yes, I have a warped and twisted sense of humor…;)

    12. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I may be the opposite of everyone here, in that I not only like to sing and can do it reasonably well, but am also capable of being an obnoxious ham.

      Something tells me that facilitator would not have been pleased when I stood up and belted out a Broadway show tune with great enthusiasm.

      After all, her aim was shame and humiliation, right? I suspect that seeing someone actually enjoy it rather than being mortified might make her rethink her strategy a bit. Or not, but either way, I would have some fun at her expense!

      1. MAC*

        “What Is This Feeling?” from Wicked would be a good choice in this scenario … with heavy emphasis on the word LOATHING.

      2. JustaTech*

        For me, I’d probably be willing to sing, but if you just spring it on me you’re getting the stuff that’s deeply imbedded in the memory banks, so either hymns or children’s songs.
        So it’ll either be
        “A peanut sat on a a railroad track, his heart was all a-flutter. ‘Round the bend came number ten, choo choo peanut butter!”
        “And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green. And was the holy lamb of god on England’s pleasant pastures seen …”

      3. Anonymous for This*

        When someone says something about belting out a Broadway tune I think of Ethel Merman and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.

    13. ceiswyn*

      I would have taken that as my opportunity to finally perform ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Miserables, with all the drama and pathos I could pump into it. Who knows, it might turn out that one of my colleagues had Contacts, and was so wowed by my performance that I finally got my Big Break.

      …someone would have been embarrassed and awkward by the end of this, but I do actually have professional training in acting, so it wouldn’t have been me :)

    14. Anonymous Hippo*

      I can’t believe more than 1 adult person actually sang a song on c0mmand. I would literally walk out.

    15. Blarb*

      If I could bend time and space, I would attend this conference for the sole purpose of coming in late and belting “I Touch Myself” from beginning to end, off-key, including the moaning part, ignoring any attempts to rein me in before the end. This facilitator deeply deserves it.

    16. SlothLover*

      I had a college professor once who would literally lock the door once class began. If you arrived late, you had to write your name on a slip of paper and slide it under the door. Then he’d open the door when it was convenient for him. He claimed it was less distracting than people coming in late. Uh…. no, Sir. Seeing a paper come under the door, then watching you pick it up, watching you walk to the door, watching you open the door, and THEN (finally) watching the person walk to their seat is FAR more distracting than someone slipping into the room and quietly finding their seat.

      One day, someone slipped a paper under the door. Normally, he’d at least acknowledge and pick up the paper right away, even if he waited a bit to open the door. This time, he didn’t pick it up right away. The lady (a non-traditional student) and I looked at each other, and she finally got the nerve to say, “Someone slipped a paper under the door.” He looked at her/us and shouted, “I KNOW!” and both of us kinda’ jumped back and looked at him, then each other in shock. And we both, I’m sure though, “Well. Never doing THAT again.”

    17. Sopranohannah*

      I have a good singing voice and have zero issue singing in public. I’d be tempted to come in late and sing something show stopping that would just throw the day off the rails, think opera or broadway.

  2. Rainbow*

    Jesus. I’m a bit neurodivergent, though don’t normally disclose this to anyone, and this level of having my life controlled with no time to breathe during the day for a week would really mess with my systems. Sing a song… I might refuse haha

    1. Rayray*

      This facilitator is tripping out on power. I’d refuse to sing either, I’d just sit and not make a sound.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        I believe I’d have to point out that a) this isn’t a school yard, b) This isn’t the 3rd grade, and c) even if it was, I don’t put up with bullies. Then just take my seat and stare at her until she figured out what “no” means.

        1. Batgirl*

          I teach actual children and there’s no way I would a) get them to sing something just because I said so, or b) keep my job. The best way to cause a mutiny in a space people expect you to take charge is to drag out the drama and to escalate instead of deescalate.

        2. Imaginary Friend*

          Yup, pretty much my reaction. I was thinking along the lines of “No, I won’t do that, I’m just going to take my seat now.” I was also thinking along the lines of “Was there anyone there who was senior enough to deal with this person? Who organized the event? Why didn’t anyone call someone?” And also “Was this location new to everyone including the facilitator? I’ve done trainings – a day or less in my case – where I certainly had to adjust to my surroundings on the fly.”

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I have to wonder who this facilitator thought they were working with. They sound like they were used to working with very little kids, not adults.

        1. EPLawyer*

          thisis the stuff you do at camp. Not grown adults at a workshop for their field. Higher up adults at that.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          That’s a pretty abusive way to work with kids, too, unless you’re trying to raise serial killers. (Or, more realistically, bullies.)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Oh, I agree that the tactics were atrocious- but I’ve see lots of people make that mistake when working with kids – because they are mini-lawyers when it comes to rules. You have to be clear, concise, and leave zero loopholes because otherwise you will spend the entire time litigating and relitigating the rules.

    2. CarolynM*

      I would absolutely refuse to sing. It simply would not happen and it would be a hill I would die on. And I like to sing! I’ve sung in bands! When I was a waitress in HS and college I led every stupid Happy Birthday dog and pony show because I was loud and impossible to embarrass. (Red Lobster – wasn’t even normal Happy Birthday – it was this weird call and response thing where you had to be LOUD – eeeuuughhh.) Heck, if there was karaoke in the evening after session my name is on the list!

      I don’t know why this has me so riled up, but it struck some weird nerve!!! LOL

      To the point where, even if I was the first person in the room and had waited quietly and eagerly the whole time for the workshop to begin, if she tried to make SOMEONE ELSE sing for being late I would be VERY likely to speak up and say “That brings nothing to this session – she entered the room quietly, you called attention to it and stopped the session – please continue with the workshop – I am not interested in a song when I came here for the workshop.”

      I am an adult. A professional. Someone who either paid or whose organisation paid to attend this workshop. This control-freak is ego tripping – she decides its cool to humiliate someone in front of their peers for daring to be late according to her completely unrealistic schedule designed to maximize time … while simultaneously wasting the time of every single attendee. Nope. NOT. ON.

      (Now I need a cup of tea … )

      1. Admin Amber*

        This made me mad too. Also, the workshop seems excessively long for a workshop for management level and above employees.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        “I don’t know why this has me so riled up, but it struck some weird nerve!!!”

        Because it’s not an action one takes to correct bad behavior, or to educate on proper behavior. It’s an action one takes to humiliate. It is, literally, schoolyard bullying, and should be treated as such.

        1. CarolynM*

          You are spot on. Humiliation. I am violently allergic to humiliation. And its even worse if I see it happening to someone else.

      3. anonaccountant*

        Yeah, it got me riled up, also. I’ll admit I have a weird hang-up about being asked to embarrass myself in public (which doesn’t sound crazy when typed out), but even as a junior high kid I remember getting sent to the principal for refusing to participate in things I found demeaning, like forced “fun rallies” where you had to do tasks like popping a balloon by sitting on it. As an adult, I have the full autonomy to not comply with something like that, especially if you’re paying to be there.

        Also, as much as I love to sing alone, I would rather die than sing in front of anyone, even my spouse. (Probably from being forced to sing in front of the class in elementary school until my parent got me exempted- so yeah, this isn’t a good tactic for kids, either, unless you want them traumatized.)

        1. CarolynM*

          When I was 7, my brother was playing with an umbrella and swung it and managed to scratch my cornea! It hurt, I was scared, but I was pretty calm … until the doctor put on the eye patch I needed to wear for 3 days then handed me a mirror to show me he had drawn a silly eye on the eye patch. I started bawling – worse than when I first got hurt and then just clawing at the patch, screaming “nononononononononono!” Took both of my parents to wrangle me and get me to finally sob out “I don’t want to look stupid.” Took another minute for them to realize I understood why I needed to wear the patch and I was not upset about that … but I didn’t understand why the damn doctor thought it would be fun to make me look even more like a freak with a big sharpie marker cartoon eye.

          I mean, who knows … maybe most kids loved his draw-an-eye-on-the-eye-patch shtick … but it had been a DAY … and not the day I felt like being the little freak to give other people a laugh. Ugh.

      4. TastefullyFreckled*

        I’m with you on this one. I’m a grown-up theatre nerd who now sings in a community pops choir. I don’t embarrass easy and I know a lot of songs. This would still get a simple ‘No’ and flat stare from me.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I think I’d freeze and refuse, but if I kept my wits about me, I might just sing the chorus to a certain Rick Astley song….

    4. HotSauce*

      A simple, “no thank you” is exactly what I would offer them when asked to sing. I’m an adult professional, not a show pony.

  3. Anononon*

    I’m shocked that everyone was so lenient about allowing this. I could see it if they were more junior employees, and they were sent there to learn/collab/whatever by their management, but presumably seasoned adults putting up with this?

    1. MCL*

      Yeah, I do professional development/conference facilitation, and if I tried to do this I think there would have been a justified mutiny. I think starting with the ground rule assumption that everyone is an adult who sometimes needs to deal with other priorities is a really good one.

      Also, it sounds like the venue was grand and everything, but I would definitely give feedback that building in more time for breaks is essential. Fifteen minutes to eat? That is not enough time. Also, if anyone needed extra time moving between locations that could be an accessibility barrier as well.

      1. Freya*

        Yeah, this little diabetic is going to end up snacking in the meetings in order to not have a hypo…

      2. Ex-Teacher*

        I think the best response to this in a justified mutiny would be “No- I’m not going to sing. I’m not going to be humiliated for being a couple minutes late; both because I do not feel badly in the slightest for this, and I’m not willing to validate your humiliation tactics that try to make me feel badly for being late in this situation.”

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s a sincerely interesting thing with group dynamics (and how extremely adaptive humans are to even very weird ones) that if you don’t have that one person willing to stand up and say “Me. I am making this awkward. Right here right now” then competent adults can steam to each other about how ridiculous this is while still all complying.

      I am very aware that my hypothetical dignified response is being typed in front of my dogs, rather than my professional peers.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I agree- it’s hard to be the first one to say something and easy to think that if no-one else is saying anything, maybe it’s not as weird/inappropriate/unreasonable as it feels to you

      2. Kate R*

        I think because it’s a work thing, hierarchy is going to add weirdness to the dynamic too. I am pretty terrified of singing in front other people, so I like to think I’d tell this facilitator to shove it, but I can definitely see myself just sucking it up if my boss seemed to condone this.

        1. Attractive Nuisance*

          Yeah, I’m very curious about what the relationship between the participants was – whether they were mostly at the same level or whether there were bosses there with their employees. I’m also curious about whose idea it was to do this workshop in the first place, and whether they were in attendance, and whether they felt satisfied with the instructor.

      3. Anononon*

        And this is where us neurodivergent folks can sometime shine! In a situation like this, I’ll gladly place my comfort level over a feeling of social awkwardness and just refuse to comply. Lol, nope, sorry, shrug.

      4. Environmental Compliance*

        Yep!! I was in a HAZWOPER training once where the instructor was too busy talking about how they had a PhD to actually explain anything properly, including such gems as “boiling is just evaporation with bubbles” and has nothing to do with heat, that “bent fibers are less viscous”, and “anemia is the state of having too few white blood cells”.

        No one wanted to say anything in class, but as soon as the instructor left for lunch, there was a *lot* of talking.

        Sometimes I’m very thankful for spending some time working for the public and getting very comfortable with being That Person happy to make it Awkward if need be.

        1. Anonymous4*

          Engineer here, with a little experience with different states of matter.
          Boiling is WHAT??

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Evaporation, with bubbles. You also can’t heat anything past the boiling point, according to that instructor – according to the notes I took, they actually stated water cannot be heated past the boiling point in any circumstances. They had a PhD, they clearly know everything there is to know, and especially since the PhD discussion took up about 30 minutes of every morning in case we forgot from the previous day, or that it was plastered on every handbook they gave us.

            The instructor told me not to ask questions after I raised my hand and asked about pressurized, superheated steam – I think I pulled from the US Chemical Safety Board, I love that YouTube channel – and then asked why bent fibers wouldn’t flow slower than straight fibers….and flat out ignored me if I raised my hand to answer anything. Unluckily this was the owner of that company, so I doubt a complaint directly at the time would go anywhere. I did end up forwarding concerns to my manager.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Fibers of any shape are viscous?

            The anemia one is wrong, but I at least understand how you get there.

    3. WoodswomanWrites*

      I’m aghast that a facilitator would behave in such a controlling and disrespectful way. I’m guessing that if it were me in that situation, I would talk to a few other participants to push back on these rules as a group. Then you wouldn’t be bringing it up solo. Beyond the humiliation, which is hideous, people need to have time for basic needs–eating lunch, checking on family, and touching base with other parts of their lives. That should also include at least one break in the morning and another in the afternoon.

    4. MBK*

      Every professional workshop I’ve been to has had some kind of (usually anonymous) feedback/evaluation at the end of it, and I’d be making good use of it in this case.

  4. Gerry Keay*

    Talk about someone on a power trip, jeez. I haven’t heard of someone using that kind of singing as public humiliation punishment since sleep away camp.

    1. Curious*

      What happens if you miss a session? Do you have a full-on humiliation ceremony, where the facilitator rips the course material from your hands and breaks your pen in half?

      1. CarolynM*

        Breaks your pen in half … I now know with horrifying certainty that I am going to randomly think of this all afternoon and break into giggle fits. And I clearly see the next time a coworker says something dumb I will be filled with the urge to break their pen … but I won’t because: adult … but I will have childish giggle fits at the thought.

        1. Curious*

          Yes, or more comedically, in Mary Poppins, in which Mr. Banks was not simply fired, but rather underwent a humiliation ceremony in which his carnation was torn, his bowler hat was punched through, and (worst of all!) his umbrella was broken! (That scene was, I think, intended to be based on the military humiliation ceremony exemplified in the intro to Branded).

    2. cmcinnyc*

      I love to sing, and the last person who tried this on me deeply regretted it. I went full Broadway, the whole song, and turned the whole room against the facilitator in the process.

    3. ThisIsTheHill*

      The only time I’ve seen it as an adult was at wedding receptions, where instead of clanging silverware on glasses to make the bride & groom kiss, you had to go up to the mike & sing a verse of a love song.

  5. Xavier Desmond*

    I’m impressed you all managed to put up with this for a whole week. Being made to sing a song for being late is beyond ridiculous.

    1. Mary Richards*

      I had a college professor who did this! I went so far out of my way to never be late to that class…ever. Like, I would not show if it meant not being late.

  6. Goldenrod*

    I’m obsessed with this song thing. I want to hear more. Did people get to pick their own songs? Or was one assigned? :P

    I actually enjoy singing and have zero shame about singing in public (not because I’m a good singer but because of years doing karaoke). I think if I were in this situation I would passive-aggressively choose the LONGEST POSSIBLE song and grind the conference to a halt while I sang the whole damn thing.

    I know all the lyrics to “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend,” for example.

    1. Interview Coming Up*

      If you could do this in a theatrical way and really commit to the performance, and drag it out for a long time, and then intentionally be late every session… You would be a hero.

      1. KateM*

        And encourage other participants to join in during chorus.

        Or, if you have other latecomers, have them come in at suitable moments – just in time to sing the next verse, for example.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yup, constant performances, with group participation, really make that facilitator regret the “sing a song for being late” punishment.

      2. OrigCassandra*

        I was definitely thinking that I would bust out the Sondheim. “I’m Still Here” and “Ladies who Lunch” are hard to pull off unaccompanied, but I can belt a Mrs. Lovett “By the Sea” or a Baker’s Wife “Moments in the Woods” with the best of ’em. I could even make a try at “On the Steps of the Palace,” but for that one I’d really need to warm up my voice beforehand.

        1. yala*

          Wasn’t even thinking of musicals, but it would be tempted to start with:

          “Lord and Lady Hare
          Fighting over there.
          Darling, do beware!
          She’s a–”

          and see how far you got

      3. I sleep when the sun shines*

        I would start singing either “Stairway to Heaven” (8 minutes) or “”MacArthur Park” (7 plus minutes) and insist on finishing.

        1. I sleep when the sun shines*

          The latter includes epic lyrics like:
          “… Someone left the cake out in the rain
          I don’t think that I can take it
          Cause it took so long to bake it
          And I’ll never have that recipe again…”

        2. yala*

          I remember a poetry class as a kid where we had to recite at the end of the week. Everyone picked regular poems and I picked Growltiger.

          It…was very long. People were very tired.

          I once did Growltiger. Could do it again….

    2. Reba*

      “Total Eclipse of the Heart” came to mind. Maybe a Kate Bush number?

      Anyway, it’s incredibly bizarre! I hope OP was at least able to bond with some other participants over this.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Just think how fast new solutions might have been found if a group had committed to one arriving 5 minutes late, performing Alice’s restaurant, one minute of actual content, then the second person arrives late…

        1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

          ” just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
          Anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out.”
          -Arlo Guthrie

        2. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Why, they’ll think it’s a movement! And that’s what it is: the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-tinpot-dictator-facilitator movement!

          1. Philosophia*

            “And all you gotta do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.” I’ll out myself and say that when I was in high school in the 1960s, there were enough people on a bus trip to a Jewish studies weekend who knew Alice’s Restaurant (from the 25-minute recording) that among us we could render it word for word. I’d bet the AAM commentariat has the same capacity!

            1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

              Hell, when I was in high school in the 80s I could recite the whole thing myself. As could all of my friends.

    3. Jenn*

      Malicious compliance – “This is the song that never ends. It goes on and on my friends. Some people started singing not knowing what it was and they’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that never ends. It goes on and on my friends . . . ”
      And then complain – “y0u didn’t let me finish!”
      That or “99 bottles of beer on the wall.”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Good think I’m working from home – I totally just busted a gut laughing at this.

      2. Not A Manager*

        “I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves, everybody’s nerves, everybody’s nerves. I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves AND THIS IS HOW IT GOES!”

      3. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        And if you actually get to the end of 99 Bottles of Beer:
        “No bottles of beer on the wall, no bottles of beer/Go to the store, get some more, 1 bottle of beer on the wall” all the way back up.

    4. Elle Woods*

      I’d be tempted to choose a song like “Tequila” to see if I could get the rest of the attendees involved.

    5. Wants Green Things*

      I’d be singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall or This Is The Song That Gets On Everybody’s Nerves out of sheer spite

    6. Rayray*

      Not a bad idea. Maybe listening to Taylor Swift’s “All too Well” 10 minute version over and over would pay off :D

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Same, and then I know most of the score to Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, as well as all of the words to Piano Man (the long version). This could be epic.

        1. The OG Sleepless*

          If you ever have the chance to sing “Modern Major General” at a work conference, we expect video.

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            I can actually do that one, and “My Mother’s Wedding Day” from “Brigadoon”.
            Actually, I think it would be fun to show up the second day with a kazoo, then a guitar, then a uke without all its strings, then a pitch pipe. (A slide whistle?)
            Seriously, I would make this woman regret infantilizing well-educated adults.

          2. Semi Bored IT Guy*

            Pretty sure that one is from Pirates of Penzance, not that infernal nonsense Pinafore :)

      2. Anonymous4*

        American Pie! Of course!!

        (I know all the words, too.)

        Hey, if someone wanted to sing something by CSNY or the Beatles, I could sing harmony.

        1. Rose Absolute*

          Good call on American Pie! Knew knowing all the words to that would come in handy eventually. Definitely liking the idea of Bohemian Rhapsody too – get the rest of the room involved, including in the Waynes World style headbanging.

    7. Jessica the Bartleby*

      I know most of the words to “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.” And I could brush up for the workshop.

    8. Nea*

      I suddenly realize that I know a lot of the full lyrics to a whole bunch of raunchy Renaissance festival tunes. While I’m more likely to say “I refuse to be penalized for walking slowly due to disability” (or more likely, just “No”) I absolutely could offer to do “Henry’s Royal Horn” if the facilitator absolutely insists.

      Depending on who I’m with, I’d offer something even more graphic.

      1. lolly pop*

        Same, only Irish drinking songs a la Marc Gunn, Seven Drunken Nights being my first choice.

      2. Imaginary Friend*

        This. Being penalized for having a (potentially invisible) disability. This is the specific thing that the Letter Writer should bring up to whoever planned this d@mned thing.

        1. Nea*

          O’Danny Girls. I can’t find Henry’s Royal Horn online, but you can look hear other of their stuff on YouTube. Look for a copy of The Moose Song… but not at work.

      3. Detached Elemental*

        I would be tempted to bust out some of my rude songs from my university choral society days, like The Sexual Life of the Camel, or Oh, Sir Roger Do Not Touch Me, and encourage the audience to sing along or do the hand gestures (which are pretty easy to pick up).

    9. Rowan*

      I might use my limited internet access to remind myself how Lily Allen’s song “F— You” goes…

    10. MusicWithRocksIn*

      If you do “Diamonds are a Girls’ Best Friend” you HAVE to do it with full chorography. It is the only way to do it. Maybe pull in some backup dancers.

      1. Goldenrod*


        Also, whatever song you choose, insist on singing the SAME ONE each time you are late.

    11. The OG Sleepless*

      My husband was constantly late to homeroom one semester in high school. The teacher told him and another chronic offender that the next person that was late would have to sing “Swingin'” by John Anderson. Husband, knowing it was just a matter of time and never able to resist the chance to make people laugh, went out and bought the record and *practiced.* For the record, he can barely carry a tune.

    12. Belle*

      I also don’t even mind singing in public, but in the same spirit I’d be “performing” John Cage’s 4’33”!

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        That’s a good one. “Sure. It’ll be 4’33” by John Cage. I’ll sit down in my seat for it.”

    13. Alice Watson*

      If I didn’t suspect I’d be fired for it I’d be tempted to break into “The Rodeo Song” at full top voice volume. Possibly with an encore included.

    14. tamarack & fireweed*

      I really hope this facilitator runs into someone with a trained voice – someone with a serious hobby as an opera or musical or even rock singer. Once they get a cool look and then the “miscreant” providing an impromptu performance of Nessun Dorma (in full length) hopefully their meeting gets sufficiently sidetracked for them to re-think their approach.

    15. Sara without an H*

      I’d be tempted to render “Folsom Prison Blues.” And look straight at the facilitator when I got to the line about shooting a man in Reno…

    16. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      I am very bad about spontaneously remembering songs; either the lyrics or tune will spontaneously drop out of my head.
      I am very good at singing warm-up exercises.
      This sounds like a great time to treat the instructor to “Aluminum Linoleum”, starting from the middle of my range and going as high as I could go.

      1. Gramsas*

        Oooh, oooh!
        Is that poorly lit metallic flooring, AKA
        “Minimally illuminated aluminum linoleum.”?
        “Rubber baby buggy bumpers” would be good too.

    17. MS*

      I would choose “this is the song that never ends” that used to be part of the intro or closing or something for Lamb Chops on tv. Then I’d keep droning on with that awful song until asked by the facilitator to end the song. lol

    18. yala*

      I’ve never seen a more compelling reason to commit the entirety of “Children’s Potential” to memory than “Someone might abruptly make me sing a song as a punishment, and I would rather make that *everyone’s* punishment”

      fwiw, it’s roughly 8 minutes of acapella ranting about the inadequacy of the Chicago school system, and the effects of systemic racism and classism on children, sung in a very droning voice. Very little of it rhymes.

      Alternatively, there’s also “The Crayfish” which I do have memorized, and is also sung in that classic Sea Shanty “I have never heard a note of music in my life, is it like screaming? I can do screaming” style, and just barely skates the line of being a bit too inappropriate for public by way of dodged rhymes. A grand time for all!

  7. Interview Coming Up*

    Did you take your own transportation to this event? Pretty sure I wouldn’t have stayed the whole week unless it were incredibly useful information, or I got a much needed certificate from it. Did you notice if anyone happened to miss an afternoon and take a nap in their hotel room? Please tell me there were at least rooms where you could escape this person at 5:30!

    1. KateM*

      Oh, yes – we are missing the information what happened to those who didn’t show up at all. With this method, I wouldn’t wonder if someone who was about to be five minutes late decided betetr not to turn up at all.

  8. Lynca*

    OP as someone who has to regularly jump out of scheduled workshops because something came up, you’re not out of touch.

    The facilitator was wildly inappropriate and if you have a way to provide feedback on how unprofessional she was, please do so. I’ve done workshops and worked to impliment conferences. I would have been very upset to find out that kind of behavior was going on.

    1. Onedoesnotwalkintomordor*

      As a workshop facilitator who works on agile style workshops with senior leaders, it in incredibly disruptive when we cannot do our job properly because every 10 or 15’ break scheduled turns into 20 because of people being late.
      We are there to do a job, often run collaborative workshops for which we need the people presence and attention. And if we let it all get derailed by lateness, the same executive that complain about rules will (and have) complain about us not being effective in managing workshop time.

      A few things from my point of view: this facilitator planned badly. I make sure to have frequent breaks for people to check phones and messages, and of course if someone has family emergencies they can keep phones on (assuming they don’t get distracted) and it seems this wasn’t the case here.
      As a facilitator i also send the rules to the participants ahead of the time – including the no device and agenda break and ask for feedback in private If this is an issue – but i also clarify with the executive sponsors that I need these ppl actually engaged and not just pretending to be. All participants should know to clear their agendas for the 2-3 days max and 5hs of the day max.
      If the company sponsor did not pass the message, or the participant didn’t read the rules before (happens almost always) – I have to stick to the rules. Or else it’s a waste of 3 days.

      As for lateness: I am interested in the readers input. I admit I DO the song/shaming/joke etc trick – ONLY with very senior groups ( Exec levels). And here’s my point of view: these are not kids. I actually do free workshops for kids, students, even junior employees and I never did and would use shame as a way to get them on time.

      Executives? Are a different to me. These are often people that earn 200K+ and have enough ego and seniority that No one ever says no or challenges them. Being late and interrupting, holding up workshops, being disrespectful – is something that happens a lot. An extremely well paid person can take an ego hit if he/she doesn’t follow a rule that has been shared and agreed upon. It isn’t public humiliation in front of their whole company but their peers, and they are senior enough to take it.
      A fine jar for charity doesn’t deter them. Nothing does. Except hating to be called out as “less then” in front of peers.
      I also make exceptions (first offense / real emergencies / people that are apologetic and not obnoxious about being Always late etc etc), and do the jokes / national anthems bits in breaks and not interrupt the flow – and only use things like this for type of work when i actually need people to be there (design sprint / agile work) but yeah – I am there to do a job as well, and if i just let them run late and nothing is done …it is also my fault and I won’t get re-hired.
      This is not the OP case, i get it, but if anyone has better ideas … please help a facilitator out.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I think the key thing here is the facilitator in the letter was frequently the cause of the lateness – running over and not extending the return window, the layout of the location of the events – it was basically impossible for the participants to play by the rules even if they wanted to. Nothing about the setup in the letter is practical. So it’s especially egregious to add in the nonsense of the shame moment. In your case, hopefully, you’re only pulling out this trick when it’s the individuals not respecting the agenda and being late. You said you bake in breaks so they can check in with the outside world – good. You don’t eat every minute of the day – good. Hopefully you only hold sessions in places where it does not require travel for internet signal. I still don’t really think the singing thing is a good use of anyone’s time, but at least as you describe it, your goal is in fact to stay on topic and on time. You seem to be making sure a couple bad actors don’t waste the time of the other participants. Whereas in the letter, it’s pretty clear the facilitator’s goal was control. A lot of what they were doing is not about keeping everyone on task and respecting participants time. So adding this tactic to all of that is insult to injury.

      2. Quinalla*

        I appreciate this comment as it gives good insight from a facilitator side of this. For certain types of sessions, I think it does make a lot of sense to really focus in when sessions are on, to be strict about starting on time, etc. but it sounds like you do that while also make sure frequent breaks for handling things are scheduled in (and for using the restrooms, etc. as well). I know our senior leadership does an offsite once a year and they do schedule in breaks to check emails, make calls, but when they are in session – everyone is focused and paying attention 100% unless there is a legit emergency. They do clear their calendars and let everyone know well ahead of time.

        I do think something for these sessions that can be a problem is childcare needs. The assumption that every full-time worker has a partner who can take care of the kids stuff 100% while they are doing something like this is a bad assumption and needs to be trashed. For some people, that is never possible (single/divorced parents, parents with a partner who is deployed, etc.) or not always feasible (parents who both work, etc.) This is also likely the case for elder care, but I don’t have experience there, and could be the case with pets as well and even things like house/apartment emergencies for anyone. Yes, you of course will arrange coverage as best you can, but sometimes you have to answer a question and it really can’t wait until the break. There has to be room for that too, room for emergencies or urgent matters that legitimately can’t wait and can’t be handled by others. Most people do not have a partner or a personal assistant who just handles everything for them while they are at work and expecting that to be the case is BS and exclusionary of people who don’t have that.

      3. miss chevious*

        I really appreciate this response. While I think the OP’s retreat could have been run more effectively (more breaks, time for lunch, etc.) there is nothing more annoying to me than attending a workshop and having it interrupted by people who think they are more important than whatever is being covered. Talking, texting, and frequent interruptions disturb everyone’s focus, and I appreciate a facilitator who is on the stricter side, assuming there are breaks to deal with outside life.

      4. Jaybee*

        I absolutely think the public shaming via song is a good way to go. I was kind of shocked by the number of people in the comments objecting. I think, perhaps, commenters are thinking of themselves, in a meeting run by a boss – but this is, according to the description, a conference for people very high in their career, where the facilitator has little to no real power over them.

        Agreed it should have been planned better in the case of the letter, but generally speaking, yes, many executives do need tactics that you wouldn’t even use on children to keep them under control.

  9. Lauren19*

    I had an outside facilitator for a three day session who I thought handled this really well. The training resulted in a certification in the end and the facilitator set ground rules in the beginning that certification was based on both a presentation to demonstrate application of knowledge AND engagement. They said from the outset you can miss up to 1.5 hours of content, which I thought to be realistic. That acknowledges that our day jobs don’t stop AND it’s important you participate and learn.

    And to OP, doing this in a place without WiFi was just nuts. They need a wake up call.

    1. Black Horse*

      If it’s a session specifically about a location (as it sounds like) and they’re in ecology, I can easily see why there would only be wifi/cell signal in one specific location. There’s not anything that can be done about that. But since that’s the case the facilitator needed to recognize the limitations the ADULTS in the group would be facing, not punish them for trying to work around it!

      1. Sloanicote*

        Yes this is actually not at all uncommon in environmental fields. They hold retreats in remote or beautiful places – and in fact NCTC (the national conservation training center) has large grounds, poor cell service, and spotty wifi outside a few rooms.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Ecology happens in places without wifi. Explain that to the bats all you want; they’re not setting up a hot spot for you.

    3. GreenDoor*

      The OP said they are an ecologist, so I get that their workshops/conferences would be out in the ….ecology. Like I’m picturing OP up in the mountains or in a rainforest or something. But obviously, any unusual environment is going to mean that accessing WiFI, transportation, food, toileting facilities, etc. will be even more challenging. All the more reason why the facilitator should have been way more flexible. I agree with others – this event is to benefit the participants and your organizations. Presumably, you’re paying for it! I agree that group pushback was in order!

      1. Sloanicote*

        Yeah the issue with this (and I’ve done similar conferences but not for this long, and … no singing) is that the average person is not going to commit to coming to these events if it’s literally a black hole week. You might do it once but likely not again.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          A colleague once went to a week-long geological conference in the centre of a desert. The site had no electricity, including no electric lights, and one telephone at the site for emergency contact only. So, no powerpoint presentations – all talking, and drawing on paper. Everyone knew what they were getting into, and for them it was an intense and interesting experience. I probably couldn’t do that.

    4. Lynca*

      I can think of several places in my state that would have facilities for an ecology workshop but not great cell reception or WiFi in every building. That’s actually the least weird thing about it to me.

      But I am a geologist and know a lot of ecologists. Being without reception for field work is a very common thing we work around. Less common at high level though.

      1. Sloanicote*

        I was thinking I bet to folks in other fields this seems weird! I think conferences are probably pretty lux outside of earth sciences haha. We have literally set up cots in barns for retreats lol.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t think it’s necessarily weird that wifi access was limited. What’s weird is the facilitator didn’t schedule things in such a way as to realize these people would very likely need it at some points during the day. If breaks aren’t long enough to get access to the think you need to do during the break, then people also won’t be on time coming back. Unless everyone attending knew before they got there they’d never have access during any business hours that week, this thing sounds poorly scheduled.
          And running long and shortening people’s eating time is just not cool.

          1. Sloanicote*

            Yeah the schedule rigidity and the singing is not at all normal in my field. Just the location, long walk, and lack of signal.

    5. anonymous73*

      I was with you until your last sentence. Yes the facilitator was over the top, but have you ever tried to teach a class (or conduct a meeting) when everyone is distracted by their cell phone? Even participating in a class when half the people aren’t paying attention is annoying, especially when you have to work together. The world has become obsessed with having instant access to their entire lives that I can see the benefit in limiting places where Wi-Fi is available. The rest of it is banana crackers though.

    6. MS*

      I went to something like this where it was a week long over night intensive certification program for coaches and while the facilitators were okay with it if you had to step out a second to use the bathroom or take an important call real quick etc and there was some brief downtime between sessions or during meals/after dinner where you could take calls, it was expected you attended all the sessions in full (with exception bathroom breaks/stepping out a min being allowed.) If you missed on you would either not earn the certification or have to make it up somehow. This was laid up up front though and the schedule allowed enough time between sessions to handle responding to an urgent call/email real quick etc, so I don’t think there were many circumstances where someone would need to be missing sessions to do this kind of thing.

  10. Bluebelle*

    I have been in development and facilitating for over 20 years, this is not how it is done. Adults need to be treated as adults.
    If someone tried to make me sing I would refuse. “I am not doing that. I apologize for being late, but this is much more disruptive than me entering a few minutes late and quietly taking my seat”

    1. Hazel*

      I wonder if this facilitator was relatively new to facilitating. When I was a new technical trainer, I was a lot more rigid about stuff like this because it was easier – for me – than starting out more relaxed and having to deal with shit that would inevitably come up (like the guy who pulled out his cell phone and made a call while sitting in class).

      I am still fairly strict with start times and breaks, but I definitely make sure that participants have what they need for a good learning environment, including adequate breaks and meal times.

      When I was starting out, I was teaching public classes. You can afford to be less rigid when you’re facilitating a group of people who are all from the same company. The other thing that happens is the sales department promises an agenda that can’t be done in the time alloted. I’m not saying that rigidity (and forced singing) is the answer! Just mentioning some possible reasons for the odd behavior.

      1. Bluebelle*

        One thing I do when it is critical information, is put the ownership back on the participants. I always let them know I know that they are adults and have other commitments but this is for them. If they make the decision not to be on time then it is their responsibility to get the information.
        I also build into the curriculum that after breaks is for recapping, practice, questions, check-ins, etc. Things that aren’t so cricital.

    2. Awesome Sauce*

      Came here to say something like this. I’ve facilitated technical workshops where it is ASBOLUTELY CRITICAL to have everyone in the room and focused on the work. For that reason, I have to have both (1) really anal-retentive rules about use of devices and attendance, and (2) flexibility and an understanding of how humans work. I need their brains, and I’m not going to get them if I don’t make allowances for food/refreshments, bathroom breaks, mental breaks to just think about something else for a few minutes (staying on task and thinking really hard for a full work day is EXHAUSTING), and emergencies/urgent issues that happen outside the workshop and may need people’s attention.

      This facilitator is being weirdly inflexible and I feel like she only got half the message about how to run a workshop.

      1. the Viking Diva*

        hear hear. No-device rules are OK to keep the brains on task, but there do need to be good long breaks that acknowledge the bodies.

    3. crookedfinger*

      Yeah, there’s no way I’d be singing. Like…you can continue your lesson or I can leave, but either way I’m not singing a song. I’m not interested in being treated like a naughty child and this is absolutely a hill I’d die on.

    4. Heather*

      Not to mention what if someone had to use the restroom? No way would I be punished for a stomach or menstrual issue.

    5. t*


      You don’t put an “ego hit” on someone by making them sing. You remind them that everyone’s time is valuable, so it’s important to be as present as much as possible, to put down the phones except for emergencies, and to not waste other people’s time by being late.

      If they don’t, that’s on them.

  11. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    A weeklong event and it was from 8 to 5:30 each day?! Over seven hours of actual course content being covered daily? That’s too long without proper breaks for drinks, bio breaks, phone calls and a proper meal. Maybe that workshop should have been split into two or more parts to make the delivery of it less onerous.

    Hell, we run 3-hour Zoom workshops in my department and we encourage two 10-minute breaks in those 3 hours. And we teach our facilitators to be sensitive to the dynamics of the group and adapt as necessary. Your facilitator was a jerk!

    1. QAPeon (formerly HelpDeskPeon)*

      Yeah, that struck me too. That’s awful. My job runs week long trainings that go from 8 to 5 for 5 days, and each day has 2 half hour snack breaks, an hour for lunch, built in bio breaks at roughly hour intervals, and are a mix of lecture/hands on. AND are generally held in a hotel/conference center so participants can retreat to their rooms if they need to recharge for a few during one of the longer breaks.

      And it still makes for a really long week and the poor folks look fried at the end.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yup, I used to coordinate a 2-day conference with an 8:30am-4:30pm schedule each day. We had two 20-minute breaks and an hour for lunch each day. And you could tell that, by 3pm, everyone was fed up and just couldn’t absorb any more information.

      I have been on 2-hour Zoom trainings that were really well-facilitated and that was long enough for me. Online learning sessions should not be longer than 2 hours at the very most – asynchronous learning is so much tougher mentally.

      1. Anonymous4*

        Oh, sure. College classes are structured the way they are for a reason. “50 minutes information, 10 minutes break” means people’s attention and brain are about tapped out and they need to move around and get some oxygen.

    3. Ama*

      Yeah, I run a weeklong professional development workshop once a year and we try to schedule a break every two hours or so as well as provide at least an hour for each meal (and we provide the meals, because part of the professional development is giving junior researchers in our field the opportunity to network with the senior researchers who make up the workshop faculty). When we had to run it on Zoom last year we actually cut the program length down a bit and tried to build in some daily “networking hours” so people wouldn’t have to sit through 10 hour blocks of Zoom lectures.

      It really seems like the people who planned this agenda (whether that was the facilitator or someone else) got too wrapped up in “we need to cover all this content” and forgot to pay attention to the attendees’ experience. Which is easy to do! I fight that battle all the time when working on the agenda for our workshop, but ultimately if everyone is miserable, no one is going to learn as much from the content as you would want, no matter how great it is.

      1. Artemesia*

        I taught weekend classes at the graduate level (as well as workshops etc). And it is critical to design the flow of these instructional events with variety — no one can listen to content for 8 hours so we have lots of team based activities where the content is applied — case studies, role plays, problem analysis and then discussion etc. and breaks for snacks and chance to walk around and of course adequate time for lunch. And the last two hours on Saturday are not going to work for instruction so that is when teams meet to work on their course projects with assistance from the instructor. Some people can learn from a 50 minute lecture; noone learns from long days dominated by the front of the room.

    4. Hlao-roo*

      The letter writer references “in the tiny breaks we otherwise had during the day” so presumably they had breaks for drinks/bathroom/etc. I agree that the 40 min lunch break was not long enough because half was eaten up by the 10 min walk there and the 10 min walk back.

    5. Curious*

      8-5:30, with a half hour break and 40 minute lunch is significantly more than seven hours — I calculate it at 8:20 (9:30 – 1:10).

  12. Diziet*

    I’m a facilitator managing a team of facilitators. We work with highly pressured teams (social work/healthcare) who need to remain on call during sessions and I confirm this is bad practice. I am sorry you were subject to such poor facilitation.

    Our job is to make it easy for the group to do what they need to do and that includes making sure participants have the breaks, resources and support they need to focus as much as possible- it’s literally what we’re for!

    Punitive and control behaviours are a complete no-no and would trigger a performance conversation.

    1. Fieldpoppy*

      1000%. This is my job too and this is insane. Also, no one needs a 5 x full day retreat. NO ONE. 80% of facilitation is design and this is a terrible design to start with.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        Exactly. No one can process information nonstop for that entire time. If you think your material and pacing can’t be flexed to meet the needs of your audience, you’re in the wrong business.

        Anyone with a physical, cognitive, or emotional need for a different pacing is being trampled on with this plan. I’m pretty ok with extended sitting but I’d need my hand-sewing project and/or a big pad of paper and a thousand doodling pens to keep myself focused for that length of time. And somehow I don’t see that presenter being thrilled about me threading needles during Slide 846.

        (Though … what the heck? Was this all just one presenter? Or was this done by Team Bananacrackers?)

      2. Fieldpoppy*

        I’m also the director of an intensive leadership program for v. senior people where we do need them to completely disengage from work, life, etc. and they know that coming in, and we STILL build in time for them to do what they need to do with regard to their lives. I would fire this person in a heartbeat.

  13. That's Gonna Be A No From Me*

    Good Lord. I’m not considered entry level anymore but even if I was I would not have hesitated to tell that facilitator that’s gonna be a no from me dawg, if they told me to sing a song. Typically in workshops its either my company or myself paying THEM for the training. If I have work come up for my company I’m 100% expected for that to take precedence no matter what the facilitator says. We always try to focus in and avoid disruptions but thing happen! Funny enough I’ve been in several workshops in the past few years where the facilitators have had that rule, though they never actually followed through.

    1. Wonderer*

      That’s what I would have assumed – this is just a joke to emphasize importance of being on time; no way they will actually require people to sing!

  14. Tamarack with a phone*

    I agree with Alison. (I’m an earth scientist.) There have been two or three day events I’ve attended where the ground rule was to put all side activities and devices away and fully focus on the activity at hand. But that was for stretches of maybe 1.5-2h at a time. And in this case, the facilitator needs to make sure that a) everyone who needs to divert attention can step outside without stigma and b) buy-in comes from the activity actually requiring this level of attention so that the benefit of the rule is clear to at
    least a plurality of attendees. Getting lip-service buy-in and then trapping everyone in a place with no internet is going to generate frustration.

    Also, making people who are late sing only diverts more attention to them. You design your setup so that people strive to be on time and if they aren’t don’t further disrupt the event. And 15 min for lunch break is way too short – we’d have extended lunch break if the facility layout required it.

    1. Rock Prof*

      I’ve also attended some intensive multi-day workshops probably similar to these. They all had ample breaks that took into account time to get places, or changes were made in the schedule on the second day to add more of these things. I don’t recall anyone ever being called out for arriving a bit late or trying to deal with logistical questions. People are generally happy to devote time to things when it seems like it serves a good purpose (professionally, personally, whatever), but if you’re pulling people away from their day jobs and the rest of their lives, you need to know that some flexibility is needed.

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      “Also, making people who are late sing only diverts more attention to them.” I think that’s the point. :(

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        Well, yes, but it’s a *bad* point. I can see why you’d want to get people to start together, on time, and with their full attention, and have benefitted from voluntarily playing by this kind of rule set. And that’s even though when I’m passively absorbing material I benefit from letting my attention wander, fiddle with something, walk around! But some trainings and workshops need participants active and involved. All of these good purposes – and even the mode mundane purpose of respecting the presenter by not interrupting – are negated when you are drawing *more* attention to the interruption, away from the workshop activity.

        (I forgot to say above: If you really want to have busy senior professionals or scientists with no internet access between 8 and 5:30 then you really really need to make this clear from the outset so that people can go into it with the expectation that they’ll be essentially unreachable for much of the week. Otherwise they’ll get fidgetty by 3 pm, and try to bend the rules, rig up a satellite receiver, test every location of the venue for a stray cell signal, and otherwise disengage. Also I think that ecologists must be extraordinarily nice. My colleagues and I would have mutinied and buttonholed the facilitator by day 2 to get the rules changed.)

  15. Bethie*

    Thats stupid. The world doesnt stop! We put on a conference when i worked the department of children’s services, and what struck me the most was how many times supervisors/attorneys had to step outside to field calls. Because child abuse doesnt stop just because there is conference.

  16. Lady Danbury*

    This would be a bit much for any seminar, but it’s absolutely ridiculous for senior level attendees. It’s common knowledge that workdays often don’t stop for training when you’re at a senior level. You still have to send that important email, deal with that unexpected crisis, review that time sensitive document, etc. As long as participants are respectful and minimize interruptions (take any urgent calls outside), leave/enter quietly, etc), then there shouldn’t be an issue.

    Also, most all day trainings/seminars that I’ve attended have had at least 2 short breaks other than lunch to allow people to check emails/deal with urgent issues, as well as use the bathroom. In this instance, it might have made more sense to have three 10 minute breaks or two 15 minute breaks instead of one 30 minute break. This facilitator needs further training/guidance in how to run a senior level seminar. I would definitely bring it up in feedback to the training company.

  17. ENFP in Texas*

    “If people were late for a session, they had to sing a song — even if they not more than five minutes late.”

    At our three-day strategy offsite meetings, folks would show up on time for the first session… then a couple would be a couple minutes late for the second… then some would be five minutes late for the next one… and eventually they showed up about 15 minutes after the start time. They were taking calls and doing work, and they either didn’t realize or didn’t care that they were missing the strategy meeting (which was held offsite in order to get the team to focus on the content).

    Finally the senior manager made the rule that the doors to the meeting room closed at the posted start time, and if you came in late (or missed the meeting entirely), then you had to sing at the end of the meeting day.

    It’s amazing how suddenly everyone started showing up on time.

    If there was an emergency or a “fire drill” that needed to be addressed immediately then there were exceptions made, as long as the senior manager knew about them. But when a company is spending the time, money, and preparation on an offsite, it really really sucks to have people not show up or not show up on time and miss the information that they’re trying to present. In most cases it’s a content-dense agenda, so missing chunks of it means they’re not getting the info they need.

    1. EBStarr*

      This story doesn’t actually justify using humiliation tactics like public singing to control adults, IMO. All it does is prove that there are multiple people out there who use the same absurd threat. It’s especially ridiculous that a senior manager did this to their own employees. Why didn’t they just use the actual performance management tools at their disposal?

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Hard agree. Having a non-work punishment to a work issue is lazy management/enforcement. It may have been effective, but that doesn’t make it good or respectful.

    2. Workerbee*

      I’d love to know how many strategic decisions came out of those meetings, and how much of the strategy was actually implemented.

      Looking back among a variety of company sizes and industries, I cannot recall any of those meetings, even the offsite ones, resulting in effective change. They were just meetings so people in power could feel good about the words they were saying. A year or less would go by, and we’d either still be doing the same thing or have gone in an entirely different direction from all that strategizin’.

      All this to say that the people coming late or doing actual work during the meetings knew the real deal.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      It doesn’t sound like anyone addressed the issue at all until the singing rule was made though? Unless you just left that part out for brevity, then there is no reason to assume it wouldn’t have been just as effective for the senior manager to get up and say “it is really very important that we all be here on time to start these sessions, please make an effort to do so and set timers if you need to” or something.

      1. takeachip*

        Exactly! Adults hold each other accountable and let people experience the natural consequences of their actions. Explicitly asking everyone to arrive on time, starting on time regardless & not waiting for latecomers, and then following up individually with latecomers would all be better approaches. It’s very telling to me when someone in a position of power immediately jumps to the punitive approach.

        1. Richard*

          There’s something valuable about making people accountable to each other, not just privately with the boss. Community norms are enforced as a community, and singing a silly song because you were a jerk isn’t such a terrible way to do it.

          I think it’s kind of strange how many people here think that being called out for bad behavior in public is somehow an unconscionable affront to people’s humanity, and people should only be reprimanded in the ways that they prefer, which are generally in private or not at all.

            1. Richard*

              I wouldn’t characterized it as “top-down.” The purpose and effect is that you are being held accountable to your community, not the sadistic whims of the facilitator. It sounds like it works, too.

          1. allathian*

            Calling someone out on bad behavior is not an unconscionable affront, necessarily, but making them sing silly songs doesn’t really help. At best, it delays the proceedings even further, but it’s far more likely to make the participants feel at least irritation, if not downright aggression, towards the person they think is intentionally humiliating them. It’s very unlikely to get them to change their behavior, but it will make them less cooperative.

            1. Richard*

              It sounds like it did get them to change their behavior, and, despite all the hysterics here, I bet it would work in most situations, even if people think it’s ridiculous.

    4. tamarack & fireweed*

      Maybe they showed up on time, but some of them will have remembered the humiliation when other opportunities came along 6 months later, or it was a small pebble on the scale of “should I look for a new job”.

      I’ve attended plenty planning and collaboration meetings, and what you do is agree on a time to convene, and if people tend to not be ready by the time originally planned (grabbing coffee, just got out of bed, other stuff going on that needs to be fielded) you start 15 min later. Also, you make sure that by the time you start something is going on that people will actually need. And if some attendees can join in later without detriment because it’s enough that, say, half got the initial information and it can be then passed on to the rest for example in break-out groups, then you just tolerate that some will wander in and out and *still* contribute valuably. (“We’ll start with going over the numbers from last year. Then we’ll be breaking out by functional team and each breakout group will be tasked with identifying three strategic goals for a 2-year horizon. If you join the breakout groups later, please first collect the information from the breakout group leader.”)

  18. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    This was a WEEK LONG event. All day long. There is no way that any well-designed learning experience needed to have the timing that tightly controlled to the point of aggression against minor infractions.

    Different humans have different needs — for the actual learning and digesting of knowledge part AND for, you know, life outside the bubble.

    I would hate to have been a neurodivergent participant, or someone with a medical condition that needed extra bathroom breaks or ability to stretch occasionally. I hope there were feedback forms that were thoroughly completed.

    When I’m in a long training session, I’ve usually got a handsewing project in my hands … or a thousand different colored doodling pens … because I can’t concentrate on the words without a light fidget that has a completion component … somehow I guess this would have been FROWNED ON had I been there.

    1. Esmeralda*

      I had a weekly after hours one hour away from my workplace professional development workshop for women some years ago. I was delighted to participate. I was also pregnant at the time. Three hour sessions. One 10 minute break.

      I was not the only pregnant person. I used the toilet when I needed to, and thus I missed some important stuff. I asked the facilitators to have two breaks (at the one and two hour points), as I was sure I was not the only person who needed to pee rather urgently (many of the women spent the entire single break waiting in line in the bathroom). Nope! Pretty shocking, considering that among other topics we discussed gender discrimination and accessibility.

      1. allathian*

        Oh man, when I was pregnant I needed to pee pretty much every hour, on the hour. This would’ve been intolerable.

  19. Blomma*

    This is maybe besides the point, but a 10 minute walk between locations and having to do that walk under a time crunch multiple times per day is not very accessible. Assuming that participants can walk that much and that quickly (a “normal” person’s 10 minute walk is going to take me, a disabled person, longer) is fairly ableist. I’d be in pain, tired, and cranky just from that and if I was late because I literally couldn’t walk any faster…well making me sing a song about it would not go over well!

    1. Rock Prof*

      This is a really excellent point. If ecology is anything like geology/earth science, accessibility is really commonly overlooked because there’s often this expectation that you’re physically fit and ready for field work. It’s a really pervasive and limiting problem.

    2. NYWeasel*

      It’s a very good point. For me, as I read OPs note, I thought about the last multi-day offsite I attended in 2019. On the second day I woke up to news that my sister was in the ICU on a ventilator and that they weren’t sure she would survive. She was in another state, so I couldn’t just leave and go to the hospital. Instead, I had to wait for updates from her husband. I made my manager aware but didn’t tell the facilitator bc frankly, I was barely holding it together and if I wasn’t at a hotel out of state, I would have left for the day. I didn’t feel like getting a bunch of questions I couldn’t answer right then, but more importantly there’s no way in hell I would have SUNG A SONG just for being a minute or two late.

      The great news is my sister recovered fine and everything is good again. But I still wouldn’t sing a song for being late. ;)

      1. Jessica*

        Glad your sister made it, NYW, and you make a great point. Maybe that person who was one minute late back because they were yapping on their cell was just needlessly micromanaging that month’s TPS reports, but also maybe they were having a terrible personal emergency or learning tragic news, and you don’t know.

  20. RJ*

    I haven’t had one in years (thank the heavens), but attendance at such a controlled workshop would trigger a panic attack in me. And the song singing penalty is just a joke albeit not a good one.

  21. Sharpiee*

    “If people were late for a session, they had to sing a song — even if they not more than five minutes late.”

    Yes, humiliating people is a sure-fire way to gain their respect.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I’d give a very nonchalant but very clear, “Oh no thanks! Carry on!” and simply have a seat and wait. I’d let her try and stare me down or challenge me in front of the group but she’d look like a total asshat.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Right? What is the facilitator going to say, “No, you have to.”? A cheery “no thanks!” is useful for many situations and way better than my knee-jerk reaction of “you’re not the boss of me” or “you can’t make me.”

        1. Imaginary Friend*

          This. I have replied with a cheery “No thanks!” to lots of things, even where it wasn’t actually an appropriate answer (because I was replying to an inappropriate comment) and it’s very effective.

      2. Joielle*

        I think this is what I would have said too, just from sheer surprise! Like, I would assume it was a bad joke and just laugh and say no thank you. Totally bizarre.

  22. chocolate lover*

    I just read “The art of gathering” by Priya Parker, and I think that’s exactly where this facilitator got the idea to make people sing a song if they were even slightly late. I was horrified.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Does this mean it is a new trend, soon to spread through the corporate world like wildfire? Need to know when to start practicing my singing.

      1. llamadander*

        Forget that! I’m practicing saying “I apologize for being late but I will not participate in my own bullying by singing a song.”

  23. agnes*

    Facilitation is about helping the participants have their interests met. A good facilitator will check in regularly and made scheduling and agenda adjustments if need be. Sounds like you had a handler, not a facilitator.

  24. Falling Diphthong*

    If people were late for a session, they had to sing a song.

    This part? Is some hot crazy. But up until then, OP, it didn’t seem remarkable to expect people to be focused on the session they were attending, rather than replying to emails and approving purchases. The latter sounds like the sort of painful meeting that quickly devolves to “Wait, can you explain that again? I wasn’t listening.”

    At a more typical conference (aka one in a venue with wifi throughout) I’d posit that you’d have a mid-morning break, lunch, and mid-afternoon break, during which people could triage their in-boxes, call the sitter, etc. The thing to do here was push back–I’ll suggest the second time someone had to sing a song–and explain that you needed some leeway in the schedule so that people could get over to the only source of food and drink while checking if any issues that needed urgent attention had arisen in the last hour. You needed more breaks, to put it simply. (Though I can see this being a pain if you make each session 10 minutes shorter, all the carefully timed presentations now need to be hacked back and it’s annoying. It’s hard to rework everything after the conference has started.)

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think there is a very large gap between expecting people to pay attention and be engaged, and being so strict that you call out every person who dares to say even one short sentence to the colleague next to them (such as asking for help to plug in a phone charger or whatever). This definitely does not sound like the former.

  25. Dumpster Fire*

    Nope. Just nope. I’ll try to avoid being disruptive, but I will not sing a song because I’m late or because I quietly asked for help with something. If some power-tripping facilitator can’t deal with that, I’m out; and I’ll demand credit toward a future workshop being run by someone who is willing to work with adults.

  26. Provolone Piranha*

    As a high school teacher, I work with literal children and don’t subject them to that kind of rigidity and humiliation. That facilitator is on a serious power trip.

    1. Batgirl*

      Same. I’m really giggling at all the “but they’re adults” responses. You can’t do this stuff to any size of human. You’ll spend all your time on self caused conflict.

    2. Flower necklace*

      I’m also a high school teacher and I agree with you. State the rules upfront and follow up with the appropriate consequence when necessary. Humiliating them will do nothing but cause resentment.

    3. Jen*

      I’m a high school teacher. Was scrolling through just to make sure I was the first person to say this. This would be crappy teaching of children, too. The consequence disrupting more than the unwanted behavior? Humiliation as a tactic? Refusal to acknowledge that you’re teaching human beings with human lives and human needs to pee and eat? NOPE. Not with three year olds, thirteen year olds or thirty year olds.

    4. SnappinTerrapin*

      My high school classes, way back when, would’ve mutinied.

      We weren’t as mature as we thought we were, but we would’ve stonewalled a boundary for this facilitator.

    5. londonedit*

      Definitely. My secondary school was set over two sites quite close to each other, but with about a 5-minute walk between them. The lower two years were based at the smaller site, with the rest of the school at the larger main site. Most of the teaching for the lower years was done at ‘their’ site, but some of the things like technology rooms, science rooms with certain equipment, the music room etc, were at the main site so you’d have to walk up there. We had 5 minutes’ circulation time between lessons, but if your previous lesson overran a bit and you had to get up to the main site for music next, you’d probably be late. Most kids didn’t care but there were some who would get really stressed out about being late and getting in trouble, and there were absolutely some teachers who would lecture the whole class and put people in detention for being late, and ‘but we had to walk up from the other site and our Geography lesson ran over’ wasn’t good enough. It was really unfair because the teachers assumed any lateness was down to kids dawdling and not walking fast enough, but really it was down to the fact that in 20 years no one had considered that kids might need a bit more time between lessons if they were walking from one site to the other.

      1. allathian*

        Sounds like my school in the UK (I did year 2 and part of year 3), the Lower School (years 1 & 2) were in a separate building. But it was a big campus, with more than 1,500 students (ages 11 to about 17 for those not in the UK), and several buildings.

      2. Crackerjack*

        SPLIT SITE SCHOOLS! I went to one too, only it was more like 10 mins walk between sites, over a muddy field with slippery banks, and by the time I went, ‘Lower school’ wasn’t for the lower years but for certain subjects and every year had to travel. Ah, the mud soaked garments. The constant lateness. I think they’ve mostly been phased out in the UK now, but I taught for a few years at a split site school recently and yes, everyone was always late.

  27. LadyByTheLake*

    I have been in working sessions that took a week where we all had to agree to focus on the task at hand (including turning over our cell phones while we were in session), be present, be on time etc because that was necessary to get the work done — BUT there were frequent breaks where we could easily check in on work and other issues, food and wifi connectivity were immediately available, and true emergencies were not shamed. This person sounds like she might be used to facilitating such intensive working sessions (or have heard about them), but wasn’t paying attention to the framework that allows such intensity for short (1-2 hour) periods. And the “sing a song” nonsense is just punitive and juvenile.

    1. Nanani*

      Gaaaaaah turning in phones is such an invasion of privacy – and possibly security given how many smartThings people have these days.

  28. SaffyTaffy*

    It’s telling that these attendees are senior in their workplaces. That’s part of why they’re accustomed to being able to deal with real life while at work. But I’ve worked in SO MANY PLACES where normal workers can’t do the things OP and others needed to do. I hope OP will use this as inspiration to make sure employees below them are able to deal with family & personal stuff during the work day.

    1. CarolynM*

      This is a really excellent point. It’s hard being told you can’t occasionally work from home to be there to help your partner with cancer get to the bathroom without falling and bring them food and drink when they are having a really bad day (not even every day or all day – just when its really bad) by a manager who regularly works from home for life admin reasons.

      My partner made a full recovery – I need another minute or two to shake off 2 years of absolute hell, I am exhausted and soul-worn after trying to literally be in 2 places at once. But the very second I feel anywhere even CLOSE to solid again, I’ve got looking to do.

  29. Amethystmoon*

    Presumably, the facilitator has a manager. OP might try to send an e-mail to the manager and ask others who attended to also do so. The facilitator really needs to be given constructive feedback for next time, by someone who has the power to do something if changes don’t happen. I agree the singing is over the top, never have heard of that one before.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Exactly what I was thinking. The facilitator’s supervisor needs to be aware that she is making up these kind of arbitrary punishments. And if the supervisor agrees that she is in the right, then that workshop firm should never ever be hired again by whoever was sponsoring the conference.

      And speaking of that, who actually *was* sponsoring the conference? They should also be aware that this was happening, and that the timing didn’t work very well. Was this a public location where the meetings couldn’t be held in the same place as the food, thus limiting the walk time? I’m guessing you needed the workshops held in the place they were held in so the walk was necessary, but it’s a thought. The org in charge of the conference definitely needs to know these things and probably would welcome the feedback.

  30. Random Commenter*

    Early in my career, I attended a multi-day training where the instructor had a rule that if you were late for any part of the training session (morning start time/breaks/lunch, etc) you had to sing several lines of a Prince song. The song choice was yours, but you couldn’t duplicate if another person sang it already. I was young and naïve, but always early because I didn’t know more than the chorus of maybe two Prince songs and the instructor sampled them as examples. No one declined to sing (multiple people sang daily) but reflecting now it was so ridiculous, especially considering the training included an older audience set and those further in their careers than me.

    1. Ange*

      Seems like a terrible idea given how risqué some Prince songs are. I doubt they would really be happy with someone belting out “Gett Off” or “If I Was Your Girlfriend”. Not to mention not everyone would even know a Prince song.

  31. I miss Sami*

    Had I been late, I would have completely and totally refused to sing a song. I’m not a bad singer and can belt out a few tunes, but there’s no way in hell would this person REQUIRE me to sing. If “everyone” had really agreed to it at the beginning (wtf?), you all would would have loudly heard my dissent. (Maybe that could be my song.)
    Completely unprofessional and a waste of time. The facilitator needs training for themselves as to how to handle a situation like this.

    1. Elenna*

      My read was that everyone agreed to a general “you should be on time and pay attention” statement, and the facilitator pulled out the song-singing and complaints about one quiet comment to one’s neighbour later. But I guess that’s not actually stated in the letter.

    2. Dumpster Fire*

      Either that or I would’ve sung the full-length version of American Pie! You wanna waste everyone’s time embarrassing me? Game on!!

    3. anonymous73*

      Yeah if it was brought up at the beginning, I would have said that I’m not doing that. I’m generally not late to things, but stuff happens, and humiliation is not going to teach anybody anything.

  32. TimeTravlR*

    I am likely in the minority here but part of the problem is that people attend important workshops or trainings and then spend the whole time working. This is a disservice to themselves, the organization that sent them, and to the facilitator. If it’s important enough to spend an entire week away from work to attend, then it’s important enough to be engaged as much as possible.
    BUT — Now that I got that out of the way, yes, this person was obnoxiously controlling and should have allowed more time for breaks and to allow people to deal with business during that time. Which would have mitigated that issue of disruptions during the workshop.
    And there is no way in this world ANYONE wants me to sing but if I did, it would be something rude like “I love to go swimmin’ with bowlegged women…” because that’s how I roll.

    1. pancakes*

      Yes, that is a disservice, but why not handle it the way CLE sessions are handled in my industry? Continuing Legal Education. There’s a code given at some point during the latter stages of the session and if you’re not engaged enough to write it down, you’re not getting your certificate of completion.

      1. Properlike*

        Interesting! I did that for pop quizzes on my hybrid in-person, online class. Often the online students (who could attend asynchronously) would skip over the entire lecture, so I would embed time-sensitive verbal instructions in the middle that did not match the screen behind me. Counted for their attendance and participation grades.

          1. Katie*

            Or even people who when faced with a mismatch between what they see/read and what they hear will go with what they see/read?

            1. allathian*

              Yup, count me in. If there’s a mismatch, I’ll always go by what I see rather than by what I hear. I can trust my eyes, but for some reason I can’t trust my ears.

              I also hate asynchronous classes with the passion of a thousand suns. I find it very hard to stay focused long enough to complete them. Luckily the classes I’ve attended mostly have scripts that the lecturers use, and you can choose to read the written material on screen instead, and the text is hidden when you take the quiz at the end of the class.

              When I was doing my master’s, I was quite envious of my friend who was in law school, because she could elect to skip a whole course of lectures by reading a couple of 1,000+ page tomes instead. If that had been an option for me, I would’ve taken it, because most of the lectures were a waste of time, and only sometimes valuable for the Q&A sessions. Seminars with lots of audience participation were a different matter. But it’s why I picked a small major, because we had lots of seminars and very few lectures. The advanced classes were almost like tutoring sessions at a British university, with a maximum of 6 students attending at a time. They were intense and engaging, and didn’t leave any time over for daydreaming, like the lectures did.

              1. pancakes*

                All of this can be looked at when deciding which school to go to, though. Schools that have large lecture classes rather than small seminars aren’t secretive about it. The problem is that small classes tend to be way more expensive.

          2. pancakes*

            It isn’t always spoken, sometimes it appears in text on the screen. I assume the methodology changes depending on accessibility needs, or that accommodation can be arranged.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, it’s bizarre to sign up to a full day training for a week in a remote location and expect excellent internet connection and plenty of time to deal with work emergencies. If you can’t leave work for a week, sign up for a shorter training or do an online training.

      Still, the lack of breaks, long walks and singing sounds awful. Someone, or preferable a group of people, should have talked with the facilitator and pushed back. Often it’s enough that one person pushes back, and others will follow.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Oh, thank goodness I see others that agree with me.

        I think that the lack of breaks and the singing totally suck, but everything else didn’t seem awful to me?

        The day ended at 5:30. Why couldn’t people just use their evenings to catch up on things that are happening at work? I felt like I was missing something there. You’re at a week-long workshop. I don’t think it’s out of line that the instructor expects people to be on time and appropriately quiet. I’m an instructor too, so I tend to be sympathetic. I also teach CME/CLE classes. If a person was not on time or wasn’t paying attention to something important, I wouldn’t feel comfortable signing off on their certification. Perhaps this instructor wouldn’t like someone who was 10-20 minutes late for different meetings, missing important information, then representing themselves later as someone who has taken this workshop when they have incomplete knowledge.

        1. Anonymous4*

          Why don’t people use the evening to catch up with what happened at work? Because in the evening people have gone home and the office is closed. If there was an issue, it wasn’t resolved; if a complication arose, it wasn’t untangled; if a major question came in, it wasn’t answered.

          The participants had senior roles in their organizations — they weren’t newbies who were just getting started in their careers, and they very likely had families as well as work responsibilities. And they were given *no* time to deal with either, during the day.

          If you can’t find it within yourself to give someone CME/CLE credit for attending a week-long seminar because they were a few minutes late in the door, you might want to recalibrate your expectations — as well as make sure that people have enough time to eat lunch. (This seminar gave people a whole 20 minutes to get their lunch and eat, remember, after the 10-minute trek over and the 10-minute trek back.) And I seriously doubt that a few minutes is going to mean they “missed important information” and cause them to “have incomplete knowledge.”

          1. pancakes*

            I’ve never been to a CLE seminar that lasts longer than half a day, but in any case I’m not seeing where you’re getting the impression that people who are a few minutes late can’t get their certificate. There have been stragglers at every in-person class I’ve attended. An instructor who puts vital information in the first few minutes of the class has probably not designed a good class.

            1. Butterfly Counter*

              As I write below, my CLE/CMEs run an hour, which actually makes someone running late miss more information than less because I only have an hour to give all of the relevant information. And in all of the CME classes I’ve taught, I really can’t think of any stragglers I’ve had because people were respectful of my time and their own. And probably, people can better budget an hour out of their day.

          2. Butterfly Counter*

            It’s not like the workshop came out of nowhere either. If I’m indispensable at work to the point where business will grind to a halt without me, maybe leaving for a week isn’t a great idea? But if I’m high enough that I can delegate, then in advance, give someone the responsibility of signing off on things that come up, approving expenses, etc. And then schedule a meeting at 5:45 to discuss any major issues that happen day and prep for the next day. If the option is business grinding to a halt or shifting hours so that necessary staff have a later meeting for a week, it seems doable.

            I’m sure these workshops happened in similar ways before wifi and smartphones and industry didn’t come to a grinding halt because people were harder to reach during business hours. If you plan as if you won’t have access to internet, you won’t be struggling to run around after the wifi to try to do two things at once instead of the thing you’ve left your office to do.

            I’ve been to a similar workshop/training that was a week long and highly scheduled. There wasn’t wiggle room from the facilitators because if we weren’t there, we weren’t doing the very necessary work needed to learn the very skills that were being shared with us. I’m sure everyone’s industry is different and that maybe the workshop in the OP’s question had a lot of fluff and filler that it was okay for people to miss. But I’ve also been in situations where this was absolutely not the case. The entire week was run like a well-oiled machine and being late and not paying attention could have derailed more than just one’s own experience, but that of the entire class.

            As for my CME/CLEs: mine run an hour. I usually have 45-50 minutes of instruction with 10-15 minutes of questions and clarifications and follow up with resources. A person coming in 10 minutes late to my class misses about 20% of the information. I do find that unacceptable. And if a person is consistently doing this for meetings all day every day (which I doubt anyone in the OP’s question was, but maybe it’s something that facilitator has seen in the past), it works out to the same issue.

            I don’t know. I have less sympathy for the time for lunch because it was twice what I was given in high school for my own lunch. 30 minute lunch break in a cafeteria 10 minutes away from class. And if you had to purchase your lunch and stand in line, you literally had 5 minutes to eat. Obviously, this has skewed my perspective on this because I eat FAST now.

            1. pancakes*

              10 minutes late to a one hour or 45 min class is missing quite a bit, yeah. When I mentioned stragglers I was thinking more of people who are 2-3 min. late.

      2. Loulou*

        Where did OP say they expected either of those things? I don’t see them complaining that the internet was good or that they didn’t have unscheduled time to work — just that if they did happen to get delayed by an urgent work matter (a really normal thing!!) they were forced to *sing a song*

    3. Colette*

      I’ve gone to plenty of trainings where I could have dealt with an hour of work without missing anything from the training. But the thing is, whether the participants are there and participating is not the facilitator’s responsibility.

      1. LizM*

        Facilitators can have a lot of different roles, but in my experience, some meeting hosts do expect the facilitator to keep participants engaged. Especially when their disengagement becomes distracting to others. People aren’t nearly as good or subtle at multitasking as they tend to think they are.

        1. Richard*

          Also, “keeping people engaged” can’t really mean “be so engaging that an adult won’t reach for their phone at some point and do something else,” because there is nothing on this planet that keeps a large group of adults engaged on that level for more than 90 seconds.

    4. Properlike*

      If you’ve ever been in a teacher’s professional development session, it can get pretty bad. My Masters program I constantly dealt with a group of people who TALKED THE WHOLE TIME they were in class.

      1. allathian*

        Hmmm, I wonder if the kids in these teachers’ classes also talk all the time, or do they get sent to the principal’s office?

    5. LizM*

      I don’t disagree. In a past life, I was a facilitator, including for people who are very senior in my organization and had similar urgent issues come up. We had to set strict ground rules BECAUSE they were so busy, that if we didn’t, half of them would not be engaged at any given time.

      We approached it in a few different ways. First, the expectation that they be engaged was communicated up front, before the start of the meeting, and they were encouraged to make sure they had back ups at their home office who can handle things like purchase requests or congressional inquiries. Or their staff should plan ahead and not submit purchase requests that are urgent, absent a true emergency. If, like in this case, wifi or cell coverage wouldn’t have been available in the meeting space, that also should have been communicated up front to participants so they could plan ahead. Similar to the LW Alison responded to the other day who didn’t know where the keys were because her employee was on medical leave, people this high up in the organization should not be a single point of failure for time sensitive situations.

      Second, we built in adequate breaks. This included a 10 min break every 60-90 min, a 30 min morning and afternoon break, and a full hour for lunch (90 min when we were at a location that required travel for lunch). This gave people time to quickly check in on the office and also stay more engaged during the presentations. A 40 min lunch with 20 min of walking sounds like a nightmare right now – I’m pregnant, and have hit the waddle stage, but have to eat regularly to avoid passing out. Ideally, lunch gives people time to eat, as well as a few minutes to either decompress or check in.

      Finally, we recognized that true emergencies do still come up, either professionally or personally. We just asked that if you needed to respond to an email or text, or make a phone call, that you step out of the room. That had two purposes, first, it minimized the distraction of people constantly being on their phone, and second, it made people think about whether this was really something they needed to deal with at that moment, or if it could wait until the next break.

      If someone was being disruptive or constantly late, we’d talk to them privately. Honestly, usually it was because they were dealing with a real emergency, and we just figured out how to accommodate without disrupting the group. Or it was a discrete way of addressing the situation that didn’t involve a song.

      I guess this is all a long way to say, I do think the facilitator was responding to real issues that come up in these trainings (and actually are amplified with a group of senior people), but there are much more professional ways to address them.

      1. anonymous73*

        This. The facilitator in this letter was on a power trip, but there are tactics that need to be put in place if you need people engaged because most are unable to disconnect unless forced to do so.

      2. Koala dreams*

        Thanks, it’s very interesting to read about the situation from the perspective of a professional facilitator.

  33. Falling Diphthong*

    Interested in real suggestions for what people should have done, in practice once this was rolling.

    Song singing: This was bad and should stop.

    No time to check in with work and home: Longer and more frequent breaks are the answer, but how easy is that to pull off mid-conference? Does everyone shave 15 minutes off their presentations? I can see that going over badly.

    No non-seminar time to discuss and process: This is really bad design, but again mid-conference is it something you can change? Are presenters receptive to hearing that their long-prepared talk is considered the boring one that should be Xed? (And I could see this actually being the case sometimes–but not a given, really depends on the group and how much prep was needed and the perceived costs of getting half or none of the time promised.)

    1. Imaginary Friend*

      Oh, interesting. I had been assuming that the facilitator was the only presenter and it never crossed my mind that there would be multiple presenters. And now that I think about it more, I suspect that there weren’t multiple presenters, because those people – as providers rather than consumers – would have felt more empowered to point out problems in the schedule’s structure. But we’ll never know unless LW joins in to comment.

      1. OP*

        There were multiple presenters! And, to complicate things, many of the attendees were also presenting. It was not a training, but rather a participatory week that was ironing out some policy coordination issues in our sector, so everyone attending brought an important perspective to the discussions. It was a very packed agenda, heavily choreographed, and engagement was important….. But I think some posters above suggested some better ways of getting energetic participation.

    2. LizM*

      A good facilitator will have check ins throughout the week. Every time I’ve participated in something like this, the facilitator and rest of the cadre would get together in the evening or next morning to go over the last day’s feedback. If we were getting consistent feedback that more breaks were needed, or noticing that people weren’t making it to the breaks without needing to excuse themselves, we would definitely talk as a group how to build in more breaks. It may be shortening some sessions, or eliminating a session altogether (hopefully not if the instructor had traveled to be there). A good facilitator will adjust the agenda to the needs of the group. It’s harder if it’s a set agenda that you have to get through for a certification, but even then, I would at least acknowledge that people have expressed that need, and be more flexible on start times and people taking a break mid-session.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Sounds like it was a location where the participants are there on site the whole week — as in, they sleep there.

        Have a longer lunch break, an afternoon break, and then a shortish session (say 60 – 90 minutes) after dinner. I’ve done retreats/workshops like that (not in ecology) and it works really well — I mean, I’m tired after dinner, and as an introvert I don’t want to see anyone any more, BUT having enough breaks and then reconvening in the early evening works — people have time to reflect, let their brains work on stuff in the background, and are more interested and interesting at that point.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        But we’re largely in agreement that this doesn’t seem to be a good facilitator.

        So if you’re at a week-long event that’s been poorly designed, can you draft a couple of people at lunch, grab the design by the horns Monday night, and wrestle it into a different shape by Tuesday? It seems like a lot of the things that are bad about this event would be more “Next time we have an event” notes, rather than things easy to change up on the fly.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Like, I’ll validate OP that it was bad. But to what extent was it fixable by OP–could she have wrested the ship onto a different trajectory? Or is this just something where people endure while making notes of what to avoid in the future?

        2. LizM*

          I mean, it really depends. But every training I’ve been to (and I actually suspect I’ve been to this location, or at least one very similar to it), has an organizer who’s not the facilitator. If it really wasn’t working for the participants and the facilitator isn’t open to hearing that, there was someone above her that OP and a band of other dissatisfied attendees could have gone to, and absent a required curriculum for a certification, there were probably adjustments that could have been made to at least make things a little more bearable even if they didn’t fix everything.

    3. Jackalope*

      As far as the extra breaks are concerned, they should have been planned there in the first place. If that wasn’t possible (for example they couldn’t know beforehand how long the walk to the dining room was), then either cut things shorter or extend the day a bit longer. You could almost certainly get buy-in for going 10-15 min later if it meant an adequate lunch time. And honestly, having done training before, you aren’t going to be able to keep everyone’s attention for that long anyway. It sounds like there was one facilitator in which case, cut out an example, shorten an exercise time, whatever, to get some extra time. If they aren’t planning for a bit of needed tweaking of their presentation then they aren’t doing it right.

    4. Koala dreams*

      The singing and the lack of breaks could have been brought up with the facilitator/the organizer as soon as it was apparent that it was a problem. It’s natural that everyone was too surprised to say anything the first day, but it’s not too late to bring it up the second or third day (or even the fourth). Ideally several people would bring it up as a group. If the facilitator wouldn’t listen, you could also bring it up with the instructor at the beginning of the next session. I can’t imagine the instructor would be too happy with the singing interrupting them at least. The breaks are more difficult, but sometimes things can be switched around with an evening session, or cutting some parts short.

      If you have a family emergency, you inform the facilitator or the organizer, and check with them when it makes sense to come back (sneak in during the workshop? Wait for the next session? Go home, if you won’t be able to participate fully?).

      I was once at a weekend conference where half the participants were on the same late train and didn’t show up until the second day at noon. The organizers worked very hard to move the most important sessions to later.

  34. Ann Perkins Knope*

    I know myself enough to know that, if no one else was pushing back, I definitely wouldn’t nonchalantly say “no” to singing a song. But I also know that I would almost certainly be late and that the last time I was pressured to sing (which I remember VIVIDLY because it’s TRAUMATIC and an AWFUL THING TO DO TO SOMEONE when I was, like, FIVE, for a klondike bar…which was not great motivation but I think still better than…whatever is happening here…) I absolutely dissolved into tears and hid under a table, so, I might handle it better today, but honestly I have no idea, as it has not come up since that day because, why would it.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      Even though my role at karaoke, in the Before Times, was to be the singer who made everyone else think, “Well if SHE’LL sing in public, then what do I have to be worried about?”, I wouldn’t want to sing on someone else’s orders.

      Even for a Klondike bar. :)

    2. KoiFeeder*

      “What would you do for a klondike bar” is an advertising jingle, not a child interaction guideline!

  35. Batgirl*

    This just seems like a shower of bad planning by the organisers. Why wasn’t food brought to the meeting place? When sessions are starting up on a big campus area with busy people doing life stuff, why was the facilitator jumping right into the topic instead of scheduling an intro discussion, or recap? Of course people aren’t going to get back right away, or at the same time unless you organise it so that they do!

  36. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Ecology in a remote location was mentioned in the letter. I wonder if this facilitator is accustomed to dealing with youth groups and has no experience leading a group of adults.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I like this, just because I usually appreciate when someone can imagine circumstances in which this behavior might arise. (Changing things, it can help to know whence the weirdness arose.)

      Upthread suggested band camp as a place this is done.

      Teenagers don’t need to check in to okay purchase orders, and are notorious (enough of them, probably a critical mass at a conference) for needing every minute scheduled so they don’t start looking for ways to occupy themselves.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and for teenagers at a camp, it would be entirely appropriate to confiscate their cellphones for the sessions, and hand them over for the longer breaks. But you can’t treat busy professional adults that way.

    2. pancakes*

      They’re bad at facilitating either way. Sort of like the way it’s not any less annoying to be on the receiving end of baby talk from someone knowing that they’re a kindergarten teacher. (A distant family member married someone who would use that tone outside of the classroom all the time). A professional facilitator needs to be paying attention to their audience, not going on auto-pilot.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        “A professional facilitator needs to be paying attention to their audience, not going on auto-pilot.” 100% this. And also I get that dealing with teenagers on their phones is totally different from dealing with adults who have responsibilities, so I could give the facilitator a pass on that, but making latecomers sing a song is ridiculous no matter who you are facilitating. I am a person who loves singing and regularly breaks out into song, but unless the workshop is a singing workshop, there is not one good reason to have anyone sing.

    3. anonymous73*

      It’s irrelevant. You don’t treat kids this way either. You need to set realistic expectations. Having very little break time for a full week all day conference is not the way to go, nor is humiliation tactics when you’re late.

    4. Koala dreams*

      I hope not, that would be even worse. At least adults have some choice in being there, while young people often don’t.

  37. Chris*

    I just want to add that I’m almost entirely certain that I know what the facility in question is, based on the description of the facilities, the attendees, and the painful lack of internet access. It’s a beautiful campus in the middle of nowhere. I spent a weekend there 10 years ago while my wife was there for training. Luckily nobody had a cruel facilitator making them sing songs at the time.

  38. Starland Vocal Band*

    I feel like anyone who has ever seen the Christmas Party episode of Arrested Development should be able to appreciate how quickly having people pick songs to sing in a work setting can go south.

  39. El l*

    In a way, this letter reminds me of the “farting during negotiations” letter.

    Namely, if you expect someone’s full attention for long blocks of time each day with few breaks or ways for them to attend to necessities, acts of rebellion will happen. I mean, a full week of 9 1/2 hours of this, with group shaming for minor infractions? You’re dealing with adults with judgment and responsibilities, not 9-year-olds at boarding school.

    If asked to sing, the best response seems to me to be, “No. And if you insist, I’ll call my boss and explain the situation.” Because when put to it – this person can’t really make you delay necessary calls and so on. Their only real power is that they are willing to make a scene and OP can’t. So that’s what you do to people like that – “No, and that’s that.”

  40. Anita Brake*

    I would have straight up lost my job before I would have agreed to sing a damn song because I was late to a meeting. I cannot imagine any instance in which that is appropriate. One year at camp, as a counselor, I told one of my campers she certainly did not have to sing a song at mealtime when her elbows were on the table (this was a “fun” thing the campers had done for years, and it was as horrible as you imagine to make children embarrass themselves in front of their friends (singing while standing up, with a red face most of the time). Well, that year was the last year this idiotic ritual was allowed at that camp. So yeah, no singing from me. I try to be the most helpful, kind, professional person I can possibly be at work. I would give you whatever you might need if I had access to it. But I refuse to be treated like that, AT ALL, EVER. And yes, as someone else suggested, feedback the crap out of this! Yelp too!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I was thinking the whole singing thing sounded like the kind of thing a camp counselor would do to a camper, and then I thought “But even then it’s awful.” Good for you for sticking up for your camper!

    2. Littorally*

      My summer camp did something similar, and I was just thinking of that and the humiliation that went with it. (Our version was everyone else sang *at* you while you stood up and walked around the table. No sitting down til the song was over.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, that’s still pretty bad, but I do think that being made to sing solo is even worse.

  41. Kate in Colorado*

    Sing a song for being late? Oh, I wish someone would. I’d go with Sweet Caroline and make it a Whole Thing where I encourage audience participation. In my mind it ends to thunderous applause and laughter. I take a bow as well as requests for after the next break.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      I want to be your friend and sit next to you at meetings and pass notes back and forth.

      1. Kate in Colorado*

        I would love to be your friend at meetings and pass notes where we complain about how the agenda could have just been an email! :) I’m that work friend lol

    2. Robin Ellacott*

      I was thinking this too… if I had any confidence singing I’d be tempted to try to get everyone to sing. I think enough people may have been annoyed enough at the process to do it. Sweet Caroline would be a great choice!

      1. Jam on Toast*

        @Kate in Colorado Your musical number would also totally include a magical spotlight that follows you around as you work the room during the performance and a group of back up singers! Because that’s how it works in MGM musicals.

        1. Kate in Colorado*

          YES! In my head somehow music gets cued up and there are waiters in the background waving lobster oven mitts a la My Best Friend’s Wedding. Maybe after I return late from the next break the musical number could be “I Say a Little Prayer for You”…

    3. Anita Brake*

      See, I need people like you to remind me of such ideas, so that instead of being quietly upset and indignant, I could create something that would backfire so epically that it would embarrass the facilitator and make them regret their stupid policies.

  42. CatPerson*

    Did anyone actually sing the song?? Because if a workshop leader told me to do that, I would look at her like she had an eye in the middle of her forehead and simply state no, I’m not going to do that. Please proceed with your lecture.

    1. anonymous73*

      That’s what I was thinking. I drink a ton of water and pee a lot. And if I stopped drinking a ton of water, I’d get a migraine. And if I was late and they told me I had to sing, I’d just look at them, laugh and sit down.

  43. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I do remote/virtual training for entry-level employees who are connecting to the class in their own homes, and I give my attendees a 10-20 minute break every 1-1.5 hours. I tell them that upfront because it’s 1. it’s basic pedagogy that people need a brain break about once an hour ESPECIALLY in virtual classes, and 2. it’s as much for me as it is for them. If you are a teacher/facilitator worth your salt, you know that content can’t be delivered the same way at the same pace for all classes. Those breaks are for me to adjust, find additional resources, replan an activity, etc.

    This person is awful.

  44. Person from the Resume*

    Here’s the thing. The audience can disruptive and distracting. And a “workshop” versus a conference or lecture implies that there’s more interaction expected than just being an audience member.

    … but when the punishment for being late is the embarrass the latecomer and completely disrupt your workshop, the goal is not actually punctuality and and lack of disruption.

    1. El l*

      Yeah, agree, there are reasonable limits – like cell phone breaks every few hours, but no talking on it during.

      This on the other hand resembles boot camp from Full Metal Jacket more than a sober ecology workshop!

  45. the cat's ass*

    OMG, how infantalizing and dismal. PLEASE let your job and the company running this sh!tshow know about this. Team trainings are hard enough without unreasonable expectations, and this was clearly unreasonable.

  46. New But Not New*

    Relevant to your work or not, the workshop location sucked. As did the facilitator. That would be my feedback, different, more accessible location and different facilitator. BTW, the location doesn’t sound very accessible.

  47. New But Not New*

    Oh, and OP, the simple answer to your question is yes, the facilitator was too controlling. And obnoxious.

  48. Robin Ellacott*

    There is a lot of literature out there about what is successful when facilitating groups and this is manifestly Not It.

    I hope the organization gets feedback about this facilitator and does not use them again, because all anyone will remember now is the stupid rules and how frustrated they were.

    I think I would personally refuse to sing, as someone with some clout at work AND a lot of hangups about my singing ability. But I can see people sitting there thinking that if the people more senior to them aren’t speaking up they have to do it. So no shade to those who didn’t speak up. This is bad planning and bad facilitation, plain and simple.

  49. Editor Person*

    Funny story about disruptions: I was producing an online class in the spring/summer of 2020. The attendees (adults in the workforce) were in their breakout rooms; the facilitator and I usually have our own room so we can get on the same page for what’s coming up. However this was a small group and she hopped into a breakout room with one of the attendees. This was a person who had been getting on our nerves for most of the class, constantly stepping away, probably more than he was in the class. So she works with him for a little bit and comes back to our room.

    She found out through working with him that he worked at a facility that manufactures Purell (or Clorox or Lysol but you get it). All my annoyance evaporated. If ever there was a time and place where someone was mega-busy….

    1. Anonymous4*

      A few years after graduation from e-school, I ran into a friend from class. He told of one of our classmates who had gotten a job with a manufacturing/processing company and was doing very well. Depending on your definition of the phrase. The classmate had a cellphone, a beeper, and a pager on his belt, and the only time they were not on his body was when he was in the shower or in bed, and they needed to be within arm’s reach. He was responsible for a certain part of a mfg process, and if something went wrong, it could go VERY wrong VERY quickly, and when the plant needed his attention, they needed it RIGHT NOW.

      I deeply sympathize with the guy working at P&G or Reckitt or wherever it was. He was probably a nervous wreck, trying to get 120% out of the processes that usually yielded 85.

  50. Sam*

    There are so many ways to help people show up on time that aren’t public humiliation!

    My preferred technique is to simply start meetings on time and not inconvenience others to catch latecomers up – happy to recap later but I’m not restarting a presentation because you weren’t able to be here on time. You can also make it a performance issue – if there’s someone who’s consistently late, have their boss take them aside and reiterate expectations.

    In a situation like a retreat, where everyone is together anyway, I’m baffled that the facilitator didn’t simply move people as a group – head into the cafeteria, tell everyone “it’s time to go”, and stay behind herding until everyone has left. If the facilitator can’t do this for some reason, it should fall to supervisors or even admin staff – pick any organized person and tell everyone they’ll be making sure things run on time.

    This facilitator clearly has a long list of issues, like the wildly long meetings and absurdly short breaks – and it’s also clear the organization has some red flags, like sending people on a retreat that disconnects them from their phones but not making a plan for them to do essential work that requires internet access. But I was surprised and disappointed to see others in comments suggesting that public humiliation is an appropriate response to issues in the workplace. That is literally never the answer.

    1. londonedit*

      Yes – if you go to the theatre it’s perfectly normal for there to be signs saying that they’ll try to admit latecomers where possible, but you’ll have to wait for a suitable break in the performance. I don’t see why they can’t close the doors at the start time, and anyone who arrives late will have to wait until there’s a suitable point for them to be allowed quietly into the room without disturbing anyone. If you’ve missed the first five minutes, you’ll just have to catch up afterwards. No need for anyone to be made to sing in public (which surely would waste more time and be far more disruptive than just allowing someone to quietly slip into their seat!)

  51. Res Admin*

    We had an off-site training like this once years ago (albeit much closer to our offices). The facilitator was similarly dictatorial–esp. about cell phones and any conversation. Half way through, one of our team members decided she was over being treated like a baby, stood up, walked out, and hiked the 4 miles back to our offices. On the positive side, at least she left before the facilitator took a (lengthy) personal call on her cell phone–while she was standing at the podium with her mic still live. I am sure the resulting explosion would have been epic (this person had anger issues). Unfortunately, this was the same team member that had driven all of us there and squeezed the van into an impossibly tight spot in the garage… I should have walked back with her.

    1. Imaginary Friend*

      OH MY GOD THE HYPOCRISY!! I had an actual, literal jaw-drop moment at the facilitator taking a personal call during the event.

      1. Res Admin*

        I know! And it was mid-talk. With her husband about dinner, kids, etc.–nothing time sensitive or critical.

    2. Properlike*

      NOPE. I was stringent with my classroom rules (because the “student taking a call in the middle of class thing was the rule, not the exception.”) However, those rules also applied to me. The only time I broke them was when my oldest broke his leg right as class started, and I told them I was doing it.

      Similarly, all a student had to do was give me a heads up that something was going on that they may need to step out and take a call. If it was during a big exam, I’d watch their phone for them at the front of the room.

  52. Critical Roll*

    It’s fascinating that all these kinda senior people just… rolled with it. Some of these things should have been obvious as bad planning before anyone signed off on them, like the lack of breaks and need for speed-walking. But the song thing? Senior level folks just sang? I believe it but man, humans are so strange.

    1. El l*

      That’s what puzzles me about this, too. Who should you be more worried about – a member of congress, or some facilitator who you’ll never see after next week?

      If in doubt, OP should’ve just called their boss and said the facilitator was getting in the way of priority duties.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I want to know what was being sung. What song goes best with “I was a minute late because I was responding to an advisory request from a member of congress”?

      1. Critical Roll*

        “I’m just a bill / Yes, I’m only a bill / And I’m sitting here on Cap-i-tol Hill”…

    3. takeachip*

      I’m not surprised. I was a facilitator for about 20 years (still do it occasionally but have pivoted my career). Most people automatically go into “school” mode in a workshop setting, and defer to what they perceive as classroom authority. I always made sure to explicitly give people permission to manage their comfort needs as one of our group norms, and in return I asked for people to respect the group’s time and not distract from anyone else’s learning. This put things on a more “adult/adult” footing right from the beginning.

    4. anonymous73*

      That was my thought. It’s more understandable if you’re new or entry level and afraid of losing your job or getting into trouble if you don’t follow the rules. But at a senior level? Nope.

  53. DocOctavius*

    What I would give to make that person listen to my horrendous renditions of long broadway classics

  54. Elsewhere1010*

    I’d be happy to sing. Brunhilde’s aria in the Immolation Scene from Wagner’s Gotterdammerung (the fourth opera of the Ring Cycle) runs just a bit over 20 minutes.

    Once I start, just try and stop. Seriously… just try.

    1. Salad Daisy*

      I was thinking more along the lines of Take This Job and Shove It. Accompanied by a little dance.

  55. Phony Genius*

    I have been in many webinars where the facilitator starts and finishes EXACTLY on time. No leeway whatsoever. If you’re not ready, they start anyway. But no calling people out or singing. It does seem that professional facilitators pride themselves on punctuality.

  56. Palliser*

    Maybe 6 years ago a good (but pretty woo-woo) friend recommended Landmark Forum to me as seminar that could spur professional and personal growth. It is the absolute closest I’ve ever been to attempted indocrination into a cult. The faciltator emphasized ulitimate accountability, and if you were late in the morning or after a break you got in trouble (I mean literally yelled at) and eventually we were all yelled at if anyone in the group was late. The approach was quite similar to what the OP has described above–soliciting agreement to a list of rules without knowing how feasible they would be to follow, punitive punishments, expecting slavish compliance to the facilitator and organization without them taking into account the needs of the attendees. I wonder if the facilitator attended a workship and took these tenents to heart.

    At minimum, I hope you provided negative feedback to the facilitator and their organiztion after the fact. This is enraging bs.

    1. Avid knitter*

      Interesting. I did landmark 17 years ago (oldest son was a baby; that’s why I know when it was). They encouraged us to be on time. Explained the importance of it, blah, blah, blah. But no one got yelled at for being late or quietly leaving to go to the bathroom. People were pretty consistently on time and it wasn’t disruptive if they were late.

      I enjoyed landmark and got a lot out of it. But I certainly see why it’s not for everyone and there are a few aspects of it that I didn’t like. I’m sorry you had a bad experience.

    2. Ermintrude*

      For the benefit of future readers, I was involved with Landmark on and off for about 8 years and don’t ever recall a course leader yelling at participants for being late. They’ve certainly held participants to account and impressed the importance of timeliness.
      Whoever ran that Forum sounds like a shocker and not a good facilitator for the intention of the course.

  57. Anon for this*

    I *just* finished a three day corporate training where the facilitator required people dance if they came in late – even when some of the tardy folks were coming straight from their actual work obligations. As in, facilitator would stop presenting, turn on pop music on their phone, and keep it playing until their target uncomfortably flailed their arms for a few seconds. Felt like the idea was to humiliate people into making sure they were on time…

  58. Sadie*

    Another professional facilitator here! Sorry you had an experience like that, OP. Yes, the facilitator should have built in more time for the essentials of life in 2022. I specifically check about lunch arrangements – an army being taught marches on its stomach. I give people permission to check phones during workshops, and I have my strategies for if someone is doing that to the point of distraction. I find laptops are the real attention-killer.

    It helps us as facilitators if people speak up about this, either personally or on behalf of an organization. And, almost always, you have the chance to provide feedback about your facilitator. Trust me, your facilitator will be dealing with your feedback longer than you were there on the course. At my company, we live and die based on workshop feedback.

    I have some sympathy for the facilitator because facilitating since March 2020 has been a struggle. This facilitator probably knows they were lucky to get you all in the room, for such a long time, far away from distractions. They were lucky to get you in an in-person room at all! Like other educators, workshop facilitators have dealt with a million disruptions, and our field is having exceptional turnover. We have also seen clients get EXTREMELY demanding, while attendees’ attention spans drop. I wonder what back-end pressures this facilitator was dealing with, scheduling such long days for you and demanding all your focus.

    1. Properlike*

      I am so curious to hear about your strategies when it comes to distracted phone checking!

      1. Nanani*

        These are adults so distracted phone checking shouldn’t acutally matter.
        If a participant isn’t paying attention, it’s the participant’s problem.

        As long as they aren’t doing something disruptive, say watching videos with volume others can hear, don’t bother policing people’s phones.

        1. Sadie*

          I agree 95% of the time! It’s very rare that an attendee’s phone use is OOC. And often the ones grabbing their phones the most are… managers, CEOs, other supervisors who decided to ‘sit in’ and ‘observe’.

        2. Richard*

          That’s simply not true. If you’re in a workshop that requires interaction, and most of the participants are obviously reading stuff on their phones and not paying attention, it makes the experience worse for everyone. It’s not unreasonable to set expectations for people’s attention and engagement and push them to meet those expectations.

          1. Same Hat*

            This, exactly. Unless it’s a completely passive lecture/presentation-style training, it’s absolutely disruptive and detrimental to everyone’s experience for people to zone out and be constantly checking their phones, thus missing instructions or crucial information, not engaging with others in activities or discussion, etc.

            But even beyond this, in my opinion being very clearly disengaged (outside of a short checking of the phone or occasional message here or there, most facilitators understand that, I’m talking about people who are clearly just scrolling through their phones) even at a passive-style lecture or presentation is disrespectful to the person facilitating/presenting, especially if it’s a small group and the disengagement is obvious. The facilitator is a person, not a mindless video being shown on a screen, and (even if it’s something people really don’t want to be at it’s usually not the facilitator’s fault) is owed at least the basic courtesy of the attention of the participants as much as they are able.

      2. Sadie*

        It’s really simple: I just go and stand over/by the person while I’m presenting. Once I’m ‘within range’ all kinds of personal boundaries kick in, and the phone is put down. At least for a little bit.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yes, well, whatever pressures the facilitator was dealing with does not justify their behavior one bit. It was obnoxious, designed to humiliate, counter productive, and unprofessional.

      The problem was not the long days and demand for focus — the problem was with how the facilitator addressed “lapses” from the participants.

      1. Sadie*

        Agreed – especially about bringing everything to a halt for a question, and forcing singing when late! At times I have exercises where I need to get people to draw. That’s difficult enough for some people. I’d be bitterly resentful of being made to sing for running a few minutes late. I really do wonder what’s going on with the facilitator’s organization. The question is worth asking, because OP’s group would have paid a mint for this workshop.

  59. Ins mom*

    Damn, I hope it was a really, really good workshop! Think I would have picked up and gone home.

  60. Kayem*

    I had a professor who would make people who were late to class sing a song that was a minimum of 2 1/2 minutes long in order to have permission to be in the classroom, even if they walked in 30 seconds late. This was a class of adults returning to college and the class was made up of working professionals with families, most of whom got off work half an hour before class started. Between being stuck at work late, rush hour traffic, and family emergencies, someone came in late every week. The professor didn’t care and enforced this ridiculous singing for our seats rule. So instead of a student quietly slipping into a seat in the back, the whole class had to stop what we were doing and wait for someone to finish singing. It was so ridiculously disruptive. Worse than that, many students would opt to just wait in the lobby for their next class because they couldn’t bear to be forced to sing in front of everyone.

    I missed class once because I got held up by a wreck on the drive there and would have arrived half an hour late. Not only was I terrified of being forced to sing, singing for two and a half minutes straight is physically painful for me. Plus I knew how annoying it was for the class to have to stop everything and wait for someone to sing a song.

    So I sat in the hallway next to the door and when another student came back from using the bathroom, I asked her to take my hearing aid remote mic into the classroom with her so I could hear the lecture while I was out in the hall. Another late student wound up sitting next to me and I relayed to her what I could hear from inside the classroom. If missing more than one class wouldn’t have affected my grade, I might have volunteered to sit in the hall and relay lecture information to late students for the rest of the term.

  61. Rebecca*

    “I am realizing, however, that there are jobs that don’t accommodate these kinds of tasks…”

    This facilitator was obnoxious and controlling, but it surprises me that you are only just realizing that these jobs exist. I am a teacher: I have to wait until school vacation to go to a dentist, unless it is an emergency worthy of calling in sick. I can’t take a call from my kid’s sitter during the school day or go to the bank during the school week. There are a LOT of jobs where you don’t have this kind of scheduling freedom.

  62. Esmeralda*

    That facilitator is the definition of a martinet.

    I work with college freshmen. I trust them to decide for themselves if they need to step out and take a call. If they’re late, I point them to an open chair and continue without interruption . If they’re talking while I am or while someone else is, I eyeball them; they either stop or apologize quietly.

    You’re not even an adolescent unfamiliar with how college works!! You’re a professional!

    If you have an opportunity to evaluate the workshop, OP, I would do so, grading it poorly for the facilitator’s attitude, tone, treatment of participants, and quality of teaching (because that’s shitty teaching). And then list the other issues, because while those = someone didn’t plan well, they aren’t as serious as the facilitator’s crappiness.

    That’s my professional opinion.

  63. clearlyMillennial*

    imagine all the amazing songs one could sing. I probably would have started with a WAP remix and a little of “Girls in the Hood” on the side

  64. Prof Space Cadet*

    I work in higher education. This would not fly in a room of faculty or administrators — there would have been an open rebellion is someone had tired this. Unfortunately, there are *some* college faculty who try to run their classes like this, but at most places, they would get the message very quickly that this was unacceptable. (Depending on what the song was, forcing people to sing could potentially be grounds for a Title IX complaint).

  65. Nanani*

    Sounds like someone used to dealing with middle schoolers doesn’t know how to adapt their methods to adults.

      1. Nanani*

        Good! I fully agree that this isn’t ok to do to kids but it definitely reminds of stuff a power-tripping camp counseler or middle school non-homeroom (think gym or something) teacher would have done back in the days

    1. Sadie*

      I’m seeing a steady stream of people quitting as classroom teachers getting into adult facilitation/training adults, so this makes sense to me.

  66. Snarky Snarkerson*

    I have trouble understanding how we (the collective we of generally nice people) keep getting sucked into this kind of experience. I would like to see what happened if the late person refused to sing because, for me, unless there are firearms involved, I’m not singing. It would be a polite refusal, but I would still refuse.

    1. anonymous73*

      This. It boggles my mind that nobody stood up to this person. I don’t like conflict, but I would not put up with this type of humiliation tactic.

    2. t*

      A lot of people who write to AAM are not assertive enough. There’s a meta-issue in the workplace and in our society (in the US at least), where too many people are conditioned to take garbage at work or forced to take garbage by lack of power in the workplace and the labor market.

      1. anonymous73*

        And that’s why it will continue, because nobody will stand up to anyone for fear of being impolite or seen as unprofessional, when the behavior imposed upon those unwilling to stand up for themselves is actually what’s impolite and unprofessional.

  67. Anony*

    A big issues here seems to be that not enough breaks were built into the day–well, and the singing which is ridiculous, but that’s been covered by others! I think it is reasonable to expect people who commit to a workshop to be present and not checking their phones – yes, even senior leadership – if they decide to attend the workshop. When we do workshops, I usually schedule a 15-20 minute break every 2 hours – but during those 2 hours I expect participants to be engaged in the workshop. I would also never have less than an hour-long lunch break. I think with more breaks (and of course no singing punishments) this could have been more manageable.

  68. birb*

    I know a lot of people with diagnosed anxiety disorders who would be Not Ok in this situation. If they were to face consequences for refusing (being denied access to further meetings) after providing a note from a doctor, would that be discriminatory? What rights to people legally have here?

  69. The OTHER Other*

    The whole set-up here reeks to me of the tricks used by sleazy aggressive sales presentations (think MLM a or “make millions in real estate!), or self-help cults, especially EST.

    The “facilitator” seems to have a lot of issues around anger, resentment, and being in power. This combined with the long duration and isolation would make this pretty hellish IMO. I’m getting flashbacks of Patty Hearst’s story of being abducted by the SLA.

    I hope it was worth taking your organization’s senior leadership off the board and subjecting them to ritual humiliation for a week. That is a lot of headwind to fly into, i.e. to make this worthwhile, major improvements or new initiatives would have to result. And this without even factoring the actual expenses.

  70. FormerStateGovernment*

    OP, I am wondering if your facilitator was someone I used to work with. She had a role that involved a lot of large group facilitation for everything from 2-3 hour meetings to multi-day events. These included participants from our government agency but sometimes also outside stakeholders. She would act like this and impose these types of strict controls (not the singing, though). Her big one was, if people were talking, she would stop and say “clap once if you can hear me..”. She would then wait and glare at anyone taking and would not continue until people clapped. Her overall approach was insulting and led to a lot of the events not being successful since so many people were put off by the way she acted.

    1. t*

      “Her big one was, if people were talking, she would stop and say “clap once if you can hear me..”

      I don’t think this is bad – this is a good way to get people’s attention, and can be done with no aspect of humiliation.

  71. It's not Monday*

    Wow, I’m pretty sure I’ve had this same training class. That includes the “must sing a song” if you are late.
    What was even more fun was instead of saying “are there any questions or comments?”, the instructor would end with “Does that make sense?” Which basically discouraged questions.
    The irony is that the class was to help people communicate better with others by training us to understand our own style and be able to adapt to another’s communication style.

  72. AllyKat*

    I’m a facilitator for a few trainings and workshops and I hate people arriving late. But I’d never do this! I let my participants know that if they miss a certain amount of the course (usually 20 minutes or more) I can’t certify them (this is a rule I have to follow to maintain my trainer status), so I’m happy to rebook them in another session if something comes up and that day isn’t a good one anymore. But I also tell them that they’re adults so I expect them to manage their own learning. They don’t need to ask me to use the washroom, if they need to take a call they can duck out, they don’t even need to stay sitting in their seat if they learn better being able to stand. I also schedule multiple breaks throughout the day so they can check emails and move around.

    ..I always thought those were basics of how to run a workshop. But apparently not?

    1. Onedoesnotwalkintomordor*

      I agree with you – but not all workshops can just be not certified / you are free to come and go as you please.
      In design sprints i actually need people there – or we won’t get to an outcome.

      …. I don’t like to set up rules for lateness … and at the same time i cannot just let people come and go.

  73. Lizzo*

    I must know: where can I sign up for something this facilitator is hosting? I’m gonna be perpetually late and sing about blaming it on my juice.

  74. anone*

    I am also a facilitator. This is bad facilitation. For people to be really present and engaged in a workshop, they can’t be hungry, distracted, stressed out, or embarrassed. She could have built more time in for meals, arranged for food to be brought in, created more breaks so people could check their messages and deal with pressing personal and work issues–so many things other than being controlling and out of touch, and in general treated people with dignity and respect (I won’t say “like adults” because honestly children, teens, and young people ALSO need to be facilitated in ways that are respectful and dignified and also need to be able to meet their needs in order to be present and engaged!)

    I see a lot of people wondering if they’ve been facilitated by this exact person. Alas, there are just that many bad facilitators out there.

  75. DiscoCat*

    I often facilitate project workshops and similar meetings. Lateness is ok as long as you come in quietly and go to your place without much palaver. If you’re not listening because you’re busy with your emails or devices, but you’re doing so quietly- fine. All these things are your responsibility, you choose where your priorities lie and where your focus and attention go. However sidetalk, any kind of disruption to the flow, asking for things to be repeated because you came in later or busy with something else is grating, aldo for other participants. It holds up the programme and can lead to significant delays; it’s also disrespectful to all the other attendees and the facilitator. I have stopped humouring requests for repetitions by saying that they can catch up in the break or get filled in by their colleagues. A facilitator isn’t a school marm, but we don’t have to put up with all shenanigans either.

  76. Sam*

    Was the facilitator inspired by the retreat episode of The Thick of It? I’m imagining people queueing to stand on the kids’ slide to get reception. Yes and ho!

  77. SMH*

    My husband is a great singer and makes up songs all the time. I can imagine he would have made up a song about the facilitator that would have embarrassed them and then he would have encouraged everyone else to sing along on the next chorus, easily wasting half their time. My husband is usually very considerate of people but force him to do something just because you think you can you will see another side of him.

  78. Corpse Grinder Guy*

    Who were these participants that they tolerated any of this? Can me entitled but I would have no problem telling the coordinator to grow up and show some respect to her clients to her face in front of the group.

  79. CS*

    Your company needs to screen workshop facilitators for diversity… who would understand that people have lives outside of work and might need to be reached for emergencies, for, uh, I don’t know, such as children.

  80. Orange You Glad*

    Were there any other conference organizers there other than the facilitator? I’ve been to many conferences where the schedule and rules have to change on the fly to accommodate the realities of the venue and the conference attendees. Generally, if anyone foresees any issues during day 1, they bring it up to the organizers 1-on-1 and the next morning we get an announcement about a change. If I were at a conference like what OP described, I would have said something immediately.

    I’ve been at plenty of professional conferences where people discreetly step in and out to use the bathroom/get a drink/take a call. I try to only step out if it’s a session I’m not particularly engaged with or the topic isn’t relevant to me, but I always make sure I’m not disrupting anyone else.

    I (or my company) spent a lot of money to be at these events to benefit myself. If a facilitator tried to pull this type of thing, I would remind them of that or demand a refund and leave.

  81. Good Morning Miss Bliss*

    The facilitator sounds like a former K-12 Educator. It sounds like they were trying to enforce clear and consistent consequences for undesired actions. This is probably what they are used to doing to stay on task, ensure that all of the people are getting all of the required information, and to not show favoritism to anyone in particular by letting them bend the rules for *reasons*.

    However, I would hate to be in that workshop.

  82. Anita Brake*

    Ba—by Shark!
    Do doo, do doo doo
    Baby Shark!
    Do doo, do doo doo

    All the verses. Plus Aunts, Uncles, and cousins!

  83. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’m just at that level of not giving an eff anymore that I’d probably go ‘I can belch the alphabet. Try me’

  84. Anonymous for This*

    “Many of us have senior roles within our organizations and cannot postpone approving payments or responding to advisory requests from members of congress.”

    Why were even the senior people willing to go along with this nonsense?

    While I cant sa anything polite about Roger Waters, I’d be singing “Another Brick In The Wall”.

  85. The Witch of Sanity's Annex*

    FFS!! Was this a workshop for adult businesspersons or 10 year olds? OP, if you haven’t already, PLEASE you or your org contact the facilitator’s home org and report this. I cannot even imagine being treated like this during a professional development seminar.
    No one called her out on this stuff in the moment though?

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