my job makes me feel like I’m the worst kid in gym class

A reader writes:

I work a job that is typically considered high-stress in a low-paying industry. My workplace and the satellite offices will get together on days the workplace is closed to clients and take us for a (paid) day of team-building fun. We go bowling, play paintball, go to arcades, that sort of thing, in teams that are randomized across offices so we mingle. These outings typically include free restaurant meals and sometimes free alcohol.

The problem is that I have terrible motor skills. This is not “just” clumsiness or a problem of fitness. The long story short is that I should have received more aggressive PT and OT after a years-long period being bedridden as a child. I just don’t have typical adult body coordination and, despite some later in life PT, I never will. My hand-eye coordination is zilch. I can’t drive or ride a bike or play most video games. I have difficulty tying shoes and my handwriting is only legible because I took years of calligraphy classes. This usually doesn’t affect my life too much — but I can’t bowl! Or aim a gun in paintball, or shoot pool, or throw darts, or successfully do any of the other barsports-adjacent activities that we do at these staff days. My body simply cannot do the thing.

Everyone else has fun at these things, but people definitely get exasperated when I end up on their team. I’ve watched the “ringers” of our workplace (we have a few former pro athletes) quietly — and not so quietly — switch over to a team when they see I’m on it to balance it out. I’ve been at this organization longer than most and having to humiliate myself and irritate a rotation of my full host of coworkers every six weeks is taking a toll.

I don’t know if I can ask that we switch to other activities especially given that everyone else, including coworkers who are living with more impactful physical disabilities, do fine. Being embarrassingly bad at foosball tournaments isn’t exactly a disability to be accommodated, but I feel like I’m not a part in the bonding rituals. I feel terrible dragging everyone else down and it’s really alienating to know I am the infamous bad luck charm of our entire organization. I don’t even know what I’d suggest as a replacement, given that the options we have already are very much inclusive of fitness level and it’s not anyone else’s fault I have weird muscles. I love my job otherwise but this is bizarrely disheartening. Any advice?

Please speak up! This sounds awful for you, and it’s not right that it’s happening so regularly. It would be one thing if they organized these sorts of activities once or twice a year, but every six weeks?! That’s incredibly frequent.

I’d also bet some cash that you’re not the only one who finds the “let’s showcase our physical coordination” days to to be too much. I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this topic, but employers have an obligation to be thoughtful about this sort of thing — especially when it’s happening every six weeks — and to make sure the mix of activities they’re selecting is truly inclusive. That doesn’t mean they can’t organize the occasional bowling or darts tournament; they can. But if they’re organizing team-building with this frequency, they need to do more to mix it up and account for a wider range of physical ability and interests on your staff. (And I know you said the activities are already inclusive of fitness level, but … they’re not. You being a case in point.)

So please do talk to whoever organizes these and ask if they can include more variety. Could they consider, I don’t know, a picnic? A movie outing? A cooking class? A tea and coffee tasting? A paint-your-own-pottery session? A non-physical volunteer project? Or even just … a free day off? You don’t actually need to team-build every six weeks and, particularly in a high-stress field, I guarantee people would appreciate a day off. (And really, if it’s high-stress, I’ve got to wonder if it might be slightly less stressful if you weren’t losing one full day every six weeks to go play darts and so forth … but I know that’s not the point of your letter.)

Alternately or in addition to that, can you give yourself a different role on the days where the activities involve motor skills? Can you volunteer to be the score-keeper, the referee, or the photographer? (You can do that even if those things aren’t really needed.) I bet there are a lot of different roles you could just announce you’ll be filling that would get you out of doing stuff you’d rather not be forced into. If you’re worried about pushback, you could explain ahead of time to your boss or whoever organizes these that that’s what you’re going to be doing and why.

But please do speak up. And if you feel awkward about it, remember that the professed point of all these activities is team-building. They’re not achieving their purpose if one person on the team is being systematically alienated by them. A decent employer would want to know.

Read an update to this letter

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. jasmine*

    Coworkers shouldn’t get exasperated when you’re on their team. And they don’t have to “balance things out”. It’s team building activity. It’s about building your relationships with each other, not who wins. This really is giving off gym class vibes :/

    Sorry you have to deal with this OP

    1. Bruneschelli*

      Well put! If you don’t feel more connected and of value to your team because of the shared activity, the shared activity cannot be quantified as team-building.

    2. Melissa*

      I agree! I will say that I was holding my breath as I started reading the sentence that started with “I’ve watched the ringers of our workplace…” and was relieved to learn that they are doing their best in a bad situation, by switching TO your team in order to help out. That is compassionate of them. But yes, obviously, this shouldn’t be their problem or yours either, and it sounds awful for you!

      1. Workerbee*

        I don’t read that as compassionate at all.

        “I’ve watched the “ringers” of our workplace (we have a few former pro athletes) quietly — and not so quietly — switch over to a team when they see I’m on it to balance it out.”

        Even when they are doing it “quietly” – which, people can still SEE them, so – it’s still a blatant action taken that humiliates the OP, as the letter continues to point out. They’re only doing it so the rest of the grown-up children don’t get butt-hurt because god forbid they don’t have 100% of the fun every.six.weeks.

        That’s my take on it, anyway.

        1. Anecdata*

          I wouldn’t go that far — I think most people find casual sports-y games more fun if the teams are relatively evenly matched, and I often see this kind of quiet balance out the better-and-worse players thing happening

          1. Rose*

            Agreed, and if OPs team is always confident they’re going to loose badly at the start, I don’t think that’s going to make things better for OP either.

            1. empty green*

              But it isn’t supposed to be a competition. It’s team-building. How does that fact get lost?

              1. Timothy (TRiG)*

                Is the concept of “friendly competition” completely alien to you? Many people find it fun.

                1. Sloanicota*

                  I think this is the issue for me; all the events seem to be competition-based. That’s one model for team bonding but I noticed that none of Alison’s suggestions were competitive in nature. I’m not saying no competitive events, I’m saying a greater diversity of events so that they aren’t all competitive would be better – I bet there’s other people than OP that don’t always want to be trying to win a game and beat their coworkers.

                2. LadyVet*

                  A lot of people have heard of “friendly competition” but have never actually seen people be friendly in the course of a game.

                  If you know you aren’t good at something but still enjoy doing it, the people who are in it to win it tend to not be friendly when you prove to be as uncoordinated as you claimed.

                3. JustaTech*

                  “Friendly competition” can actually be a hard concept for more folks than you might think.
                  For example, my work had to stop our “friendly” softball games because a few senior guys weren’t capable of keeping it “friendly” (to the point of screaming and cussing out coworkers in front of their kids).

                  When we’ve done things like bowling it’s always been very casual (we only keep score because the lanes do it for us, no teams), and because bowling isn’t a big deal in our area so we’re all pretty equally ok-ish at it. The one time we had someone who was actually good (a guy from another site) he was *incredibly* modest about it. “Oh, I’m not nearly as good as my wife.” (His wife was a multiple-time national champion.)

                  But as soon as there are teams, no matter how friendly the competition is, one person’s lack of skill can become the focus and make the whole thing uncomfortable.
                  Enjoying an activity you’re bad at is a hard skill to re-capture (we’re all good at it as babies), and it’s much harder when other people want/need for you to be good in order for them to have fun.

                4. Vio*

                  Many do, but many don’t. That’s another reason why it’s better to have more variety in activities.
                  Personally I’m not a competitive person at all. If I win then I feel bad for whoever lost. If I lose I feel bad for myself (and my team when there is one). So I much prefer non-competitive activities. I’ll still play pool or bowling sometimes but doing so regularly would be far too stressful.

        2. Beth*

          It reads to me as the athletic colleagues trying their best on an individual level (or at least, the ones doing it quietly are clearly trying). They presumably aren’t in charge of deciding what activities are being done at team-building events; they can’t change that OP is bad at the activities that were chosen; and they can’t change that apparently some of their colleagues get competitive about these games instead of treating them as silly no-stakes bonding activities. They just get there and, like everyone else, notice that there is an imbalance and it is likely to be a problem. Responding by trying to quietly balance things out is compassionate, in that moment.

          Their actions don’t change that this entire system of team-building is set up to humiliate OP. But them doing nothing wouldn’t be better–it sounds like this entire situation is going to be terrible for OP no matter what they do. Changing that will need fundamentally changing the outings, by not doing coordination-requiring activities every time, and/or by allowing OP (and anyone else who isn’t loving these activities) to opt into non-player roles, and/or by removing the “competition between two teams” element entirely. Any and all of those should be easy to do, but they do need advance planning and the buy-in of whoever is actually planning these activities.

        3. Tiger Snake*

          I think you’re attributing malice where none is intended.

          A competition is more fun when teams are more closely matched. The goal of these employees is to try and make the most of things to have fun, and that means evening out the teams.

          That the OP feels humiliated as a result is unfortunate, and its valid they’re not feeling okay about things or having fun – but that doesn’t mean that’s what their coworkers are trying to do. They’re just trying to make the best of things best they can.

      2. Turtlewings*

        Same here — I expected to hear they were switching away from LW to have a better chance of winning. I feel like “balancing things out” shows that they care more about everyone having fun than showing off their physical prowess, which is nice. (As Anecdata said, it’s more fun if the teams are fairly even, and they may even be intending to spare LW embarrassment by making up for her low scores, etc., so that the team she’s on doesn’t automatically lose.)

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, it’s one of those things where the “fair” solution (trying to give teams a slightly more even chance of winning) skips over the compassionate solution (having some team building activities that do not require physical skills at all) on accident.

    3. human-woman*

      Exactly this. Even if nothing else changes with the type of activity or the frequency, this is so uncool. My last job had an annual bowling tournament and a few other lightly competitive teambuilding activities, and no one would have dreamed of excluding or avoiding our coworker who had a visible physical disability. If these people are so competitive, they need to go join a league to get it out of their systems, and lighten up at the office teambuilding events.

      1. My take*

        I read this as these people would switch *to* LW’s team to help them out (so they are not being petty or competitive — they are trying to balance). Honestly I think it sounds like they are trying to do a good thing, but regardless it sucks for LW.

        1. DataSci*

          As someone who was “the worst kid in gym class” I 100% read it as the athletes wanting off the team with LW, and had to go back and reread to see it your way. Those scars run deep.

          1. Rose*

            It’s not really “My takes way” though. OP clearly says people super stars are switching TO their team to even things out.

            I get this could be awkward but OPs team always loosing automatically is also awkward and unlike a switch that will take 30 seconds and might not be noticed by everyone, it would last for the entire time of activity and be very visible.

        2. Workerbee*

          I responded to this above, and the more I think of it, the more I can see the LW just cringing as they see the superstars come over to save the day – from them. Eesh.

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            Especially the “not so quiet” ones. What are they saying???

        3. CountryLass*

          Same, they want it to be fun and team-building with some friendly competition, and that’s not going to happen if one team is steam-rolled based on one member who (basically) has a disability but is being forced to participate. So I see it as them trying to subtly help without drawing attention by saying “Wow, red-team has OP, they are going to lose! I’ll come and help as I’m SO awesome I count as 2 people!”

      2. birb*

        Seriously. I would be horrified if we had a teambuilding activity and one of my employees decided to “even the teams” because they’d identified a disabled coworker as a “liability” and took it upon themselves to “even things out”.

    4. Hannah Lee*

      A friend of mine was just subbing as a first grade teacher and had to have a talk with a student who pouted when she didn’t like the group she got put in for a group activity. And mentioned later to the other adult in the classroom that she was surprised that behavior was still going on so late in the school year … because usually 6-7 year olds learn that it’s not okay and how to control those responses in the first month or so of school.

      grown adults still pulling faces, at work, is mind boggling.

      And yeah they should be changing up these team building events… it’s a lot and a lot of the same kind of sporty stuff which is not good.

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Oh, I was a Scout leader with 11 to 14 year olds and they would try to position themselves so that we when counted off heads 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 and told “All the ones over there, all the twos over there,” etc. that those who were friends would all be the same number.

        They would all smirk proudly thinking they had pulled a fast one on us.

        Until I did, “1 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 3 – 3…” Oh, the looks on their faces. It’s not behaviour that stops at six or seven.

        1. Mack*

          I think there’s a big difference between trying to be grouped with your friends vs trying to avoid being grouped with someone.

          1. Manfred Longshanks*

            Maybe in terms of there being no malicious intent, but the effect on the kid that nobody is friends with is the same regardless. The same kid ends up excluded. I applaud teachers/leaders who assign groups and firmly enforce them – I wish more of mine had done that when I was a kid. I’d have spent less time crying on my own

      2. Random Dice*

        Is she new to teaching? 6 and 7 year olds are still very young. That’s kindergarten and first grade.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      Ugh, I was having major flashbacks to being picked last reading this. Why were gym classes designed for sadism??? (I would hope they’re better these days.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, when I was in junior high, my PE teacher did the lazy thing, picked two captains who then picked the teams. I was always the last, or sometimes the second last, to be picked, and I hated it.

        My son who’s in middle school now has never experienced this. Teams have always been assigned by his teacher. Granted, my son’s athletic abilities are average rather than useless, like mine, so he likely wouldn’t be the last to be picked anyway. But regardless, in the old system, someone’s always the last to be picked.

        I can ride a bike, but something like bowling’s completely beyond me.

      2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        I hear you! I was always the worst in gym class, too, and it was torture. To make matters worse, my family moved when I was in 6th grade from a state where p.e. wasn’t a regular part of the elementary school curriculum to one where it started much earlier. I was immediately to expected to play competitive games like volleyball that I had zero experience with and didn’t even know the rules for…with kids that had been playing them for years.

        If I’d been a natural athlete, I might have done all right, but as it was, I floundered. The teachers never offered any help or even checked to see it I had any idea what I was supposed to be doing, and I was too humiliated to ask.

        I really hope college students who are training to be gym teachers get better training these days on how to work with kids who have difficulties, but I have no idea if they do. I got completely ignored by the teachers, which sent me a silent message that my problems were MY problems and were no concern of the teacher.

    6. 2 Cents*

      Ugh, I had this at my old job — the dudes weren’t “former pro athletes,” just bros who couldn’t handle losing. (But that’s a rant for another day.) I’m sorry, but your company kinda sucks for not varying up the events. Or just giving you a day off.

      One friend who never wanted to participate always appointed herself the event photographer and coordinator. Other team building times, she’d be the self-appointed social butterfly who *somehow* wasn’t assigned a team, but made the rounds several times to make sure everyone was having a good time, getting people drinks and food, etc.

    7. Peccy*

      Balancing teams is a very normal thing to do when you’re trying to just have fun and play non-competitively. When you’re trying to just have fun, having one team never able to get the ball or make any traction at all can be really frustrating! In a lot of kids rec sports the goal of ‘tryouts’ is to balance skill levels across the teams in a league instead of letting all the athletic kids who already know each other form their own team and wipe the floor with every one else or whatever. It’s all about the goals for playing

      Balancing is fine and the gifted athletes switching to your team to try and keep it fun for both teams is lovely. But it still sounds really frustrating to go through this over and over again and I agree about trying to find another role at least occasionally, and about suggesting alternate activities like a board game day, a picnic etc

    8. Ex consultant*

      Thank you! My sentiments exactly. Those coworkers need to grow up. There it is – that deep-seated rage I had at athletic classmates who humiliated me for being bad at team sports when all I wanted to do was get the stupid gym credit and get on with my life.

      It is absolutely up to the letter writer what they want to disclose about their condition, but part of me wonders how mortified the coworkers might be to find out that they’re not just being childish, but incredibly ableist as well. Then again, I guess I put too much faith in people sometimes.

    9. Delphine*

      Right! I’m embarrassingly bad at trivia. No one has ever made me feel bad at our office trivia nights.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I was on the quiz bowl team in middle school. I wasn’t bad (I had good recall for history stuff), but I hated how my teammates felt the need to compete with each other and buzz in, even when they didn’t know the answer, before their own teammates. I always volunteered to be scorekeeper instead!

        Now I like trivia because I go to events that actually feel like a team effort. We have some friends who rarely answer a question, but they’re good company and it’s good fun. We won $100 last night! Paid for the whole table’s tab :)

      2. penny dreadful analyzer*

        I love trivia, but with the additional context OP gave us, I’m not imagining trying to do pub trivia with my company’s Paris team in my crappy schoolgirl French, and I think I’d feel bad no matter how nice the team was about it.

    10. Waiting on the bus*

      With randomised teams you HAVE to balance things out. If OP gets randomly on a team with all the super athletic people, it’s also unfair to the other teams were everyone is just “average”. The ringers quietly assessing team compositions and then evening things out is a good thing. Though it would be better if the teams weren’t random and instead assembled by someone with an eye for this sort of thing. The initial teams can still be randomised but the balancing out is done before the event so there’s no obvious switching around to compensate weaker coworkers.

      Regardless, doing this sort of physical competition every six weeks sounds really exhausting. I think many of your coworkers wouldn’t mind having a few non-sporty events at all.

      1. birb*

        Maybe this is a great reason to not have team-building activities that make you consider the physical fitness and ability of your team members. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    11. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Right, like I bet they’d pout and say she isn’t a team player if she decides not to go through this constant shaming anymore.

      1. penny dreadful analyzer*

        I don’t know where you’re getting that? They’d probably also be relieved if LW finds something else to do–there’s almost no group activity so low-stakes and noncompetitive that it doesn’t get awkward and less fun if there’s someone there who’s visibly struggling to participate.

        1. empty green*

          “They’d probably also be relieved if LW finds something else to do…”

          How would that qualify as team-building? Curious.

          1. allathian*

            The LW could keep score or photograph the event for the company intranet. Something other than the activity itself.

  2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

    If it makes you feel any better, LW, I have very bad coordination as well, due to partial blindness. That means all the things you described, I can’t do (bar video games, as long as they don’t require quick action) either.

    1. emmylouwho*

      I also can’t do many of these activities with a neuromuscular disease that limits my movement and fine motor skills! I hate stuff like this, because I am largely and usually “able-body-passing”, so I feel like it looks like I’m being dramatic when I opt out. Dreaming of a future where our workplace worlds are more inclusive without anyone having to fight for it!

      1. BlueSwimmer*

        I can’t do any of these things because I am just really, really bad at sports since I never played them growing up. I’m in an industry with lots of rah-rah team-building and former athletes who love a chance to compete during forced fun events. It has taken me years into adulthood to just own it publicly and volunteer to be the scorekeeper or cheerleader for the teams. Once I started doing that at work events, other co-workers joined me. Now we advocate for different choices like trivia. Childhood games like Battleship or Connect 4 can also be fun. I always felt awful when something like an inter-office softball game was announced. Now, I just smile and say, “I’ll set up the snacks and sit in the bleachers enjoying the game.” It is so freeing.

        1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          Yeah, I’ve gotten very good at just saying no, I’m not interested, and letting the chips fall where they may. I’ve been told I’m an oddball, and cheerfully agree that I am, indeed! Usually works in my favor that I laughingly agree, too.

    2. Clorinda*

      If a bowling trip is mandatory … is the bowling itself mandatory? Can OP and others who aren’t up to/don’t feel like bowling just hang out eating chicken wings and cheering everyone else on? That would be in addition to varying the activities offered, of course.

      1. Dr. Kat*

        That was my thought as well – a selection of board games where speed and quick reflexes are not required.

      2. Sue*

        Unfortunately, not only so I nor like the physical stuff, but I don’t like board games, either. Liked them when I was a kid, but it turned out I’d rather take my introvert self off to read somewhere. I didn’t mind Candyland when my kids were small, though.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The point isn’t that everyone needs to love every activity (there is no such activity); it’s to have a variety of activities in the mix so that it’s not always the same category of thing.

      1. Lucy P*

        I really like the idea of bingo! It’s all based on chance, and less of an actual competition like trivia or sports.

      2. Salsa Your Face*

        We played Singo at a recent company event, which is like bingo but instead of the board having numbers it has song titles, and instead of calling a number they play a 30 second clip. It was an absolute blast.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “Being embarrassingly bad at foosball tournaments isn’t exactly a disability…the options we have already are very much inclusive of fitness level.”
      The options you have are fitness full stop.
      OK, they tried fitness, moving around, active games FOR YEARS. How about ANYTHING else?
      I am sure some people would like other options besides these, and honestly, if they don’t what the hell? They can’t sit through free dinner and drinks and answer trivia questions one time?
      An escape room? You solve riddles, right?
      A board game night with food and drinks.
      Yes, they found a wide variety of ONE THING. They need to expand their view.

      1. Rosamond*

        Absolutely. I don’t have any physical reason for being bad at the games and activities LW is describing. I’m just very uncoordinated. Darts, bowling, etc – no thank you. My old office once had a Taboo break and a movie afternoon. It was such a relief to have activity options that aren’t stressful (ok sure maybe not everyone loved taboo but maybe then they loved laser tag day! which I definitely did not)

        1. Double A*

          I’m physically good at some things but have pretty bad hand-eye coordination. I have bowled a 30. And I was trying.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Some escape rooms are set up with obstacle-course parts, so be sure to check if that’s the case for the one you choose.

      3. JustaTech*

        My husband’s company does a “game day” where they do a pretty good job of making sure everyone has a choice of activity that’s fun for them.
        There are team-style games (frisbee I think), there are individual competition games (sack races and that kind of thing), there are board games (competitive and cooperative) in the shade and a separate quite tent for reading. (No video games, but they’re in a field so that would be logistically challenging.)
        Everyone is assigned to a “team” (four for the whole site), but because there are so many people it’s totally fine (and expected) that some people will choose to not take part/ only do a few things.

        Having a big group really helps because 1) it’s not so obvious if one person doesn’t participate/do well, and 2) there are enough people who want to do different things to reach the critical mass to have say, *both* Codewords and Capture the Flag.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      One of my ex workplaces arranged for a visit by adoptable puppies, and I spent a good half an hour snuggling with them. Another had a petting zoo come to campus.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That’s adorable.

        That beats jigsaw puzzles….and I love my jigsaw puzzles.

    3. Daisy Daisy*

      If they really won’t give people a genuine day off on any of these absurdly frequent “fun” days, maybe at least some of them could be quiet bring-a-book-to-read days with free tea samplers provided or something. Something relaxing and recuperative, rather than always needing to stir people together.

    4. Uncoordinated OP*

      OP here!

      So…we do have trivia nights occasionally, but it’s kind of the same issue, from a different direction, done a bit better. My job is a very multi-cultural, multi-language environment. Staff is very international, staff is sometimes students who are on exchange for six months or refugees who are very newly arrived. I think there were 15+ countries represented at our last yearly meeting, in a group of maybe 80 people. we also have a large age span. It’s not expected that people at the organization (or in a lot of society tbh) speak the language of the country we live in above hello/goodbye/my name is, so access to what one would think as a default common culture is also wonky. Management is super aware that it is really hard to find or even write fair pub quizzes for that level of differentiated base knowledge.

      We sometimes have pub quizzes about the employee handbook during work trainings. even I prefer bowling if that’s the option XD

      1. Joron Twiner*

        That does make things difficult!
        Could you try simple games like Bingo, dominoes or connect 4, or simple card games like War, Go Fish, Crazy 8s, Uno?

        I’ve also played a version of musical chairs/Big Wind Blows/Fruits Basket where one person stands in the center and says something, and everyone that applies to has to change to a new seat. For low-language-levels or children, you can assign one of 3 or 4 fruit types to each player, and the person in the center can make all the “apples” move. For high-language-levels or adult teams, you can make it a get-to-know-you game and say something about yourself (“people with pets” or “people good at Excel” and everyone nudges Jane to get up). There is still a small element of coordination in finding a seat, but you might be able to overcome that with a rule that the person in the middle must be allowed to sit. With the second version: if you know there are 3 Mikes and you’re stuck in the middle, you can call out “people named Mike” and let the Mikes fight over the chairs, knowing that the last Mike to sit will have to let you sit down instead.

      2. Nebula*

        If there are a variety of languages spoken, could you do language cafes or something like that? Activities based around music or food? As Alison says, the point is that there should be a range of different types of activities on offer, and there are many things your workplace could organise beyond physical activities or quiz/trivia type stuff. It sounds a bit like your organisation is trying to find one type of thing that will work for everyone, and they’ve hit upon this set of activities. They’d probably be better off switching it up rather than trying to please all of the people all of the time, which they are clearly not doing because you’re struggling with this to the point that everyone knows. FWIW, I am not terrible at stuff like this, but it’s also not my favourite, and I would be dreading it coming around so frequently.

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Oh dear, I can see why they’ve repeatedly done these low-intensity physical activities then. A lot of the alternate suggestions rely on a shared language and if you can’t be sure of that…

        Hopefully some of the suggestions like offering to be the designated photographer will help you participate in a way that’s less fraught.

      4. yala*

        I think board games would be better than Trivia Nights, because there’s a wide range, and not all of them require language fluency.

        My best friend is a librarian and runs the board game night at one of the branches. While there’s a solid core of European-Style-Boardgame nerds who show up, we’ve also had folks who couldn’t read, or weren’t fluent in English, or just really weren’t up for anything much more complicated than Uno. We make sure to have a wide range of games available.

        Aside from basics like Uno or Dominos, there are cooperative games like Just One, Betrayal at House on the Hill, or Mysterium, and chill vibe-based games like Dixit (oddly enough, Bob Ross: The Art of Chill is…not chill). Apples to Apples or Life’s a Pitch can be fun and weird ice-breakers (although they would need some language fluency).

        Even if not everyone could or wanted to play games, it could be a nice change from activities requiring physical “fluency.”

      5. Princess Sparklepony*

        Hi OP, if you have to do bowling – insist on toddler bowling! My old company had a once a year bowling party for our holiday party (in March. We’d avoid holiday madness.) I’m terrible at bowling but worse I’d end up super sore because it was all muscles I don’t usually use. The bowling alley we went to was fairly modern. So first I insisted that I get bumpers. The computer could be set up that the bumpers automatically come up when it was my turn. And my scores improved quite a bit but I was still sore.

        Then I saw little kids using the ball ramp. This was genius. I have no pride so it wasn’t a problem for me. Ball ramp it was. My scores stayed about the same but no soreness. Bowling became almost enjoyable. One of our team was a good bowler and he kind of chuckled at my set up, but we were just there to have a good time and I laughed about it and it was all cool.

        I pretty much love toddler bowling. I won’t do it any other way. But it helps if the bowling alley is computerized.

        What about a board game tournament? Or card games? Or dominos?

        I do like miniature golf but I tend to forget to keep score and that’s just fine with me.

        See if there are any hobby farms that will bring animals by – Gatherings with Baby Goats is always interesting! Or arrange with the local rescue or animal shelter to walk dogs (as long as no one is afraid/allergic.)

        I’m very non athletic so I have always hated sports themed things. But how about going to a minor league sports game? Not sure what is in your area. I don’t follow the sportsball stuff but when I visit some cousins we always do a game and it’s fun just to hang out and watch other people play. Even though I have no idea what is going on… I’m there for the stadium food!

        Good luck with it all. It’s a pain to have to try and do sports/games of skill when you just aren’t wired for it. I don’t have a disability, just a general klutziness. And a lack of competitiveness.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    Uugh, I do have good hand-eye coordination and I don’t want to do any of this stuff, either! They need to expand their options for all kinds of reasons.

    1. MadCatter*

      Right? Aside from alienating people with disabilities that may not be able to fully participate comfortably – these are 1 specific type of activity that not everyone likes to do. I would rather go to work than play laser tag or mini golf.

    2. Tomato Soup*

      Same. I am physically able to do these things and I wouldn’t enjoy them either.

  4. I Herd the Cats*

    Oh, I would loathe this. One of the joys of reaching adulthood for me was knowing nobody could make me do these sorts of team activities. For the record, I’m pretty average at them; I just hate them. You’re probably not the only person there who feels the way you do.

    1. Velomont*

      I was in the military for 30 years, and one of the joys of becoming a civilian was “knowing nobody could make me do these sorts of team activities”. I hate these sorts of things. I always felt like I was standing in the middle of the colosseum during the Roman Games.

      1. LadyVet*


        I once managed to get a high score on my PT test, as did whatever percentage of soldiers had to so we could have sports PT, and when I learned it was going to be (American) football, I asked if I could just run with another unit.

        And I hated running.

    2. FancyRocks*

      Same here. I would hate even one sports-related outing a year, but every six weeks???? The only “sporty” thing I enjoy doing is hiking….because it’s mostly walking by myself, or with a select few people. This kind of “bonding” activity sounds horrible.

      I would definitely start talking with others and see if they are as annoyed with it as OP is.

    3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      What kind of profit margin are they operating at that they have the budget to have the entire team spend a whole paid day not working, at paid morale event with covered food and drink, every six weeks?

      1. XF1013*

        Right? And OP said it was in a low-paying industry.

        I once heard someone say that the rule of thumb for planning morale-boosting events should be, “if the employees would be happier to receive their equal share of the event budget in cash rather than attending the event, it’s not going to boost morale.” Some problems can’t be fixed with a bowling party, and under-compensation is around the top of the list.

        In OP’s case, the company is trying to get staff from separate offices to mingle and develop a rapport. But every six weeks? Doesn’t everybody know each other by now?

      2. Venus*

        I could understand how this could easily be possible with some companies and industries, but the OP describes it as “high-stress in a low-paying industry” and that makes me angry because I would prefer the employees get a vacation day and extra pay (instead of food and drinks) every 6 weeks!

        1. MigraineMonth*


          Just give everyone an extra PTO day every 6 weeks and portion out the entertainment budget as raises.

        2. Daisy Daisy*

          That’s the other thing, immediately when I read “high stress and low paying”, I thought, well, that’s the worst of both worlds! Please OP check that you have a really compelling reason to stay in this job or industry. If it’s the worst sides of both coins.

          1. SW*

            From what the letter writer has said above about how it’s an international group of people, often with refugee employees, I’m reading it as a humanitarian aid organization like Doctors Without Borders. Necessary, important work that is unfortunately underpaid. I can see why it might be important for the letter writer to keep doing it because there’s such a huge impact on the people they serve.

      3. Your local password resetter*

        It’s probably not that expensive, if everyone is paid peanuts and you keep it simple.
        I’m assuming they’re trying to compensate for the high stress and low wage situation, and this seemed like a cheap way to bond and give people a break.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          That probably is their intention, but then the LW also mentions team building. Team building isn’t really a break, it’s work. You’re building workplace relationships, with colleagues. You’re not just hanging out with people you have chosen to have in your life.

          And if having a break is the goal, I reckon it isn’t really going to be a break for a lot of people, regardless of activities, because you’re with colleagues, being your work self (to some extent).

          But the goal is either team building or a break. It can’t be both.

    4. Jen*

      I teach high school, and sometimes I feel like a broken record gently saying “It’s not being a party pooper, if the kids don’t like Spirit Week. Some folks just don’t like that stuff, and they can still turn into very successful and nice adults, indeed.” (And I hide when they’re picking the teachers for “musical chairs with an audience.”)

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Nicely put…

        And a dumb question – what is the claimed benefit of Pep Rallies, Spirit Week, etc?

        I didn’t get it mumble-mumble years ago in High School, and I don’t get it today.

        Thanks much!!

        1. Agnes*

          Lots of kids love it. It makes them feel more positive about school. Feeling positive about school is generally a good thing, for a lot of reasons.

          I always loathed all that stuff, but it’s my daughter’s favorite part of school.

        2. londonedit*

          I totally didn’t realise these are actually real things – I thought they just happened in American high school TV programmes and films! I don’t think I’ve ever fully understood what a pep rally is. I think British schools are quite boring in comparison – we don’t have spirit weeks or pep rallies or sports teams that everyone supports! You just go to school and do your lessons and maybe play sport for the school if you’re half decent, but that just involves trooping off to other schools every Wednesday afternoon to play football or cricket with no one really watching. American-style proms have crept over here for the kids leaving to take their GCSEs, and you might have the odd end-of-term school disco and sports day, but we don’t have any of the other stuff.

        3. NaoNao*

          It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger, both immediately in the moment and in history. Pep Rallies and Spirit Week are a long tradition, and being part of that is a “memory moment” that you can share with your older relatives and then your own kids. It connects you to the history of the school (if there is such, I went to schools that started in the early 1900s so there were banners from sporting events in the 40’s still hanging up) and the community of your fellow students. It’s fun to dress up and do something out of the ordinary, and it’s something to look forward to–plus you get out of class, heh. There’s also a unique feeling of “crowd euphoria” where you’re singing, clapping, cheering, and doing something as a crowd in a positive way that creates an energy that can’t be replicated by yourself. It gives non-athletes a way to participate in the sometimes-overwhelming culture of high school and/or college sports.

          Now do I think the planning committee is getting that deep with it? No, it’s “let’s give them some fun/we’ve always done it” more likely.

        4. Princess Sparklepony*

          We had them a few times a year in high school. I hated them. I did not get the concept or have the interest. I did go to an all girls high school and we had a basketball team so no football and guys to gush over. Still, it was not my thing. We sat in the back and ignored it all.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        I keep my room open for students who don’t want to go. My aide takes the kids who do want to go. Everyone’s happy.

  5. Awkward Llama*

    I have good coordination but I’m not good at most sports. And I don’t like to play a lot of the games you mentioned. Many people don’t. To promote inclusiveness, there should be a variety of optional activities that allow everyone to take the roll they want. I’m really appreciating my company now bc they have activities that are competitive, some are sports or bakeoffs, but also charity events, or snack days where they bring in a variety of goodies for everyone who is in office. There are many ways to encourage team building.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I love llamas and I love your comment. Exactly. OP’s place is basically saying, “we will offer chocolate cake, vanilla cake or even cupcakes. That will make everyone happy.”

  6. Meow*

    I’m so sympathetic to OP. I have dyspraxia. My 3 year old is probably better at sports than I am. But the only time it is an issue in my adult life is stuff like this when the activity is bowling or mini golfing. People are just so mean about it! I try to laugh it off, but it’ll be like, every time it is my turn, people seem to need to feel the need to poke fun at me for it. Maybe they’re just trying to break the awkwardness, but after a few rounds it just feels like bullying.

    1. One green bottle*

      I SO know what you mean. Some people break out the meanness, in a way that is quite unexpected and can truly hurt, in these competitive contexts. As someone with various impairments, I can get all “yay” about some up-and-coming board game or laser tag game only to feel really demoralised and awkward and sad during and after it. It depends 100% on who the other players are – some people are a joy to play with.

      1. AGD*

        I once went to a team-building exercise and discovered that I am absolutely terrible at bowling. Fortunately, my team didn’t care – and we all laughed it off. This is what I’d always want to see. It doesn’t matter enough for anyone to be mean about it!

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          I’m also terrible at bowling which was my last company’s yearly activity. Luckily it was a chill group so I went with toddler bowling – bumpers up and used the ball ramp. Made bowling almost fun. I made fun of myself but still insisted on the bumpers and the ramp. Not a lot of teasing, so it was good.

    2. CatMintCat*

      I also have dyspraxia (late diagnosed, in my 50s, but it just put a label on what’s always been there). OP’s letter took me straight back to my childhood where I spent every Friday afternoon listening to my classmates argue over whose turn it was to NOT have me on their team that week. As an adult, there is no chance in the world I would even consider participating in these sorts of activities.

      Last year, my workplace had a lawn bowling evening, followed by dinner. I went for dinner.

  7. Sunny days are better*

    It’s hardly team building if some people on the team are so competitive that they will switch teams so that they can win every single time! It’s just supposed to be a fun day!

    Hopefully the LW can get the list of activities broadened. It really sucks that people are that mean.

    1. Refugee from the Alpha Quadrant*

      I read the OP as saying the good player switches TO the OP’s team “to balance it out.” Not AS bad…

      1. Sunny days are better*

        I re-read it again and I think that you’re correct. This is true – it’s not as bad, but clearly makes OP feel like a charity case.

        Either way – definitely not the intended goal of an activity – to make people feel worse.

        1. ADidgeridooForYou*

          Getting major flashbacks to high school gym volleyball…people would see me on their team and strategically place their strongest players next to me while the other team would strategically aim the ball at me ’cause they knew I’d miss. What a terrible time.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Volleyball was the only sport that I excelled at in high school. I was left-handed and no one could stop my volleys. All the other sports though, I sat them out because I hated most of them. The gym teacher asked how I could be so good at one sport and terrible at the next.

      2. Lab Lady*

        I also read it that way. That the ‘ringers’ voluntarily join her team to try to keep things balanced (which is the opposite of competitive and exasperated).

        Regardless of any good intention of her co-workers, I do think it sucks that OP has to go through this, it’s hard to build team camaraderie when you’re super self conscious and I hope it works out.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Those folks are fine. The people who are visibly exasperated are not fine.

      3. theletter*

        I think if it’s down gracefully, it could increase the fun for everyone – the pro athletes may also be thinking about teams that are overloaded with talent, which could create some real resentment.

        There are some athletes that have a weird talent for making any game fun for everyone, regardless of the group’s skill level. Some athletes even find more enjoyment in trying to create a Ted Lasso experience than actually trying to win.

        That said, it really has to be done gracefully. Ideally, there should always be the option to let spectating be part of the team building.

    2. HalJordan*

      No, it sounds like they’re switching over to OP’s team so whatever team OP’s on doesn’t always lose (“to balance out”), and if they’re doing so “quietly” it’s actually a pretty graceful move that theoretically could help OP save face (though the “not so quietly” is not)—but either way it’s still clear what’s happening, and it shouldn’t have to happen. Ugh to this workplace

      1. Watry*

        It’s definitely embarrassing for OP, but in some environments doing it gracefully could protect OP from social repercussions. Hopefully OP’s coworkers are above that! But really, with the exception of paintball why are these activities team-based? You could still randomize them, it just becomes “Jill from Accounting, Luis from IT, Gene the receptionist, Alex the customer support rep, you’re all on Lane 1” or something.

    3. MK*

      I bet that the owners/senior level managers were former college athletes and maybe pro athletes. And give those people a preference in hiring. A woman who was President of one of the major 3 or 4Trust Companies in the world based in NYC said at a corporate meeting (I’m a woman and was at the VP level) that she favored hiring people who played collegiate sports because they are better team players. I didn’t. She did. I’m Just not a sports person. What an A$$. She wasn’t in that position long.

  8. Nobby Nobbs*

    This seems like the kind of group that might enjoy adding team trivia to the mix. Or a trip to a museum? Cookout? If the organizers can’t come up with a few fun things that don’t require coordination they lack some serious creativity.

    1. Emily S.*

      I really like your idea of a museum visit.
      Also a cookout. It’s good for socializing, which seems to be the point.

  9. Baron*

    Just sending love – you’re not alone! I have an easier-to-explain disability, but my symptoms are quite similar to yours. I once had a job that was like this, and I found that after all the team-building sportsy stuff, I was always too drained to even make basic conversation at the post-sports pub nights. So at that job, I came to be known as “the antisocial jerk (who is also bad at sports)”. It took me until…writing this comment right now…to realize, hey, I’m not antisocial, all those sports just exhausted me and made me miserable. I hope you can speak up!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      LW, I hope you were writing to AAM in order to empower yourself to speak up, because I’m certain that we here in the commentariat will grant you that empowerment. Please, say something to whoever organizes these events. I hope some of the activities shift to be more inclusive of you and of others who have disabilities.

      Although, honestly, I’m appalled that you are in a low-paying, high-stress job and TPTB think the solution to that is “more together time with less time to do actual job.” Once every six weeks is ridiculous.

  10. Sara*

    I do fairly well at those activities but I still hate doing them with co-workers because I’m not competitive at all. I enjoy doing things like bowling or Top Golf if I’m there to have fun (and then it wouldn’t matter who is on my team or who is the worst!) but there’s always someone that makes into a ‘I win, you lose’ competition. Also its exhausting hanging out with co-workers that much.

    But also, other suggestions if you truly want to team build – trivia, escape rooms, some sort of class (like cooking, baking, alcohol tasting) – would probably be welcome. You probably have a person in charge that’s just going with whatever was popular and maybe doesn’t think outside the box too much.

    1. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      Alcohol tastings are also tricky. There might be people who don’t drink for a large number of reasons: in recovery, religion, health issues, etc. It would have to be an opt out thing IMO.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Indeed, but a wide variety of events that were all truly able to be opted out of would go a long way – that way people could do the things they were really interested in and not feel pressure to do everything.

      2. Beth*

        Absolutely, but if they’re going to do an activity every 6 weeks (which is incredibly frequent!), it shouldn’t be a big deal to do a wide range of things and let people opt out of the occasional activity that doesn’t suit them. If session 1 is bowling, session 2 is a wine tasting, session 3 is an escape room, session 4 is group meditation in the park, etc, then presumably most of the team will be able to participate in at least 3 of the 4 sessions.

    2. anon for this*

      Hello fellow non-competitive person! Although I for some reason really enjoy talking smack about bowling (which I am objectively not good at it) I just don’t care for competition – that doesn’t motivate me at all. Which has been helpful in narrowing down forms of exercise I enjoy – cycling, yoga, dance versus tennis, basketball, soccer.

      Maybe the planner “doesn’t think outside the box too much” and also maybe these are just low-hanging fruit/easy to plan, especially if there’s a precedent.

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        I’m in your boat-I could not be less motivated by competition, and it feels like there’s this huge push to “gamify” absolutely everything! I know some people are more excited by the idea of winning, but it makes me want to do anything else. Same goes for “connection.” I don’t want to make friends at work. I want to work. (Frankly, I was thinking the same thing Alison was about maybe if they weren’t away from the office so much the stress level wouldn’t be so high.)

        This letter highlighted the benefits of mixing it up in terms of physical ability, but interactional/personality differences is another area where a little extra thought could make more people feel included. I’m willing to play a game or do a getting to know you type icebreaker every so often for the sake of my colleagues who enjoy such things, but it would be nice if the people who plan activities gave some thought to other ways of engaging every so often, too.

      2. Quill*

        Also a lot of arcade or bowling alley type places will put the package together themselves, so the planner does basically nothing but make the reservation for a specific headcount.

  11. Qwerty*

    PSA for physical outings: have a non-physical option at the same location.

    Bowling + card games
    Ropes course + trivia

    The non-physical one is at the table area where all the food and drinks are. Ideally it is easy to rotate between the two for people so it doesn’t become two distinct groups. We’ve had a lot of fun with this method, with probably half the people spending time in both activities.

    Bonus points if the location is just nice to be at. For outdoor ones, there is usually an impromptu “take a walk” or “enjoy the sunshine and quiet” group that forms so that technically we have three activities.

    1. Lanlan*

      Something like geocaching comes to mind here, too — a day of treasure-hunting sounds like it’s the perfect balance for someone like OP.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Treasure hunting/geocaching sounds like fun, and it sounds like a different alternative to the very physical activities OP mentioned. I’m pretty athletic, but I think I’d also enjoy doing something that isn’t the usual sport activity. I suspect others on the team may feel the same way.

    2. Melissa*

      ABSOLUTELY. Many people (not ME… but some other people) enjoy the physical activities, and they should be encouraged to do them if they enjoy them. But I love your idea of having both. My husband’s workplace is good about this. They’ll say “We are having our end of year celebration at the lake. There are rowboats and mini golf for those who what to do them; there are umbrella chairs for those who want to relax; there is a vase-painting table for those who want to do some art.”

    3. LimeRoos*

      This is a great idea! There’s a lot of places now that have a sport aspect with food and games as well. I’ve also been to some of those, and even if you’re athletic, it’s still really nice to just sit and chill with coworkers. Plus, it’ll probably turn out that not everyone wants to do the active stuff every time, and more people than you expect will go for board games, snacks, or just talking.
      Pinstripes – bowling, bocce, food, firepits.
      Brunswick Zone or whatever it’s called now.
      Punchbowl Social – bowling, bocce, board games, video games, darts, arcade games, with a lot of seating areas and food and drink.
      A quick local search could probably bring up even more nearby, but those are the ones off the top of my head that I know are chains.

        1. LimeRoos*

          Oooooh. Yeah. I remember that now. I loved Brunswick zone forever ago, Bowlero is meh lol.

    4. Sometimes maybe*

      Your idea sounds lovely for a retreat, but it is not very beneficial as a team building event, especially the more options people have.

  12. New Yorker*

    The best team building event I went to was cooking where they divided us into groups of 4, we all cooked part of the dinner (my team was tiramasu). Didnt hurt that wine was served during cooking and dinner.

    Our office wont do movies, because not a lot of time to talk to each other.

      1. Frickityfrack*

        My work group (only 4 of us) went to see the Mr. Rogers documentary together and then we all cried and talked about how we want to run our office in a way that would make him proud of us, so like…that was pretty good team building.

    1. Another academic librarian*

      I hate group exercises, team building, field days, the outdoors, trivia, etc, etc.
      I am racking my brain to see if there has been any sort of this thing that I have enjoyed.

      1. Another academic librarian*

        oh and I realize not helpful to the original poster. What I have done is volunteer to be a cheerleader. I have handy set of pompoms for these events. I let the organizer know not to put me on a team and that I will be a cheerleader.

        1. Ama*

          I can’t play softball, bowl, play tennis, or golf at all but because everyone else in my family does, I learned how to keep score for all of these games, so I often volunteer to be the scorekeeper (I used to do that ALL the time when my brothers wanted to go bowling because I am a terrible bowler and little brothers are jerks about that kind of thing).

      2. Kacihall*

        At my first job out of college, the company provided giftcards so we could do team events, and we all hated team events so the manager just split up the giftcards between the 4 of us. after corporate found out and said we couldn’t do that, our event became ‘going to the mall’ where we each spent a quarter of the giftcards.

        Way better solution than my next branch manager, who used the gift cards to buy a ton of candy he liked to keep in the branch. (Knowing him, he probably also bought other stuff for himself.)

        1. Timothy (TRiG)*

          Of all the ways I could think to spend a day, shopping has to be the most boring*. Your “going to the mall” idea does not appeal. At all.

          Which I suppose is another data point in the “everyone’s different” chorus we’re all singing in this comment section.

          * Unless there’s a good bookshop, of course.

          1. Kacihall*

            that was the beauty of it. we arrived at the mall together. someone went to a coffee shop and then picked up something he needed from one store and left. I needed a dress for a wedding, so I went to a couple department stores with the other college aged girl. the older women wanted to go look at kitchen stuff. so basically we all did what we wanted and did smaller team building :) (And at that point we still had a B&N at the mall, which is where I would’ve gone had I not needed a new dress.)

    2. Amber Rose*

      We did a portable escape room I think last year that was fun. They set up the puzzles in trailers in our parking lot and some littler ones in the boardroom.

      1. Good Luck*

        Somone in our area owns and operates a mobile game room. They come with a trailer, with all kinds of gaming and arcade games. This might be another option.

      2. Daisy Daisy*

        They have boxed escape rooms too that are minimal production value, but still really fun! I would recommend the Exit series, they look at first like they might be for kids, but they’re all ages and a good range of difficulty of the puzzles. Just in case people aren’t up for a full production escape room.

    3. Gumby*

      Yep, a similar event remains the best “corporate holiday party” I have ever attended. During work hours, in mid-January, which was the best because Nov/Dec get really busy. The menu wasn’t preset but each table had a course and a bag of ingredients and got to decide what to do with it. Also key is that each table had a professional chef who helped facilitate since we didn’t have recipes and this was pre-‘everyone has a smart phone and will just look it up.’

  13. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    My immediate thought for an alternative might be a bar trivia day. They can still have it at a restaurant or bar, so people can still have the food and free alcohol, but there is no physical part. You could still even have the darts or pool or whatever if people wanted to do that.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I have never done a bar trivia session. What sort of questions are they? I am guessing not “What was Babe Ruth’s batting average in 1926?” or “What is the capital of Guam?” but I honestly don’t know.

      1. This Old House*

        The capital of Guam could be on there. I haven’t been to trivia night in a long time, but questions I specifically remember (because I was proud/surprised to be able to come up with some of the answers, at the time!) include: name NJ’s 2 US senators; name X Beatles songs with animals in the titles. Any pop culture/history/sports/current events topic is fair game, but they will not usually ask for something as specific as a particular player’s specific batting average in a given year, much like Jeopardy would not.

      2. Good Luck*

        It depends on the company running it. Some do really hard trivia games others do fairly easy ones. Most of the time, there are questions at least one person in the group knows.

      3. Hlao-roo*

        I’ve done bar trivia and questions are all over the map, though generally more recent (within the last 25 years) than not, so closer to “capital of Guam” than “Babe Ruth’s batting average in 1926” from your examples. When I’ve gone, questions have been in categories, and the categories range from “beer” to “song lyrics” to “cheating,” to give just three examples.

        The nice thing about bar trivia (in my opinion) is that it rewards teams with diverse interests. If everyone on your team is into the history of baseball, you’re probably in trouble with all the questions on song lyrics and movies. But if you’re on a team where you can answer most of the sports questions, another person listens to all the pop hits, and a third person watches a lot of movies and TV your team will likely do well.

      4. RiskyQuizness*

        I am a bar trivia regular – and the questions are usually a touch more lateral than that, and cover a wide variety of topics – music, film, geography, sports, literature, anagrams. It really encourages a diversity of teammates – I know more than I probably should about music, Wakeen knows sports, Cersei loves her pop culture, and Persephone used to be in geography bees – we’re the perfect team! (A more likely question than ‘What is the capital of Guam’ is ‘This tiny island nation, whose capital is Hagatna, is an example of the US being in violation of the ‘no taxation without representation’ principle.)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Ah, so they are written like Jeopardy questions, with two approaches to the answer. In this case, figure out that “nation” is used in the sense that Wales is a nation, that we are looking for an island territory of the US, and that Hagatna might plausibly be the name of its capital. I would be thrown by the characterization of it as “tiny.” I would be trying to dredge up an atoll like Midway.

      5. Pescadero*

        Here in Michigan – they are pretty much all run by Sporcle, and either of those questions would be perfectly normal.

      6. londonedit*

        For a pub quiz there are usually different rounds with maybe 10 questions per round – you’ll have current news, sport, music, film & TV, general knowledge etc. You have a few rounds of questions and then there’s a break in the middle where everyone swaps answer sheets and marks their neighbours’ answers (and gets another round of drinks in) and then you do the second half of the quiz, swap answer sheets again, and then the quiz master checks the scores and announces the winner. There will also usually be a picture round which you can work on during the quiz as a whole and hand in at the end – that could be anything from photos of celebrities as babies to brand logos with the names removed to famous buildings from different cities or whatever.

  14. Cally Bingo*

    Can we also spare a thought for the introverts for whom group activities are a drain on energy reserves for the rest of life?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We can indeed, but I’m going to preemptively ask that we not derail on it (which will otherwise happen) since it won’t be useful to the LW.

    2. Bread Crimes*

      Ah, but spare a thought also for the introverts who love social events (sometimes fun things are tiring!) and have to wince through a hundred comments claiming that we do not exist every time team-building comes up.

  15. Rafflesia Reaper*

    OP may want to consider if there’s an alternative way to participate.

    I love bowling but thanks to my disability, I simply can’t do it anymore. So when my former team had an event at a bowling alley, I asked my grandboss if I could participate by being the event photographer, since that’s something I can do that would keep me engaged/involved/fun.

    It didn’t work, and we cancelled bowling in favor of having a beanbag throwing championship in 101 degree weather which culminated in my boss seeking me out in the bathroom I hid in to let me know it was my turn.. but this was an outrageously-run office staffed by tragically oblivious people who never had a day a snow cone couldn’t fix. I suspect it would work in a real office!

    1. ferrina*

      My first thought was that OP should grab a mic and become the commentator. Or grab a camera and take notes on the day’s highlights. Or guard the snack table (I sometimes volunteer for this– I’m generally athletic, but sometimes I’m just not feeling it, but I’m always a fan of snacks!)

    2. Former Themed Employee*

      I mean, to be fair, snow cones can markedly improve a day. Especially if they have plenty of flavour syrup.

    3. Anon for this*

      I did that for a recent mandatory rockclimbing team building. I wasn’t allowed to skip, despite documented ADA disability. I served as the photographer and it was really fun.

      (Though the hard chairs I had to sit in for hours – as I predicted would be the only seating options – left me sobbing in pain, in public, later in the day, which was… not fun.)

  16. Alexander Blodgett*

    In spite of the fact I’m a decently active guy, I don’t love doing sports type activities with co-workers. However, there are people out there that LOVE them. Those people don’t seem to be commenting here, but they are out there.

    Obviously OP has it much worse than me, but I’m probably around the 40th percentile for sports skill (compared to the rest of the people I usually find playing sports), so I’m typically scoring just well enough I could theoretically win, but rarely high enough to actually win).

    1. ferrina*

      Me! I love sporty activities with coworkers! I’m also a fan of trivia, table top games, karaoke….I love me some team building!
      But I also don’t like seeing coworkers miserable or left out. That zaps all the fun. I love when organizers give a couple different options, then we regroup for food after activities

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I generally get along just fine with my coworkers, so if we are doing some mandatory fun, it isn’t that bad: a pointless waste of a day, but not horrendous. According to the OP, the teams are randomized. So I might be spending the day with Bob in Accounting, whom I have never met or otherwise interacted with apart from these events. This is to say, I am spending the day with a stranger with whom I have nothing in common other than working for the same company. I would hate hate hate this.

        1. Jenny*

          Isn’t that the point of team building though, interacting with coworkers in a different way? No one is asking you to make Bob your best friend, just to do a non-work activity with him in your group for a few hours. It’s about remembering that your coworkers are each individual humans not robots. And also, reminding coworkers that YOU are a unique human with your own life outside of work. I don’t find that pointless.

        2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          Bur perhaps the point is that at some point, you might need something from Bob in accounting, or there might be a way your work could potentially overlap, and you’ll know each other, so it will be easier to reach out?

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I have no problem reaching out to Accounting for some work-related issue, even without having spent a day bowling with Bob. If Bob will only do his job with people who has bowled with, we have a Bob problem. But probably not. More likely Bob is perfectly willing and capable of doing his job, even if we have never met. And in any case, if it is important for me to bond with Bob in Accounting, the luck of the random draw is a pretty terrible way to achieve this end.

            1. ferrina*

              Not everyone is like this. Plenty of people feel uncomfortable reaching out to folks they don’t know (or that they feel like they are imposing on them in some way).

              A big part of my job is finding and correcting intangible inefficiencies in our workplace (it’s a custom role- weird but it works). One of the things I’ve run into is that a lot of people don’t want to “interrupt” people in different departments with work needs if they don’t have some sort of personal connection (even minor). If they have coffee once, they are much more willing to collaborate and make requests of different departments. So, yes, I enforce mandatory coffee, but it gets results.

  17. Crying event planner*

    To people that organize these events: if the team building makes your staff cry, quit, or hide, you need to fix something. I say this as someone that has both organized these event and who has left these events in tears.

    I’m sorry OP.

  18. Peon*

    There are so many other team building things to do, as was pointed out. They really need to mix it up. Two of my favorite we’ve done have been more craft oriented (and silly!) – for one, we carved pumpkins as a team, but the goal was that we had to carve something that another team designed and conveyed to us via charades. We needed a person who was good-ish at carving, but we also needed an idea person and a good communicator and a leader.

    My other favorite activity was building a gingerbread house after a potluck event, mainly because it went off the rails. People got seriously creative, and the potluck leftovers were right there to be raided for more materials. Some groups even combined. Some results were outright silly, others were an artistic commentary on some of the work we do. None of them looked objectively “good”.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I’ve done scented candle making at a team building activity. I’m not sure it was effective, but now I have easy Christmas gifts for that one person I don’t know well.

  19. Kylie*

    At my ex job we had to go bowling every 3 months. I have no athletic skills at all, like didn’t even knock a single pin down the entire time. I asked to change up the activity and was told majority rules. I asked to opt out and just watch or keep score and was written up for not bowling. There’s a reason it’s an ex job.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I would lean into it: It’s my turn? Gutter that ball cheerfully, wait for it to get back to me, and do it again. Sit down and go back to whatever it was that you were doing before it was your turn. Really feeling your oats? Send the ball into the next lane. In reality, bowling is one of the few activities like this where I very nearly achieve mediocrity, but a mandatory fun situation is something entirely different.

      1. Waiting on the bus*

        I would happily and very obviously place every ball directly in the gutter once I was written up. What the actual F.

      2. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

        Thiiiiiis. I am a fair to middling bowler but I would absolutely granny every single ball right into the gutter out of sheer spite if “play or get written up” were the only options.

      3. Good gravy*

        “Really feeling your oats? Send the ball into the next lane.”

        I’m late to the party but DO NOT DO THIS. It is dangerous to other players, could damage the lanes and equipment, and will get your group kicked out and banned. Christ on a cracker.

    2. Coverage Associate*

      I am an older millennial and had to learn how to keep bowling scores on paper in math class. By the time I was old enough to bowl, all the alleys had automatic scoring.

      1. Zephy*

        I had bowling as a unit in gym class in elementary school – they rolled out long strips of carpet for “lanes” and gave us hollow rubber “bowling balls,” and yes, they taught us how to keep score. I barely remember how it works now but it’s still wedged in the ol’ brainmeats, along with how to develop analog photos, like with film and chemicals and stuff.

        1. There You Are*

          I had a darkroom in my bathroom when I was a kid (age 10-14). My dad was a professional photographer and he set me up with my own equipment so I wouldn’t mess up his.

        2. Cyndi*

          I learned how to use card catalogs in second grade, and then in third grade my school and public libraries both switched to digital catalogs. I’m not sure if the information stuck or not!

    3. A person in retail*

      At my high school they taught both golf and bowling, because, they said, we might need at least basic skills in these things when we had jobs and were encouraged to join the company bowling league, or golf with a client. That was back in the dark ages but when I went to law school in this century, one of the professors organized (totally voluntary) golf lessons for the same reason. The whole thing kind of icks me out. Unless I’m an athlete why does my professional advancement depend on how I throw a ball?

      I thought bowling was okay but enjoyed the lessons primarily because the bowling alley had really good French fries.

  20. Giant Peach*

    Just out of curiosity, OP, do you enjoy any these activities? That is, if it weren’t for the whole competitive gym class vibe, would you have a good time being bad at bowling? I wonder if there is a way to form a team of people who suck but just want to have fun (and have no desire to get better). I want to be on that team. I’m lousy at activities like that, but I like them. Or rather, I would like them if I were playing with people who are not goal oriented and just want to have a good time without getting all caught in scoring, winning, and losing.

    I’m very competitive at some activities, so I appreciate that people who play to win also want to have a good experience. Maybe there is a creative way that both types of people can have the experience that they want to have.

    1. Peon*

      I would absolutely join the bad bowlers team! And then go ask the shoe guy to put up the bumpers on our lane.

    2. Inca*

      Yes! One of my happiest gym memories is where we got to choose an activity, and all the fanatical kids chose something and went on being very serious about it, and then a second group chose something else (and presumably that also went well), and then ‘we’ had the third activity. That started off as a scoring game but somewhere it got wildly uneven and we just abandonded the whole concept of scoring, and just had fun at playing around. Everyone got chances and it was a social activity in a way normal sports absolutely weren’t for me.

    3. Qwerty*

      In college the bad bowler team ended up distracting everyone else :) We’d pick a theme each round – granny bowl, bowl with the wrong hand, spin around then bowl, duck-duck-bowl. No one looked at the score board.

      This is why I can’t play strategy games like chess or Settlers of Catan, I just try to have fun and the other player(s) gets very frustrated trying to figure out why my strategy seems so random (because there is no strategy!)

      1. penny dreadful analyzer*

        Your comment’s got me thinking about two different types of “bad at”– I think there can be a distinction between “doing something well vs. doing it poorly” and “doing something at all vs. failing to do it.”

        In board game terms, if it’s a turn-based game where on your turn you move your tokens, it’d be the difference between “on your turn, you move your tokens in a way that leads to you winning, vs. on your turn, you move your tokens in a way that leads to you losing” and “When it’s your turn… do you move your dang tokens?”

        When I play board games, I don’t care who wins or loses, but I will absolutely admit that I have less fun playing with people who are bad at taking their turn, because even in a very chill non-competitive game, if I’m playing it I like to actually play it, not to spend upwards of a minute every round trying to chill-ly and non-competitively be like “Bob, it’s your turn… Bob? Hey Bob, sorry to interrupt, but it’s your turn… yeah, Bob, could you take your turn?” and trying to take the rest of the table’s temperature on when it’ll be acceptably not-aggro to suggest skipping Bob’s turn if he doesn’t start to take it.

        It sounds like the OP’s bad-at-sports level is closer to “failing to do it” bad at rather than “doing it, but poorly” bad at, which is a much harder type of bad at to “just have fun being bad at it” about, as some commenters have suggested.

    4. KGD*

      I totally agree – we’ve gone this route at my workplace. We do a huge team scavenger hunt/race thing at the end of every year and I am someone who is not willing to run unless there is an actual emergency. After my first year, I spoke to my boss and now people are placed on teams based on their level of competitiveness and willingness to run. I honestly love the event now, because I’m always on team stroll-around-with-a-coffee-and-take-a-few-pictures and my competitive colleagues have a blast talking smack and running around downtown Toronto. People who want to stay out of the heat altogether can hang out and have snacks and wait for everyone else to come back. It’s worked out really well for everyone.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        This is beautiful!
        As a person who could be in either of those camps depending on the day, I love this even harder. Cause yes, one year I might enjoy the stroll with a coffee team and then the next I would arrive at the office with my running shoes!

        This thread is also a great suggestion because while yes, the company should absolutely change up their games to some “Zero physical” games instead of just “less physical” like video games, foosball and darts, those type of activities are probably still going to pop up. So here’s a good way to still have fun even though you might through a gutter ball even if you granny bowl every time!

    5. Daisy-dog*

      For some activities, I like the opportunity to make little improvements. For instance, Top Golf. I ignore how everyone else does and just focus on making little improvements during the event. So I’m still not competitive for a team, but having fun learning something new.

      1. Quill*

        Had a great team building day there once. Context, I was working in the Quality Assurance lab and the main competition was how well we could back of the napkin estimate everyone’s scores based on how familiar each of us was with golf, because we were all nerds.

        End of the day, one of the waiters stops by with “did we learn something about healthy conflict and competition?” and we just looked at him like he was a deep sea fish, because it turns out we were supposed to be learning about leadership instead of making this a recreational statistics outing.

    6. SansaStark*

      I love this and I bet it’s a great way to find out how many people actually love playing vs who’s just participating and pretending to care so they’re not rocking the boat.

    7. Waiting on the bus*

      Ugh, OP, as another person awful at all most competitions, I feel you. Any team I’m on always comes last.

      When the sport activities can’t be avoided, I wonder if taking the high score element out would maybe be helpful. So instead of the team with the most points winning, the teams are trying to hit specific scores (like half the possible high score, so that a ringer getting the high score and someone getting no points would actually even each other out perfectly). It could be presented as a way to spice these events up (even if it’s different activities, if these events are every six weeks things have to be getting boring?) and then OPs low scores will actually help the team level out high scorers.

      1. A person in retail*

        Yes, or do it kind of like golf scramble: make it so only the highest score on each team counts, or only the second highest could be even better.

        1. JustaTech*

          We did something like this the last time we did mini-golf. We calculated the scores several ways: lowest score per hole (taking the lowest score from a foursome for each hole), lowest average score, lowest total group score, lowest score deviation (which group had the most similar scores among themselves) and highest team score and highest individual score.

          (It helped that the course was so terribly maintained that skill didn’t actually make a lot of difference in where your ball went.)

    8. A.K. Climpson*

      This is how I once fell asleep in high school gym class! (The class took advantage of a nice day to play softball outside and we were divided up by competitive people playing one game–with the teacher as umpire–and the rest of us playing another. I nodded off in the grass waiting to bat, and everyone just played around me until the end of class. Not a ringing endorsement for getting everyone to participate, but I really appreciated getting a nap.)

      I love the idea of non-competitive groups for team-building, though it would still be great to have activities that uncoordinated and non-sporty people could do well in too.

  21. Too Much CBT*

    “I feel terrible dragging everyone else down and it’s really alienating to know I am the infamous bad luck charm of our entire organization.”

    I promise you that most or all of your team do not think of you this way. It sucks to be unable to do things like this, but no one is like, “Oh here comes Jody, the infamous bad luck charm of our entire organization!” That’s some unhelpful thinking that I’d encourage you to reframe.

    1. EMP*

      I agree! Absolutely support OP suggesting different ways to participate/different activities, but it does sound like some of the thinking here is probably more extreme than the reality of it. But OP may need a break from the mandatory fun to realize that.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      Agreed! I would love to see LW advocate for more inclusive days they can actually enjoy, but even if some people are getting huffy in the moment (which is crummy of them!) they are probably not carrying that over as your defining characteristic. When we’re unhappy and self-conscious, we tend to feel like everyone around us is putting the same amount of emotional energy/long-term memory into the events as we are, but it’s rarely true. I’ve heard it said we would worry less about what people think of us if we could know how rarely they do.

    3. SansaStark*

      Completely agree. If anything, I’m seeking out the others who aren’t good at this stuff so we can sit together and talk about literally ANYTHING else between “turns”.

    4. Samwise*

      I think we can trust the OP that some of her coworkers ARE thinking this way. OP says they switch teams, etc.

      Maybe you have not been the awkward weirdo who gets picked last. That was me until around 10th grade. Decades ago. Anyone who has been there knows who mean kids are, and they know what they’re thinking. I promise you. And OP can tell too.

      1. len*

        They switch to her team, not away from it, I’m not sure why so many people are having so much trouble parsing that.
        The coworkers read to me like a group of kind, mature adults who are not bothered by this and are handling it compassionately. I think it’s helpful to point out that there’s a good chance some of the LW’s perception comes from anxiety about the situation and not really everyone quietly seething, it seems really unlikely to me that this is a big deal at all to anyone else.

        1. Tobias Funke*

          I noticed this too – I think folks are having trouble parsing it because they are P R O J E C T I N G. Also, very few things bring out a wounded inner child like sports.

          1. Daisy Daisy*

            I don’t think they’re projecting, I think just the sentence is written in the letter in a way that’s slightly unclear at first glance, and the fact that the ringers are doing something nominally nice (but which still obviously makes OP feel like they are known to be singled out as bad at this stuff) takes a reread.

        2. Saddy Hour*

          I think the distinction here doesn’t really matter, unlike some of the other threads where folks are demonizing the coworkers. Whether the coworkers are switching from or to OP’s team, they’re still seeing her on a team and making a decision based on that — ergo, they ARE actually seeing her as the one who sucks at this / the “bad luck charm.” Yes, they are trying to respond compassionately, but that sentiment doesn’t have to come from an unkind place to feel really, really alienating.

          I don’t think it’s helpful to tell OP it’s in her head and no one else cares when there’s evidence that, for one, her coworkers do notice, and, for two, she’s clearly hurt by it regardless of if they’re being jerks about it. She wants to feel included, not just “not excluded.” There’s a difference.

  22. Latetotheparty*

    Perhaps you could participate in non-traditional bowling. Google “wacky bowling” for ideas. It helps even the playing field.

  23. Powerpants*

    Our beginning of the year teambuilding activity was bowling. I am disabled. When I got to the bowling alley all of the staff who works there were illegally parked in the handicapped parking spaces. It was so demoralizing. I didn’t participate in anything (because I couldn’t) and just left feeling sad.

  24. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Do you have any ADA accommodations on file with the workplace? If not you need to get that done. Also speak up about some of these issues to the planning committee or person. They may not realize how hard these events are for you, or even think some of them are inclusive for you (such as the video games).

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Not really. You don’t necessarily need to file for formal accommodations if you can do your job without them (which it sounds like OP can) and your employer is willing to take your word that you need certain modifications (which it sounds like they are, given the sentiment that they’re accounting for some range of physical abilities). The big thing here seems to be that OP hasn’t asked. If they were doing an ADA modification for a team building activity, they wouldn’t have to change the activity they’d just have to change the way OP participates, which again given the context they’d probably just need to ask.

      In practice most people get accommodations without filing anything, or making any formal requests. I don’t think there’s anything in the scope of OP’s question that would necessitate “getting that done”.

      1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        “ and your employer is willing to take your word that you need certain modifications…”

        Yeah that is the thing. I have never worked with a HR team or management team thad operates that way.

        Also having a verbal (or email) understanding works great as long as you don’t change departments or managers. I have had employees need accommodations and I always have gotten it documented correctly. It protects me as a manager and makes sure what the employee needs is met even if I leave that company or department.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          A large amount of HR and management teams work that way. Also as MM says right below, you’re risking a lot for something you shouldn’t need accommodation for.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I wouldn’t go the formal accommodations route just for something like this. Being good at bar sports doesn’t sound like a job requirement, and I’d hate for LW to risk discrimination for something that isn’t.

      Speaking with someone on the planning committee can be done much more quietly, and doesn’t even require disclosure; “I’m not good at sports or video games, could we vary up the activities” would get the job done in a reasonably functional workplace.

      (Though if my job was underpaid and stressful, I’d be tempted to skip straight to “could we just have the day off and a bonus of the amount saved”?)

  25. Parcae*

    In addition to the suggestions of alternate activities, I think this workplace could stand to take the competitiveness down a few notches. Why do the ringers have to move themselves around to other teams? Can’t you just… bowl, no teams involved?

    I don’t have it quite as rough as the LW, but I find it much, much easier to laugh at myself when these kinds of things are set up to simply let me throw the ball into the gutter or lose badly at pool AGAIN without letting down a whole team that’s relying on my contributions. It’s the difference between coming in last in a race in gym class (what else is new?) and having everyone’s face fall when you’re assigned to their relay team (oh the shame!).

    1. Be Gneiss*

      FWIW, the ringers are moving themselves to LW’s team so that her team will have a better chance of winning, not moving to another team to avoid her. Which at least makes them seem like relatively decent people.

      1. Cat Lady*

        True, but it does still give the vibe of “we’re moving to your team to make up for your presence.” Which is not a fun message to be on the receiving end of, even if it’s unintentional.

        1. Be Gneiss*

          Not saying it’s great. But it’s at least kinder than “Ugh, LW’s team again?! Someone trade with me!”

      2. There You Are*

        I think that by not communicating to OP what they’re doing, it can make the behavior look bad because it could be interpreted two ways:

        1. “Oh, man, Poor Team X; they got OP. They’ll for sure lose big time if I don’t help them out.”

        2. “Stupid competitive games that make OP feel bad every six weeks. If I slip onto their team, then the team’s stats will match everyone else’s and they won’t stand out, which might help OP from getting their feelings hurt. Again.”

      3. Parcae*

        Oh, no, I totally get that. But the fact that the ringers are doing this just highlights that people DO care who wins. If it didn’t matter, no one would bother.

        It’s annoying enough that I’m bad at bowling. I don’t need everyone’s pity on top of that.

    2. Coverage Associate*

      Yes. I will never take seriously the in office competitions for individuals (more things like who can turn in their timesheet soonest, not like darts) but I will totally be serious if I am assigned to a team. But I still may not like it.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      Yes, I despise keeping score on anything that I play (except sometimes Scrabble). Whether I’m good or bad, the activity is what’s fun to me.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, it really seems like this company is entirely too competitive. Like, who cares who wins these things?? My company had a team building event last year (laser tag; I wasn’t keen on it but whatever, it was just an afternoon) and my team lost horribly after being put against a team with two ppl who play laser tag a lot and a third person who actually owns guns (safely and legally and only for target practice) and not a single person cared one way or the other. Are they basing raises or bonuses on who wins? If not, then who cares who wins? And if so, well, that’s a house of bees you need to get out of, OP.

  26. Teapot Unionist*

    I have some invisible medical issues that make some activities impossible some days. I was recently at a training where ax throwing was the evening team building. I just said “no! My wrist can’t handle it right now” and busied myself as the photographer, drink runner and trash talker/cheerleader. By floating around to different groups, the fact that I never touched an ax wasn’t obvious to anyone. I also created new challenges by telling people who was the person to beat at another station, and matching up beginners to folks who had coached someone else to success. I ended up having a lot of fun, even without touching a single ax.

  27. I have RBF*

    I became disabled as an adult. I was never any great shakes at any sport before, but afterwards it was always “Well, I can try to fake it, but there’s just some things I can’t do.”

    I used to be halfway decent at bowling, but me trying to bowl with my newly dominant (only usable) hand was an adventure. Fortunately, it wasn’t competitive, and my coworkers were actually impressed I could try at all, and not just roll gutterballs.

    Part of that, though, was managing expectations. I was up front that I doubted I could do much, but I was willing to try. Then again, my disability is visible. YMMV

  28. Ellis Bell*

    I have a ton of students with these sorts of invisible issues and it honestly makes me cry to think they could end up at a company like this where it gets glossed over and people who are physically skilled “make up for it” so nobody notices they’re miserable. Just, what? Why are the team building skills all physical? Why are they every six weeks? Why does anyone care about the score since they’re not little kids, and… Why isn’t this optional?! If people have noticed why the fuck isn’t anyone offering real support for OP, alternative ideas and ACTUAL team building? OP you’re not being odd or precious, this is just incredibly thoughtless and ableist. Proceed like it’s not, and people just need the obvious information spelled out and a few ideas that don’t involve a target and scoreboard, but sheesh; it’s not that hard or innovative to do an event without a physical competition.

    1. Jackalope*

      I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but do want to point out that it’s not an inherently bad thing to be competitive or to want to win. Plenty of people who aren’t little kids enjoy winning, and given that some of the coworkers are quietly trying to balance the teams out so OP won’t be a losing factor all the time, it seems like they are trying to be nice about it. I agree that having some other activities would be good, but being competitive is not the problem.

      1. allathian*

        I think the modern post-industrial society is competitive enough as it is, there’s no need to add more. Competitive activities rarely work for team building, there are always a few who take things too seriously and spoil the fun for everyone else, others who get anxious because they feel they’re letting down the team when they’re not excelling at the activity, and the group who just wants to goof around and don’t care about the score.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I think you misread me, because I didn’t condemn all competition in all situations: I actually enjoy competition on occasion, but it is a little eyebrow raising when absolutely every single get together organised has to be a competition. I also don’t think it’s necessarily motivated by childishness, it’s far more likely to be a lack of thought, but it definitely comes across as childish – especially when people are getting grumpy about losing! I do actually think it still reads as really immature to respond to ‘OP is losing’ with ‘Okay, we will help them win!’ Nice, sure, but not too insightful about what the actual problem is.

  29. Cat Lady*

    OP, you said that “being embarrassingly bad at foosball tournaments isn’t exactly a disability to be accommodated.” If you don’t want to define your physical limitations as a disability, I won’t push that label on you. I also have some weird body/brain stuff that I’m not always sure “counts” as a disability, so I get where you’re coming from there.

    That being said, it looks to me like you do have very real physical limitations that most people do not have, regardless of what you want to call them. Wanting those limitations to be accommodated in the workplace is a completely reasonable request. Your coworkers with disabilities doing fine at these activities does not invalidate your struggles with them. And who knows – maybe they’re NOT actually fine, but they can tough it out for a while, so they feel like they can’t speak up and “ruin the fun” for everyone else.

    If you have a decent relationship with your manager/supervisor, or whoever organizes these team things, I definitely second Alison’s recommendation to talk to them about it. It’s very possible that they just don’t realize how this is affecting you, especially if they don’t know about your muscle coordination problems. They should also speak to your more competitive coworkers about their attitude – at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

    I sincerely hope that things get better for you. Best of luck!

  30. There You Are*

    My first week at a Fortune 1 company, after a 3-month internship at a remote-from-corporate location, was Employee Appreciation Week. Our team’s planners decided that playing a series of games — Pin the Tail on the Donkey (blindfolded), Smash the Pinata (blindfolded), and **playing soccer** WHILE BLINDFOLDED was a great idea.

    As they were handing out bandanas to create teams (you and five other people who randomly got the same color bandana), I stepped out of line and started taking pics with my phone. The VP said, “Nooooo, get back in line! You have to be on a team. That’s the fun of all this!” And I said, “I have way more fun taking pictures and cheering for everyone than just trying to make sure my team wins. I’ll help put together a thing for the company newsletter highlighting our awesome department.” And she couldn’t argue with that.

    BTW, yes, there were as many injuries as you would expectt, though, thankfully, none of them were worse than some nasty bruises from being kicked in the shin.

    1. Anon for this*

      Oh wow.

      Mandatory blindfolds is basically PTSD in a box.

      Not to mention guaranteed sexual harassment, intentional or not – people are gonna get touched where they shouldn’t get touched.

  31. Bunny Lake Is Found*

    I think volunteering to take pictures and maybe do a little “write up” would be a great option, like being a cub reporter? These events are something management really sees as valuable, think of how much they might love a Monday company email giving a little breakdown of the event, maybe pictures with fun captions? No one need be good at writing or funny to pull this off.

    I would definitely bring up the fact that maybe it would be fun to do some non-sports activities, but also that it would be cool to have a nice record of these events. Volunteer to do it at next sports event so you can show them just how AWESOME it would be. Then suggest that the “reporter” could be rotated around so that “anyone who wants to gets a chance”, but also so you don’t end up locked out of any non-sport bonding. It would also provide an “out” for other employees if whatever the group event was also something they really didn’t want to do, but they still wanted to contribute to group morale.

    The key is to pitch it as “This would be GREAT! This is not because I am “bad at sports”” or it will bring out someone’s desire to convince you that “it’s fine you are bad at the games! I shall prove this!”…I mean, it is fine, but for you it is actually hindering the bonding and I suspect well meaning cheerleading would make it kind of worse.

  32. ragazza*

    The VP of my department at a former job was incredibly competitive. I had to go to a company kickball tournament when I was dealing with an incredibly upsetting issue in my personal life. I was always the person picked last for teams in school because I don’t have incredible coordination either, so this was not a fun event for me. Anyway, I basically lost our team the game because I couldn’t kick the ball where he wanted me to and he made some sarcastic comment to me. I was literally in tears. He sucked. Luckily he got laid off not long after.

  33. Amber Rose*

    Oh man, that sounds miserable. I wonder if they’d be open to a suggestion to go watch a game sometimes. Like getting everyone tickets to football or something. That’s barsports adjacent right? Eating hotdogs (or whatever) while the game is on?

    But I also support the idea of becoming team photographer/commentator if that’s something you think you’d enjoy at all.

  34. Pink Candyfloss*

    OP, is it possible to just …. decline to participate? Offer to be scorekeeper or kit person or water person or some such? Even cheerleader. Buy a giant Foam Finger and plant yourself on the side with your phone blasting WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS or whatever. Make some funny signs to hold up. Dress up like a Super Fan at a pro sporting event. Really lean into the role. It might be worth offering your own solution to be All Teams Mascot instead of suffering in silence.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is a fantastic idea and it sounds like so much fun. I’m going to add making a pennant that says simply “BOWLING” or something similar a la Homer Simpson.

  35. RNL*

    At my work 1) we choose our own teams so I always end up on a team who is all terrible and uncoordinated and not motivated and 2) lots of people come to hang out, cheer, etc, but not participate. We also do things like have team costume competitions so there are multiple ways to compete at a single event. You may be terrible at bowling but you can have a great team costume! It’s not exactly ideal to have an activity focused on glory for the coordinated/athletic, but it’s totally common and fine to have a bunch of people there, hanging out, taking pictures, chatting, etc.

  36. Happy meal with extra happy*

    I was “on” my company’s softball team, and I really enjoyed it. I almost never actually played (the league required two women per line-up, and we usually had more than that), but it was just a lot of fun to go out one night a week and hang out/enjoy the weather. I also worked with a great group of people who were competitive but also knew we kinda sucked, so it was pretty low key.

  37. Good Luck*

    I am not sure if there are any places like this in your area. But I am from the Northeast Ohio area and we have place called Pins Mechanical that has arcade games, duck pin bowling and other games. They are all in a common area. If you don’t want to participate there are places to watch or just sit and chat. I am not affiliated with Pins, but I have been there a few times and really like it. Perhaps there is something of the sort near you. You could easily get away with just watching and chatting with your co-workers at this kind of joint.

  38. Serious Silly Putty*

    More ideas for team building:
    Jack box games can involve a lot of creativity

    Improv activities really stress some people out, but a short one could give non-coordinated folks a chance to shine

    Have everyone bring a favorite (short) YouTube video/film scene on a given theme to share (we did this for our holiday party and it was fun)

    Party games like Outburst or Hit or Miss

  39. Kindred Spirit*

    This brings back memories of the poorly planned team building off-sites I had no choice but to attend some years ago. It used to be a thing to put groups through trust exercises, like falling backward off platform to (hopefully) be caught by your colleagues, blindfolded walks as you’re guided by a colleague’s voice commands— or being divided into teams to perform physical and problem solving activities as a speed trial, like navigating through a maze-like course while everyone is tied together with ropes around their waists, building something that could float with a person on it, or fashioning a dwelling with minimal supplies and tools.

    Everyone who participated was assigned a leader role at some point, and the rest of the team could give input but were supposed to defer to the designated leader. Well, you can imagine how that went. People who were in management in the office couldn’t hand over the reins for 20 minutes, even for a “fun” team-building activity. Domineering personalities steamrolled those who were more reserved. The organization who ran these activities could have stepped in to remind people that it was someone else’s turn to lead, but they did not. Everyone basically took on the same roles they did in the office and it was extra stressful because there was this element of competition added to the mix. Ugh. I hope never to be part of that kind of “team-building” ever again.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Wow, those sound like summer camp activities, not anything grown adults should be forced to endure (unless they want to). Well, except the trust fall one, which shouldn’t ever be done by anyone without circus performer training.

    2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      The worst ones involve juggling. at least when they make you do something like bowling you can see where they were coming from but juggling?

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Wow this sounds like such a terrible idea!

      And I would have absolutely no idea how to “lead” people through a maze. I wouldn’t object if a dominant personality took that over. Let them do it.

  40. Unfettered scientist*

    Potential non physical team building activities (in case helpful!): trivia, karaoke (though not super inclusive for other reasons), certain escape rooms (not all), dinner out

    1. Unfettered scientist*

      Also gartic phone is a free version of jackbox style games that’s kind of like Pictionary and can be played virtually as well.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Gartic phone is a ton of fun, but if this person struggles to write they are probably going to struggle to draw as well.

        1. Anecdata*

          ooh, I’ve done “emoji pictionary” as a mental break/quick team game and it has no drawing required : goal is the same as pictionary, to get your team to say your assigned word/phrase but instead of a sketch you can only give them strings of emojis

    2. ItsTheFinalCountdown*

      Preferably no escape rooms. My job made us do one when I was 8 months pregnant. Being stuck in a small space with coworkers for an hour is torture when you aren’t feeling great to begin with. I probably could have opted out but didn’t want to be the team whiner. I understand the pressure behind why OP may not want to speak up and bring even more attention to themselves, but it is reasonable for them to request to participate as scorekeeper, food coordinator, photographer, etc.

  41. Lobsterman*

    Be prepared to back this with an ADA suit, OP. I would bet dollars to donuts the higher ups think that these events are central to team success.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, that’s not something that would make sense here with the facts we have. That would only be a consideration if the LW had spoken up and asked to be exempted and they refused, or if she was being penalized for not participating. (And even then it would be unlikely to be a lawsuit! Much more likely to be a letter from a lawyer.)

  42. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    Maybe an escape room? They’re not always the best choice for every team, but they usually involve less hand-eye coordination than bowling or darts. The team I was on in September did one when we had our offsite. I always thought I would hate them as I have anxiety and mild claustrophobia, but the one we did was very fun!

    1. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

      But honestly, my favorite part was the group dinners out, so maybe that’s a better solution.

    2. Just here for the scripts*

      *Locked* in a room with a bunch of colleagues is a great way to trigger this “everyone thinks I’m outgoing and nice” person’s claustrophobia and panics under pressure responses. Nope. I don’t do them with people I love—because crying in the corner while rolled up into a ball is just not good for any relationship (work or personal).

    3. JustaTech*

      I had a coworker suggest an escape room for our group activity and while I personally thought it would be a lot of fun I looked at our group dynamics and asked “you want to be locked in a room with Bob?”
      “Never mind.”
      (This coworker and Bob Did Not get along and I could absolutely see the two of them locked in a room turning into a screaming match. Thankfully Coworker had the self awareness to see this too.)

      It’s pretty clear that you either need a big enough group to let people self-select into the activities they’ll enjoy/not hate *or* you need to know your group well enough to choose something that everyone will at least mostly enjoy.

  43. CanRelate*

    I hate team sports and I’m plenty able bodied, I’m an indoor kid who would rather lift weights or do yoga than interact with people.

    My old office would do stuff like this but always in settings where just sitting at the bar or on the sidelines was an option, and I would often do a curtesy “round” of a sport (bowling) and then opt out.

    I usually opt out by being honest, “I’ll cheer you guys on but I came for snacks and chatting this time.”, “no thanks, I’m just not competitive” “appreciate it, but team sports aren’t my thing”,

    This is much easier socially if there is at least one other person who is happy to not participate that you can band together with, but if you can manage to say it really matter-of-fact with a big smile like “of course you wont peer pressure me into this, we’re not in highschool” vibe, I’ve found most people will back off.

    If the vibe is just that you have to do a minimum thing to feel like you are participating, I think suggesting an alternative is a good option… but honestly I just dont play but still be present, watch, chat and ask questions and chill out, I dont want a job to do. Remind yourself that its fine and that if anyone is pressuring you because you dont want to play their specific game, that’s their problem.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      This is me. I run, bike, hike, formerly did Crossfit (the pandemic showed me I’d rather just lift in my garage), but I absolutely HATE playing team sports of any kind, and I am awful at bowling and even worse at pool and darts. And nothing – NOTHING – about paintball is appealing to me! Honestly these activities sound awful and I’d dread them, too.

  44. Ring ring bananaphone*

    I’m so there with you…. my company went ax throwing for holiday party and im like….nope. undiagnosed dyspraxia is a bear. I cannot do anything coordinated.

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      One thing you could do though is teach your company an important lesson about communication and accessibility. One axe that flies behind you instead of in front of you can be very educational!

      (This is a joke. Doing this could really injure someone and I do not actually recommend.)

      1. Quill*

        We all learned something today, and it’s that holy cow, I cannot believe axe throwing places often serve alcohol.

      2. Beancounter Eric*

        Years ago at a corporate event, I was dragooned into pitching horseshoes….after nearly taking my boss’ head off with a throw, I was excused.

        No, it wasn’t deliberate – just bad aim, and no skill at the game.

  45. morethantired*

    My workplace does a lot of activities like bowling, ping pong and cooking competitions but it’s unfortunate that it sounds like your coworkers get unnecessarily competitive about it. With us, we often don’t even keep score if we go bowling. It’s just about having fun, not points. Who can really expect a hedge dodge group of adults to excel at bowling or darts??

  46. Your Social Work Friend*

    I feel you, team can’t-do-the-thing because I have about 10% of the normal person’s depth perception (I don’t naturally have binocular vision and used to see in double while being blind down the center). Often I feel like it’s not *really* something I can ask to be accommodated because I start the yard stick game comparing my issues to people who have issues that arguably impact their functioning more. But in the case of work related sports, not being accommodated could mean breaking my face if something hits me. . . or stab a coworker with a dart. Our organizer is more than happy to let me heckle people from the sidelines while I keep score.

    Speak up, even if it’s to tell your boss that you’ve elected yourself the company cheerleader. If you’re comfortable, let some close work people know what’s going on so they can help advocate for you so when Bar Sports Steve rolls his eyes at you, Brenda from Accounting can say “yeah, it’s like a medical/vision/whatever thing–I think it’s awesome that she’s still playing with us, so much more fun with all of us!”

  47. Not a Mermaid*

    My former job had a big team building day every year. It was a day long canoe trip. Get on a bus, ride to the embarkment point, everyone get in canoes, row down the river for a few hours. Get to the end where there is a barbecue set up. Meanwhile, the bus has driven away and meets everyone at the end.

    I can’t swim, so I was not going to spend the day canoeing with people who BTW were drinking the entire time. So instead of the “fun” day I got to stay behind all alone in the office and work.

    1. I have RBF*

      Oh, god. When one of my jobs decided to do canoeing, for just an hour, it was a bit of farce. I have hemiparesis, so they had to help me in and out of the canoe, and fortunately it was two person canoes, because I could only even try to row on one side. I was lucky that I didn’t lose the oar. I can’t imagine trying to get anywhere in a canoe alone for all day.

    2. allathian*

      I’d far rather work the day than go canoeing! I can swim, but I have trouble getting into any boat that’s small enough to move under my weight, and I’m obese so that pretty much means that anything smaller than a 15-footer is out. A canoe or rowboat is definitely out of the question.

  48. Michelle Smith*

    The suggestions about a different role are a great one. Softball was a really BIG DEAL at the law school I went to and not participating as a 1L (first year student) was not an option if I wanted to avoid being deemed antisocial by the group of peers I was stuck in classes with for a solid year. Thing is, I don’t do sports. I don’t run, I can’t hit a ball, and I can’t catch or throw one. I have no interest in learning. I do, however, take pretty decent photos and have a tolerable personality so I showed up to the events in my team shirt, cheered on my classmates, and took pictures that I then shared out to the group after the games. No one tasked me with doing that, but it was a way for me to show up and participate in the team-building without the excruciating and unpalatable task of actually pretending to do the sport.

  49. Token JockNerd*

    oh goodness. this sounds awful. (I love physical activities. with people who enthusiastically signed up to love them with me. as soon as they’re hurting someone they suck)

    the comments have loads of great ideas. a really out there one that was a ton of fun for my particular team was an RPG game. you have to know your team (and we had someone who could and was excited to run it and didn’t have to hire a professional) but it was a lot of fun. rolling dice. telling a story.

  50. Artemesia*

    years ago my oldest friend who was an elementary school teacher had a kid in her class who had dwarfism. It was a high paced school and this kid in addition to being physically unable to compete was also not very bright, so he was doubly disadvantaged. What she did was help him become the school photographer and then made sure his photos were showcased in the little school paper. Today it would be on the website, but this was before all that. This kid who was so out of place, really leaned into this and took joy in become a skillful photographer and he had a visible place where he got positive attention and achievement on through high school.

    There needs to be a place for everyone. I love the idea about being the ‘reporter’ or photographer to document the team building days. Or some other role. It sounds just awful to have to repeatedly be the person who drags down the softball team. I think you need to talk to whomever is in charge and let them know this is a physical disability from a childhood injury or condition that doesn’t hold you back professionally but makes physical activities difficult.

  51. Turanga Leela*

    OP, I second Alison’s suggestion of volunteering to be scorekeeper—or just saying, “You know what, I’ve realized I’m not a bowler,” grabbing a beer, and hanging out and talking with everyone.

  52. Observer*

    I don’t know if I can ask that we switch to other activities especially given that everyone else, including coworkers who are living with more impactful physical disabilities, do fine.

    That’s almost certainly not true. They may LOOK like they are doing fine. They may not “irritate” the others – or they might. I doubt you would notice because you are so busy being humiliated. That’s not a dig at you, it’s a comment about the cognitive load that dealing with this kind of garbage takes. And it IS garbage. It is absolutely garbage to subject someone to activities that make them feel bad and annoy others in the name of “feeling good about each other.”

    And it’s a good bet that a log of them are NOT enjoying this stuff. I’m more coordinated than you, but I can tell you that even if I looked like I was doing OK, I would find most of these activities to be the opposite of team building. Some of them would leave me aching at the end of the day, which is something you would not know. And even the things that don’t leave me aching would leave me bored out of my mind, irritated, and / or annoyed at the people who are taking the games waaay too seriously. Never, though, irritated the people who just are not good at this stuff. Even if they just can’t do it. Because there is no reason they should be forced into this kind of activity.

    If they REALLY want “team building” they need activities that actually BUILD teams. Activities that leave people irritated at others (your coworkers) or humiliated (you) simply do not qualify.

    This is not a YOU problem, it’s a THEM problem. It’s totally reasonable for you to speak up. And I bet that a lot of people will thank you. And I will also bet that most of these activities create a really unpleasant experience for most of the staff with physical disabilities.

    1. Boss Scaggs*

      It’s absolutely reasonable to speak up, but there’s really no indication others aren’t enjoying it, so I wouldn’t necessarily count on that in your reasoning. It should be enough that LW is not having fun and would like to mix up the activities.

  53. Admin Amber*

    Is it requied that you attend or can you just not go? It sounds awful and like they aren’t going to change.

  54. talos*

    I can’t bowl (yes, specifically bowling, long story)…I’m generally happy to sit out once or twice a year, and eat bar food near my teammates bowling, but I would definitely be speaking up if this were a more frequent issue.

  55. Coffee Bean*

    I feel for you – I myself have iffy coordination. In fact I have managed to trip on flat surfaces with no apparent obstacle. I recall that feeling of being picked last for a team in gym class with an abject lack if fondness. You are not alone, and I hope the support that you get here makes you feel good.

  56. Lady_Lessa*

    LW, you have my sympathy. I’m knock-kneed, and somewhat ambidextrous, so I have awful with sports. I still have right-left issues. But, I can do counted cross stitch with one hand on top of the piece and the other below. GRIN.
    I hope that you find a way to connect with others. (and I was also one of the last chosen in gym as well.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. It’s been decades since I did any cross stitch, but that’s the way I remember doing it. I kept my dominant hand on top and my non-dominant hand below the cloth to get neat stitches.

        That said, my friend who’s ambidextrous can knit both left-handed and right-handed.

        1. penny dreadful analyzer*

          I’m extremely right-handed, and I keep my left hand below the cloth to hold it, and then move my right hand around to do all of the actually manipulating the needle. If I tried to use my left hand that’s behind the cloth (where I can’t even see it!) to put the needle back through it to the front, it’d take me all day. (I’m a beginner at cross-stitch so I’m slow enough as it is!)

  57. Goldenrod*

    Just chiming in to agree with Alison that these events are WEIRDLY frequent at your place.

    And just to validate your feelings – I know a TON of people who would not be thrilled with having to participate in so many of these types of events at work! It’s not weird to feel unhappy about it.

  58. LittleSomething*

    OP this post hurts my heart. I’m sorry you didn’t get the kind of OT and PT you needed at the time. I was in a similar situation—growing up, I was confined to one very small room and was never allowed to go outside, until eventually as a teenager I was found and rescued. I didn’t get the medical care I needed for what had happened to me either, and as a result I have minimal depth perception and a lot of the issues you’ve listed. I’m trying and failing to learn how to drive.

    I hope your coworkers are able to find a better activity that’s inclusive of you and that makes you feel like part of the team.

    1. Thunder Kitten*

      Im sorry you had to go through that. Best of luck with finding ways to work around those challenges !

  59. Girasol*

    It’s rarely just fun and games when it’s team-building fun and games. If a workplace is the least bit toxic, they turn into toxic competition which is actually destructive to team camaraderie. Team building events need activities that don’t reward some workers for making losers of others.

  60. WorkFromHomerSimpson*

    You’ve really been a good sport about this for far too long! Definitely speak up and use some of the great suggestions for alternative activities that other commenter have suggested. I’m sure you’re not the only one who would appreciate a break from the sporty/physical activities.

    I’m actually fairly athletic and have good coordination. I’m also pretty competitive by nature. You’d think I’d be a prime target for these kinds of activities, but I actually dislike many of them because I’m a female in a male dominated field so I’m rarely able to be competitive against my male peers. Case in point, we had a harebrained plan to play dodgeball as a team building activity. The dodgeballs they bought were the larger rubber ones (apparently regulation dodgeballs) rather than the small soft foam ones I remember from my school gym class days. Well, I have small hands, even for a woman, and I simply couldn’t grip these dodgeballs to throw them well. Add in the difference in average strength, and I was screwed. The guys would try to be nice and not target me, but that just meant I was repeatedly the last one standing on my team but unable to do anything because I couldn’t effectively throw the balls to get anyone out. I’d eventually have to just stand there and get hit to get it over with. It was embarrassing. Then to make it worse, I’d gotten hit in one round so I was trying to walk to the sideline. The manager apparently didn’t realize I was out and he beaned me directly in the face with the ball, causing me to fall down since it was a hard blow that I didnt see coming until it was too late. I wasn’t hurt, fortunately, but I felt humiliated even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. The manager apologized profusely and refused to drop the subject (texting me repeatedly to say he was sorry, asking if I was okay, etc.), which just made it worse.

    So yeah, after that I chose to sit out of most physical events where I knew I wouldn’t be able to compete with the guys. I would keep score/referee, drive the golf cart (I don’t play golf but the guys loved it so we golfed repeatedly), or just sit nearby enjoying my food and drink while they played. I was able to mix in some activities I enjoyed like an escape room and volunteering for a food pantry, so that also helped.

    Anyway, OP, you’re far from alone in not enjoying these activities, regardless of the reason, and I hope you’re able to speak up and find some alternatives that work for you!

  61. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn Profiles*

    “Mandatory Fun” was a good album by Weird Al Yankovic (it really was), but it’s an AWFUL way to run an office.

  62. CoinPurse*

    OP, I am you. Due to a childhood illness, I did not walk until I was 4. My legs did not develop correctly and I am profoundly uncoordinated without making maximum effort every day. I was thrown off a “fun” work softball team for being so terrible. After 10 years of intense practice I am barely competent at beginners yoga.

    Please speak up! My company had an event where every employee had to climb a ladder. In front of the whole company. I said no. They don’t do that anymore. Sometimes it just takes one voice.

    1. I have RBF*

      My company had an event where every employee had to climb a ladder. In front of the whole company.

      Yikes on bikes!

      I have hemiparesis. One of my arms doesn’t work. I literally can’t climb a vertical ladder – it’s part of why I had to change careers from something with field work to a sit-down job.

      I am completely with you on saying “no” to that one.

    2. allathian*

      I learned walk when I was 2 years old, so solidarity. I did eventually learn to ride a bike, but I was 7 years old before I got rid of the support wheels, just before I grew too big to use the tiny kid bike I had. It’s just too bad that there were no kickbikes when I was a kid, because they don’t teach you to lean in the wrong direction like support wheels do.

      I’m afraid of heights, so no ladder climbing for me. Heck, I can’t even climb to our attic…

  63. Twill*

    Regardless of the intention of the ‘ringers’, the OP is miserable at these events! That’s enough! I can’t imagine management would want someone to feel this way. I hope you reach out to them and I hope they understand. I personally do not have an athletic, coordinated bone in my body, and I would happily be cheerleader or scorekeeper at these events.

  64. Pip*

    Great idea to ask the company to pick some non-athletic activities to mix in. I’m positive you’re not the only one who would really appreciate this. I would tell your employer straight up that you can’t do the athletic stuff but that you’ll be happy to take a non-athletic role in those events. My mom was someone who was not athletically gifted and felt the sting of being picked last or close to it, so when she became a teacher, she picked the teams herself and didn’t let the kids do it. She made sure they were balanced in terms of skill level. Your employer should do this, if they don’t already, and should let folks know there’s no switching.

  65. For the love of decency*

    I would try to excuse myself from the rotation of the teams and try and make a case for a company mascot, cheerleader or ref. That way you can watch and encourage others being involved but on the side lines.

    1. Beancounter Eric*

      Being the designated photographer works quite nicely, at least in my experience.

      For me, it lets me a) not have to engage in athletic activity (although having a knee just about ready for surgery is a good excuse), b) hide behind the camera, and c) provide a record of the event for those interested in having one. Oh, and extortion fodder if the need/opportunity arises. :-)

      Given a choice, though, I’ll skip “teambuilding” in favor of actually creating value for our investors.

  66. Sunshine Gremlin*

    This reminds me of when I worked in leadership for a luxury cosmetics brand. My boss unilaterally decided to hold our annual staff party at a TRAMPOLINE PARK and told me I was being unprofessional and negative when I told her it was a bad idea. She told me I was negative again when I was the only person sitting on the sidelines with a staff member that was in chemo and physically couldn’t jump around.

    It’s been many years and every so often, I remember this and it still blows me away that she really tried to tell me I was in the wrong for advocating for all of our staff to be included.

  67. A thought*

    I was in OP’s situation once many years ago, when I was in my twenties and looked fit to an outsider. I have very poor exercise stamina, and also very little competitive spirit about certain kinds of things. We had a team-building retreat with various games. We had a scavenger hunt-type activity, and a couple of my co-workers were CRAZED about winning. There was no prize of any kind. But they would be running off, and I would be, “Oh, go on ahead, I’ll catch up.” And then take my sweet time getting to the next station in the hopes that they would have found the stupid item already by the time I got there. But it really mattered to them how we did in this completely meaningless activity. Some people really care about this stuff. But I don’t think that meant that it bothered people that I wasn’t pulling my weight.

    As part of that same retreat, there was a non-competitive bike ride scheduled. I was very nervous about being able to keep up, and I said something to the event coordinator. Who kind of looked at me with a slow up-and-down “I don’t understand why you can’t do this” and at first tried to reassure me that it was an easy ride. I didn’t respond and dropped it. But to give her credit, when it came time for the ride, it just didn’t happen. No one said anything, but the time came and went on the calendar, and we just went to the next activity. And I think they had rented bikes for twenty people.

    So, OP, bring it up. They don’t know it bothers you, and if they know, they may surprise you and change things without making a big deal out of it. And some people care who actually wins, but an awful lot of people don’t. It sounds like the more athletic people don’t; they are more aware that there’s going to be variation in ability. I was usually last pick for teams for gym, and the more athletic people took my being on their team in stride. I wouldn’t feel bad about not pulling your weight on these activities. Some people are just better at these things than others, and that’s okay.

  68. CLC*

    Yeesh. I don’t have this type of disability and I still don’t like these types of games. I’m ADHD and lose my focus and interest on these things in about 7 minutes—having to keep it up for hours after that is just torture. My company has a once per year offsite team building and development type thing. The first few years they had organized “fun” games the first night. It was brutal. Eventually they learned that the team bonding increases exponentially if you just let everyone hang out in the bar together.

  69. noname1234567*

    Your coworkers sound like jerks for not wanting to be on the same team as you. I could not imagine doing that in real adult life to a coworker. If they are all like that, maybe start looking for another job where people are not jerks. In the meantime, Alison made some good suggestions, and here are some more ideas: a chocolate-making workshop; a painting workshop (where everyone gets their own canvas so everyone’s can be awful or beautiful); a scavenger hunt; a glass-blowing workshop; a mosaic workshop; a soda-making workshop; a bread-baking workshop; a gardening workshop; a flower arrangement class (silk and real). Also, what would happen if you just didn’t show up–or if you showed up, spent 5 minutes, and disappeared? If you’d still get paid, you should give it a shot.

    1. Angstrom*

      I think you misread it. OP said that skilled participants switch to the team they are on to “balance it out.” Still humiliating, but not jerk behavior.

  70. Jenny*

    OP, regardless of other team building suggestions you’ve been given here, you’re going to have to be the one to speak up and say something. As your manager or peer, I’d be very hesitant to approach you about this for fear that it would make you feel worse. None of your coworkers can read your mind — maybe they think you’re bad but you still enjoy it! I’d feel like a jackass asking someone if they would rather do teapot painting because they are bad at bowling. Unless you said something first, then I’d be happy to be your advocate. You have a legit reason to not participate but only you are going to get the ball rolling (not a bowling pun, I swear)

    I know it’s going against the grain of the website a bit but I think team building is fairly important. It helps me see Jane in accounting as a real person and not someone I send invoice emails to once a month. Every activity is not going to be your favorite thing but that’s why offering different activities/participation levels is key. I agree with other that every 6 weeks is overkill, though and giving you all a day off quarterly would be way cooler.

  71. Raida*


    You have to speak up.

    I know it’s been ages since this started, but just say “Would it be alright if I attended but didn’t play the games? I enjoy hanging out and encouraging other people, but I have never enjoyed any. Any. Of the games.”
    And make it clear – “I’m not asking that we don’t do physical stuff anymore, or even that we add anything I would be good at.”
    And if they are (ignorantly) supportive – be very clear “No. I have my very limited, far below average, coordination only through a lot of effort. For me, this *is* good. I accept that, and I do not want *any* suggestions on how I could be better, thank-you. You wouldn’t tell [co-worker in wheelchair] how you believe in them and they could be better at triple-jump, right?”

    You can also suggest additional activities – escape rooms, trivia, card games, quick push-your-luck tabletop games.

  72. Vermont Green*

    You can proactively ask your superiors to balance out these physical competitions with things like Pictionary, karaoke, board came tournaments, charades, trivia contests, and so on.

  73. Knighthope*

    A Faculty member collapsed with a fatal heart attack at a student/faculty basketball game when I was in junior high. Ever since, these kinds of activities have been a “No” for me.

    1. SB*

      Holy cow…same! When I was in year 11, my very fit & seemingly healthy PE teacher was coaching a basketball game & just dropped to the floor. We all raced over to him but he could not be revived. Worst part was, his son, who was in year 9 at the time, was playing on the team & watched his father die. Poor kid was never the same after that.

      Heart attack was what we eventually found out from his wife when she came to the school to talk to us on an assembly a couple of months later. Previously undiagnosed heart condition. He was 45 years old.

  74. Wes*

    It breaks my heart that LW feels that they are ‘dragging everyone else down’ or that they are mindful of people with ‘more impactful disabilities’. The way they describe their condition (can’t drive or ride a bike, have trouble tying their shoelaces) sounds like it is very impactful on their life

  75. Cranjis McBasketball*

    Who exactly organizes these outings? Is there a committee you can get on? Maybe by taking an active part in planning you can bring alternative activities into the mix.

  76. Sometimes maybe*

    I think a lot of the ideas people have mentioned sound great as a bonus event or reward, however if the point is team building they may not work. A movie is fun, but how much interaction will people have. Same for many of the classes; its great to learn something new, but how are team members learning about each other and working as a team. Sports and athletics may be problematic for all the valid reasons mentioned, but they can be good for encouraging teamwork, which is probably why they are a go to for so many companies.

    1. allathian*

      Nah, tabletop board games, trivia quizzes, and those escape rooms that don’t require any athletic ability to pass can be just as good for this.

      Team sports can definitely encourage teamwork, but only when all employees feel like they can make a useful contribution.

  77. Yuck.*

    I am so uncoordinated, but I have fun with it. I am also confident enough to tell any teammates who might have the audacity to get visibly frustrated to “chill out, it is not the Olympics”. If they are getting frustrated, they are not having fun, which seems like the point of the exercise?

    We don’t do stupid team building exercises here though, we just go out & get wasted together like the dysfunctional family we are.

  78. Dances with Light*

    The middle-school mean-kid behavior of some of your more athletic colleagues is proof positive that this “team building” has been a miserable failure. A true team of mature adults would NOT act like that!

    LW, do you HAVE to take part in these activities, or could you take the day off when these “team building” exercises are scheduled? Frankly it sounds as if you’re being treated badly because of a disability – and any half-sensible HR department should be aware of this.

    1. allathian*

      The athletic types are switching to the LWs team rather than away from it, so they’re trying to be nice about it. Informal team sports are usually more fun with approximately even teams. But I’m not sure if it’s all that much better from the POW of the LW, it still shows that they care about the result and think that they need to join the team to compensate for the LW’s presence.

  79. Matt*

    OMG. As someone who was the worst kid in gym class 30 years ago, this sounds like pure hell to me.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I’d be looking for another job with much fewer or no team building events…

  80. I Fought the Law*

    I don’t have much to add that others haven’t already said, except that you seem to have been somewhat gaslighted into believing that these activities are inclusive, which they’re not. I think it’s worth examining whether that (either the gaslighting/invalidation or just ableism in general, or both) is part of your company culture. I would view this as an institutional problem that needs to be changed for everyone’s benefit, rather than an individual “you” problem. Sometimes framing things that way to yourself can make it easier to speak up.

    1. Jenny*

      This isn’t gaslighting or frankly ableism for that matter. If she spoke up and said she had a disability and then they said “tough shit” then it’s ableism. It sounds like from comments she made on this post, the company is doing the best they can to accommodate people who come from different cultures, languages, etc. Doesn’t mean the system is perfect but I would not encourage her to frame her complaints around the event organizers as being intentionally discriminatory.

      1. I Fought the Law*

        The organization doesn’t have to be intentionally discriminatory for it to be ableist, and it’s fine for the OP to point out a systemic issue. In this case, the organization is not considering physical (or any other, for that matter) disabilities that may prevent individuals from fully participating in their team-building activities, or leave them feeling singled out, anxious, and embarassed. That is the definition of ableism, especially if they don’t provide an opt-out. And if something about the culture has made the OP doubt that, or feel wrong or uncomfortable speaking up about it, then they’ve been gaslit, as well.

        I’m so tired of the fallacy that discrimination has to be intentional, obvious, and in your face. I can’t believe there are still people who don’t grasp the concept of systemic or institutional discrimination.

        1. penny dreadful analyzer*

          Ableism doesn’t have to be intentional, but gaslighting absolutely does. It is definitionally not gaslighting if the other party actually has a different perspective from you, no matter how much you can’t believe they really think that. The movie “Gaslight” is not about a man who drove his wife nuts because he was too unobservant to notice that the lights in the house were going dim; it’s a movie about a very deliberate abuse tactic that involves calculated action and deception.

        2. Jenny*

          Yea sure, life and institutions and society are inherently discriminatory. But you’re applying an extremely broad definition of ableism here. The aren’t inhibiting her ability to do her job they just don’t know the rotating bar games they play before eating free food are taking a toll on her. Probably planned by one employee who is trying their best. It doesn’t point to anything systemic. She says she loves her job!

          I understand this is going to be an uncomfortable conversation for her and I feel for her, I just don’t think winding her up to believe that she’s being gaslit (no indication that she is from her letter) or that the company has no regard for disabilities is helping.

          1. Anon for this*

            Oh PLEASE.

            Yeah it’s not gaslighting but it is DEFINITELY ableism. ‘Oh golly, we only do competitive physical games, nothing else, every six weeks. Who could possibly have issues with that?!’

            It’s the definition of ableism.

  81. Tea.Earl Grey.Hot.*

    Middle school bullying of this caliber is why I am now varsity-level sarcastic, and often need to dial it back. I’m also not terribly good at team sports, so when I get stuck with someone being mean/pushy (to either me or someone around me) – I’ve let rip with some of the following:

    “Sure, Chad – all that’s standing between you and that green Master’s jacket/World Cup win/Olympic Medal is this game.”

    “Susan, did I miss a beat? Are we in the Hunger Games? Do our lives suddenly depend on the outcome of foosball/darts/bocce ball?”

    Or, barring that, I’d invite the other sports-challenged person to get food/beverages away from where we are playing, promising we’d be right back (whether we are or not, who knows?).

    That said, your workplace needs to lean away from the organized fun, and have like a cocktail & mocktail or coffee/tea hour. Maybe some of the bilingual employees can get paired up with someone who doesn’t speak English, and either act as translator or just hang out.

  82. hmbalison*

    Hey OP,
    Another person here with no depth perception and who sux at any sport involved hand eye coordination. I totally understand your perspective and would feel the same way if put in the same circumstances at my work. I hope you take in the supportive comments from all the posters here.

    Let us know if things change in your workplace. If you decide to bring up a desire to do something else for team-building, I hope it’s something you enjoy and are good at.

  83. Random Dice*

    I have an invisible disability, that leaves me with chronic pain and fatigue. It’s manageable.

    All of those activities would hurt me.

    Sitting out those activities on a hard stool would hurt me. (These places always have hard chairs)

    Being social after a full day of work would wreck me.

    So no, you’re not the only one. Not remotely!

    These days I am open about my disability, ADA and all. But for years I wasn’t, out of fear of discrimination.

  84. Mad, mad Me*

    What about karaoke, or trivia, or even charades or Balderdash? I’m horrible at the same things OP mentions, but I feel I could acquit myself satisfactorily in some of these activities. (And I can’t imagine “helpful” participants piling onto teams whose members have lousy singing voices, but who knows?)

  85. Former_Employee*

    I’ve always been bad at most things that require hand eye coordination (think softball). The only reason it bothered me when I was in school is because we would sometimes get our PE grade for the day based on how our team did. Totally unfair. Naturally, this did not endear me to teammates.

    Once I was no longer being graded nor was I responsible for the grades of others, I didn’t care.

    I actually think it’s lovely that the better athletes are reviewing the teams and switching if they appear to be out of balance. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the OP isn’t the only weak player in the group since a given percent of people who are thrown together for reasons other than their athletic abilities are bound to be less than good at these sorts of games.

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