update: laser tag for team-building

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer who was being required to participate in laser tag for team-building? Here’s the update.

Thank you for answering my letter about the laser tag.

I appreciated your comment about not enjoying movies with a lot of shooting; I have never enjoyed violence in my leisure activities and what with all the horrible things going on in the world right now (and, honestly, ever), I really couldn’t see myself partaking in laser tag. It was reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way about laser tag; it’s always comforting to have someone else agree with you.

I did forward your post to a few colleagues at my level and encouraged them to push back with their managers about how they also don’t want to play laser tag and several of them did. I didn’t end up having time to speak to my own manager about it again but I did decide that on the day of the event I would very firmly say that I felt uncomfortable participating and would wait in the adjacent arcade/snack bar area for everyone else to finish. (Although since arcades trigger my old video game addiction and the flashing lights give me headaches, this wasn’t ideal either.) By the time Laser Tag Day rolled around, I believe there were at least six people who said they couldn’t or wouldn’t participate.

Laser Tag Day was scheduled for the second afternoon of our three days of meetings. On the first day, we did an afternoon “team building exercise” at an arcade and everyone but one employee participated. Day two started out with a short all-staff meeting and then we broke into teams for the rest of the morning. Our team was discussing some really important subjects when another team asked the boss if instead of laser tag we could continue their team meeting and he asked our team if we wanted to do the same. Since many of us had already felt even before the meetings that we definitely could use more time discussing actual work instead of playing games, this ended up being ideal. Many of us are still confused as to why we needed two full afternoons of non-work when we see each other in person so infrequently anyway. Big Boss had said that no one pays attention in the afternoons at these staff meetings so he figured our time would be better used doing something fun. I’m not sure why he didn’t see this as a cue to revamp our all-staff meetings so that they are more relevant to everyone instead of having the same group discussion we have every time we get together, which is only eye-opening for the couple of new staff members we have each time and a big reason why no one pays attention anymore. It’s pretty frustrating that he decided to find a different way to waste our time instead of replacing the usual, work-related time waster with something that is actually productive.

Anyway, as you can see, laser tag was only the tip of the iceberg as to why many of us were frustrated at this chosen activity but the fact that it was laser tag specifically was especially frustrating to me as someone who does not want to participate in any kind of gun-related activity. Thanks again for your advice, I will definitely be more firm in my approach if this comes up again.

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. JustAnotherCommenter*

    “as you can see, laser tag was only the tip of the iceberg as to why many of us were frustrated at this chosen activity ”

    I love that OP recognized this and I think it’s such an important thing to be able to assess in life – it’s rarely *just* about the laser tag.

  2. birb*

    I’ve had bosses in the past like this – they don’t have enough friends so they find ways to force friend activities on their employees, who, bonus, have to treat them like the top of the social hierarchy at work events. The boss gets to do all their fun little things with a captive “friend” group as the top friend who gets to call the shots!

    I think this situation was less “no one’s paying attention during the afternoons, let’s do some team building instead of tedious meetings!” and more “how do I engineer a large group for laser tag that also gets me out of work and also someone else foots the bill?”

    I feel like this is also why so many bosses are pushing to go back to work. They get to write off a lot of expenses, they have the benefit of always being able to always SAY they’re busy with no one to check, and they’ve got a captive “social” group who for the most part has to be friendly and deferential to them. They can do essentially whatever they want as long as they give a watered down excuse to post-justify.

    1. Sometimes I Wonder*

      That’s an element I hadn’t considered, that without in-office work they can’t write off some of their expenses. I know I submit a lot of “coffee with associates” and “team-building lunch” and “mentoring drinks” expenses for my boss, and he definitely wasn’t doing that during WFH. (He is also a really good mentor/team builder, proven by the increased billable hours achieved of his team, though.)

    2. Uranus Wars*

      I agree about the writing off expenses, but as someone who is often an afternoon speaker at multiple all-day meetings I can see that angle too. After about 4 hours the people aren’t engaged anymore in who is talking/what is going on, whether we break into mini-sessions or keep the big groups. We don’t go the “forced fun” route and just do the meeting. We do 1.5 days where everyone is checked out after lunch on the full day for the most part.

      In my ideal we’d have 1/2 day (afternoon), 1 full day, 1/2 day (morning) and the full day would be split between meeting and “whatever you want to do within reason” so people could work if they want, do something non-work specific with colleagues or go to their room and read for the afternoon. WHATEVER.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I’ve seen this go both ways; bosses who hold *terrible* meetings and then conclude meetings aren’t useful under whatever circumstances (too long, over lunch, after lunch, morning – whatever) where I am gritting my teeth thinking “this meeting could have actually been both useful and engaging if you had put one iota of thought into its structure or management!!!”* – and meetings that are just too dang long for anyone to focus.

        *Wow, I am more passionate than I thought about this … I guess I have some pent up emotional frustration on this point haha

        1. Laser Tag LW*

          Oh, yes, totally this! Our boss tends to start the mtgs the same way each time, going over things that most of us already have discussed multiple times. Maybe he finds it useful for us to rehash old topics but it really just tires me (us) out for the more important meetings that we’ll (maybe) have later in the day. I think maybe he feels we need to do this since we usually have at least one new employee each time we meet and thinks that person would benefit from it too, but these discussions are usually both extremely general and esoteric and even when I was a new employee I didn’t find them useful. So he’s right that no one is paying attention in the afternoons but that’s almost always because he’s tuckered us out by lunchtime.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      ooh yes! My former boss was into go-kart racing so that was what we had to do. My heavily pregnant colleague was allowed not to participate, and the accountant who was nearing retirement too, but I had to go! So I teamed up with a youngster and let him take more turns than me. As a result, my name was up there as a winner in one of the first rounds, I took a photo to brag to the teenagers at home!
      When the boss won at the end, I just casually joked with the boss’s wife that her husband must have been practising like mad for this “surprise activity” and whaddya know, I was bang on the money!

  3. Hiring Mgr*

    I agree that the time could have been better used, but I do feel for the folks who were looking forward to the time away from work only to be told “sorry but instead of fun activity, we’ve got a day full of meetings!”

    1. Quake*

      Yeah I kind of raised an eyebrow at how the OP said they were frustrated that the boss was still trying to think of something fun to do instead of just more work.

      Different strokes I guess.

    2. Laser Tag LW*

      Haha, I totally get where you’re coming from but we really needed those meetings; it seemed a total waste of our very minimal time together to not spend at least some of the time in smaller groups discussing topics that really needed to be discussed.

    3. hohumdrum*

      Yeah, I do not have the work ethic that LW has lmao, I absolutely love goofing around and having fun instead of more work. But then, I also work in a field where it’s hard to define goofing off vs work (I work with kids in an informal setting where fun is a focus) so I guess that is why I choose my field lol. Also love my field for its attention to soft skill building- lots of collaboration, team building is appreciated, and lots of socialization opportunities amongst coworkers which absolutely enhances our work IME. But obviously different jobs require different skills and attract different personality types, so while I’m at my dream position I can certainly understand it may sound like a nightmare to a different person!

      1. Laser Tag LW*

        Haha, not sure I have that much of a work ethic either! I also love to goof off but I want to do it on my terms. Laser tag is an activity that I am not comfortable doing so it would have been even worse than doing actual work, lol.

      2. WellRed*

        Laser tag is a total nightmare for me but a book in the snack bar, plus snacks would be a win for me!

        1. Hohumdrum*

          I mean I also love to read but for me that’s more a solo thing, not a group hang. Would def rather laser tag at work and read alone at home vs read at work in a group and laser tag on my own, if that makes sense?

          But definitely different strokes for different folks!

        2. Festively Dressed Earl*

          +1 million. My work ethic would totally survive laser tag or paintball or a sports game, but would evaporate if team building exercises happened in a well-stocked bookstore or a nature preserve or a paint night.

    4. John*

      Agreed, and laser tag is something that’s a lot of fun but hard to get together since you need such a big group (I probably haven’t had a chance to do it since high school), so I would be pretty upset if laser tag was swapped to a meeting.

  4. OrangeCup*

    As a headache and migraine sufferer, flashing lights wouldn’t work for me either! and I think laser tag involves running around? Also no thank you. Bosses need to do a better job thinking these activities through for people with invisible disabilities.

    1. Laser Tag LW*

      Yup, the migraine sufferer in our group definitely wasn’t going to partake. And ironically, we work with people with a disease that causes visible disabilities.

      Technically you’re not allowed to run in laser tag but you do a lot of brisk walking and (optionally) climbing stairs so it is still pretty physical.

      1. OrangeCup*

        Ah, I wasn’t aware. I have a few physical issues so most activities wouldn’t work for me but if I could, I think I’d really enjoy the axe throwing or pottery smashing places- help me get my aggression at corporate America out – LOL!

    2. Hohumdrum*

      Actually you’re not allowed to run at laser tag, it’s one of the bigger rules due to the fact that you play in a darker room. No climbing either. I say this because it became apparent last time that some folks weren’t aware that lower tag and paintball are very different things, and were confusing the play for both.

      1. Anya Lastnerve*

        Yes after the comments on the last letter, I believe many of the negative laser tag comments came from people who have never played laser tag. It’s not something I thought I would like but it was an activity during an internship I had and it was a blast! So much fun. And my kids enjoyed when they were elementary-school aged, so it’s not some dramatic warfare type of game. If it’s not your jam, that’s fine, but the level of opposition to laser tag as an activity really surprised me.

        1. Laser Tag LW*

          I only played it that one other time we had to do it for work and I didn’t much enjoy it then. It’s possible that I might enjoy it if I were doing it voluntarily and with friends and not coworkers (although I don’t think so), but it was pretty awkward to play it with coworkers. Were you required to do it at your internship or was it an optional work activity?

        2. hohumdrum*

          Yeah, I wouldn’t advocate for laser tag as a mandatory work activity, but personally I’ve never played laser tag that had hyper-realistic guns (usually they’re very hokey sci-fi vibes IME) or required (or even just allowed) much in the way of athletics. Obviously that doesn’t mean I don’t believe those versions aren’t out there! But it definitely seemed like some commenters weren’t actually fully clear on what laser tag is. Especially with some saying that it sounded fun but they could never personally do it because of the running and climbing, so I just wanted to clarify it doesn’t actually involve any of that if anyone out there is actually curious about playing.

          I do actually love laser tag, and would be thrilled to play with my coworkers, but also I do hang out with my coworkers outside of work and have genuine friendships with them. Sounds like LW has stronger work/life boundaries than me and is not interested in that, which I understand!

      2. Antilles*

        The other big difference I’ve personally found with paintball vs laser tag is the time frame required.

        Whenever I’ve done laser tag, it’s generally been one activity which is available at a Dave & Busters kind of place where there’s a bunch of other arcade games, a bar, etc to do if you wanted to opt out. My last company did exactly this for a holiday party. One of the activities was a 15-min game of laser tag. There was an announcement and anybody wanted to play could just all meet up; if you didn’t want to play laser tag, you just kept right on playing an arcade game or drinking a beer or whatever for that short time.

        But the couple times when I’ve done paintball, it’s been in some remote outside area where there’s nothing else to do except the paintball for the couple hours we’re there. So if you don’t enjoy paintball, then it’s incredibly miserable.

  5. Lilo*

    I’ve been pretty consistent about this. I’ve never worked at a place that required us to do games or physical activities with coworkers and never felt like my relationship with my coworkers is less cohesive. I don’t want to play laser tag or paint pots or whatever with my boss, she’s a very nice lady but I like to keep a work/life boundary. I want to do those things with my actual friends (some of which might be from work, but aren’t my boss or the people I train). I don’t like having to filter leisure type stuff through my work brain.

    1. Arlo*

      “I don’t like having to filter leisure type stuff through my work brain.”

      Thank you for putting into words why I have a hard time with even the social events for employee resource groups!

  6. Awkwardness*

    “Big Boss had said that no one pays attention in the afternoons at these staff meetings so he figured our time would be better used doing something fun.”

    As someone who rarely got something fun to do at in-person meetings, I would have appreciated this.
    Unfortunately it did not work for OP.

    So glad you had a good outcome!

  7. Coyote River*

    My main takeaway from this is that now I want to try laser tag. I’m going to put it to my team as a suggestion next year, see if it’s something they’d be interested in. I only employ former military so I’m hopeful it’ll bring out their competitive side.

    1. Hohumdrum*

      I actually would say that if you’re hoping to excite some ex-military types the game you’re looking for is paintball, not laser tag. Laser tag is really only mildly competitive, with very fake space guns and very little athletic activity. Paintball is the game that played outside where running and climbing is allowed, and the guns are more realistic. Laser tag is something played by children for a reason.

      1. Coyote River*

        Well, I’m ex-military myself and I’m excited to try it. I’m also in my sixties, so unfortunately paintball may be something I’d have to enjoy from the sidelines.

    2. Angela Zeigler*

      Depending on your local options, there are some laser tag that’s more sci-fi based, and there are some places that specialize in ‘tactical’ laser tag. The latter is usually more adult-friendly in that it has more complicated game modes that need more strategy/teamwork. Regular laser tends to be more simplistic (free-for-all with everyone competing scores). Both are a lot of fun!

  8. Angela Zeigler*

    I’m glad things worked out for LW, but I can’t help but feel for anyone who was genuinely looking forward to something fun and different that afternoon, only to have the plan changed last-minute, and the peer-pressure from others that the meetings were better. Different strokes for different folks, I get it, but I wish there was an outcome where the laser-tag peeps could’ve still enjoyed the activity while those who opted out could still do so.

    I’m very focused and professional at work, but if the company says they’re giving us something fun, on their time and dollar, I’m going to 100% hold them to that, because that’s the least they can do haha.

    1. FunAndGames*

      Yea I would have been really disappointed that the fun part of the day was swapped for more meetings. The mental energy of that is tough, and I would have appreciated a way to feel a little way to release some energy.

  9. Tiger Snake*

    “why we needed two full afternoons of non-work when we see each other in person so infrequently anyway”

    That’s why.

    You see each other infrequently, so they want everyone to build a positive mental association in their brain. Not just “this person does okay work”, but also “oh yeah we were on the same team for laser tag and got pinned down in the corner by Amy together. Boy that was fun.”

    Yeah, having positive they-do-good-work thoughts is important. But work can get tiring and then the negative work thoughts influence the they-do-good-work thoughts because they’re in the same mental filing cabinet. Having positive “we’ve had fun together in the past so now we’re team bonded” does a lot for morale and helping offset that work-feels-control-how-I-feel-about-you. Its contribution gets way too easy discounted.

    1. allathian*

      You have a point, but another thing entirely is that the activity has to be something that everyone can get behind. If people aren’t having fun, they aren’t getting the positive vibes that can carry over to actual work, either.

      There’s also the point that the LW felt they could have used the time more productively in smaller meetings, rather than the ones the manager ran. If there are actual work issues that could benefit from being discussed in person, forced fun is a waste of time.

      The corollary to that is that relationships at work are generally built by working towards the same goal together.

      I can enjoy some leisure activities with my coworkers, as long as they aren’t too physically demanding (paint-pouring was an activity we did at the end of the second day of a two-day offsite, with meetings and a training for the rest of the time). But this is because I’ve already built good relationships with them by working with them.

      I also don’t need to be friends with my coworkers, friendly acquaintances is good enough for me, although I can live with “totally professional at all times, never showing a hint of their non-work persona at work” as well. I also value work/life separation more than social connection at work. And “work feels” will definitely always dominate my relationships with my coworkers, if the working relationship is bad, no amount of “fun” teambuilding activities is going to change that for me.

      1. Laser Tag LW*

        If there are actual work issues that could benefit from being discussed in person, forced fun is a waste of time.

        Yeah, this^. We do a lot of what might be considered “team building” during our weekly Zoom staff meetings, and we also go out to lunch during these in-person meetings, so we get a lot of informal time together. I like the informal lunches where I get to hear about people’s lives, and our weekly online team building stuff is enough for me. Taking time out of our precious in-person meeting for more of that sort of thing when we had a number of work things that we needed to discuss was really frustrating.

  10. Whozits*

    Maybe I missed something, but I’m confused as to why people waited until Event Time to push back on the event. While understanding Laser Tag isn’t everyone’s thing (and tbh, what is Everyone’s Thing?) I know I’d be a bit annoyed if we had a scheduled “fun time” and the group decided to “keep working”.

    I get that not everyone likes a chosen activity. And I get that some people would just completely Rather Not when it comes to any activities at work that don’t involve the words on one’s job description.

    But some people do.

    Personally, I’m down for whatever ‘fun’ activity my job wants to pay for and pay me for.

    To me*, a work “fun” day, especially when schedule during work time, is not a time to work! Like, it’s just a job. It’s just a business. It’s just a company’s money. I still get mine. I’d really feel like my team was stealing time from me if the group decided to keep working, simply because some didn’t want to do the activity.

    *By me, I meant me, not you, not what I believe other should believe, or how others behave.

    1. Laser Tag LW*

      I get what you’re saying. I think the real issue here is that several of us really would not have had fun at laser tag and we were getting a lot of important work done because of the synergy of being in a room together. The people I talked to about laser tag ahead of time were frustrated because they are really overworked and really didn’t want to do something that was not work related during work hours that meant they would have to catch up on real work outside of their usual work hours. Finding meeting time that works for everyone is quite difficult and since we were having really productive meetings (and how often does that happen?), halting that productivity to go do an activity that most people weren’t into would have been a real misuse of our time together.

      Regarding your first paragraph, many of us did push back on laser tag ahead of time. I don’t know who in the other group suggested on that day that we just keep meeting instead of doing laser tag but I strongly suspect it was one of the c-level staff. I don’t know if any of his team pushed back ahead of time.

  11. Skytext*

    I’m a little unclear—was laser tag cancelled for everybody? Or just the two small groups? It sounds like one group ASKED to skip the tag and continue their meeting because they were very invested in what they were discussing. And LW’s group felt the same way, so when the boss asked if they wanted that as well, they jumped on it. But are there other groups that went ahead and played tag? Or if one person on a group that stayed said “okay, I think I’ve contributed everything I can at this point, I’m gonna go join the laser tag”, would that have been okay with the other group members? I’m just responding to all the comments essentially saying “if I was promised an afternoon of fun laser tag, I’d be pissed if it was switched at the last minute to more meetings”. Because I don’t think that happened to everyone.

    1. Laser Tag LW*

      We are a very small org so there were only two groups. When one group wanted to keep working they asked the other group what they wanted to do and the other group (my group) also said they’d rather keep working. I was unable to poll every single person (because it’s weird to ask a high-level person these kinds of questions if they are not someone you talk to regularly) but I don’t get the impression that anyone was sad that laser tag didn’t happen, except for maybe the person whose idea it was to do laser tag. And he was the one who asked our group if we wanted to laser tag or keep working.

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