Team-Building Exercises Gone Horribly Wrong

There are a few things that strike dread in the hearts of employees more than team-building exercises that no one but bosses love.  We’re not talking about billionaire bosses that lavish cars, diamonds and vacations on employees to keep morale high, but those times where management drags you away from your desk (piled high with work, of course) and cram you into a room with co-workers who probably want to be there less than you.

Don’t get us wrong, there are many great examples of team-building exercises that work AND are actually fun to do.  But these examples aren’t any of those.

  1. Hi-Yo, Silver! One hot August day, a manager took his team out to a horse farm to dabble in some “horse whispering” meant to improve their communication skills.  (With themselves, or the horses?) But even the overwhelming stench from the plentiful horse … um … fertilizer wasn’t the worst part of the exercise. When the staff gathered in the middle of the barn, one horse spooked and charged towards the group, nearly trampling one of them. On the bright side, it definitely was a bonding experience because, for a few seconds, they all thought they were going to die.
  1. You’re such a nut! While doing a “trust” activity between two departments that normally didn’t work together, the staff members intermingled by standing in circles holding hands. Unfortunately, the tedium was broken up by the need to call an ambulance.  It seems one guy from accounting who just loved to snack on peanuts was, unfortunately, holding hands with a woman from marketing who had a severe peanut allergy. Last time we checked, anaphylactic shock doesn’t usually engender trust. No word on if the next team-building event will come with epi-pens.
  1. Pass the soap, sir. In Japan, they do something called “naked relationships” where bosses and employees (of the same gender, luckily) take baths together. After showering and washing their hair in a public facility, the team gets together in a bathtub that usually is a local hot spring. The idea is that when everyone is naked, they are equal and will feel free to discuss anything. We’re pretty sure a million questions would pop into our minds … none of which we would ask for fear of getting fired!
  1. Did anyone here see the movie, “127 Hours”? An outdoorsy he-man of a manager decided it would be a good idea to go to a nearby canyon with his team because one of his staff was afraid of heights and another was severely claustrophobic. He felt that it would help the two get over their fears. He also hoped it would help his group improve their teamwork. The event began with a 50-meter rappel down a cliff wall which, as they descended, narrowed into a dark, narrow space. Once they squeezed through the opening, there was a dark mountain lake at the bottom. The two employees did make it to the bottom (barely), but got a bigger shock when they realized the only way out was the way they came in. Much hyperventilating and many tears ensued.
  1. Catch me if you can. Seriously … please catch me. There is one team-building exercise that has become so hated it is the butt of a million jokes and internet memes. It’s the one where an employee closes his or her eyes, puts their arms out and then falls backwards into the arms of one or more co-workers whose only job is to catch their falling comrade.  Problems happen when 105-pound women try to catch 230-pound guys. Hopefully your company’s health insurance covers concussions and CAT-scans.

The moral of the story is … if you’re planning a team-building event for your office, avoid having it become an event that people dread and complain about. Try these tips to avoid disaster:

  • Don’t choose activities that could violate people’s dignity, privacy, or personal space. Something you might enjoy with close friends isn’t always appropriate for the workplace.
  • Realize that what’s fun for some people is torture for others. This especially includes athletic activities and public performances.
  • A top complaint about team-building exercises is that they have no bearing on how people spend their time the other 364 days of the year. So ask yourself whether the activity really relates to the work people are there to do. If not, find something else.
  • If the purpose of the team-building exercise is to fix a morale problem, it probably isn’t going to work. Those issues require management to step in and take action.

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