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Friday, October 25, 2013

Show a Little Spirit

It is Spirit Week here where I work. And I can’t get a damned thing done, because there is team building going on.

I am fully aware there is no “I” in “team.” But being an anagram aficionado, I do know that there is “me” in “team”. There is also meat, which is kind of what I feel like when I have to participate in team building activities.

Whoever came up with the idea of team building for business groups, in my humble opinion, should be taken out, tied down, and beheaded with a butter knife. And everyone who has ever had a horrific team building experience will be invited, and all those scorned people will go back to their jobs feeling better about what they do. That will be the ultimate, and surely most successful, team building experience.

Let’s face it. There will always be people who love their jobs and get along famously with their co-workers just as there are people who hate their jobs, hate their companies, hate their co-workers and try to bring down the people who love their jobs. Can’t we just accept this and move on?

All you need to do is Google “Team building gone wrong” or “weird team building activities” to learn that some ideas for team building have resulted in near-death experiences. The same search will return names of companies who will, for a steep fee, come in and provide you with team building time wasters that they claim will build the morale of the employees. Do these activities actually work and solve personality problems in the workplace? Absolutely not. Maybe for a day or two the Debbie and Douglas Downers of your office will be slightly warmer and fuzzier, but after that, they return to their old grumpy selves, and the workplace returns to what it was before someone shelled out a big chunk of change for crap like this.

And just to prove that I am not a Douglas Downer, I’d like to say that Spirit Week at work is one of the most well thought-out and useful team building weeks I’ve ever been a part of, because one of the activities is a friendly rivalry which involves departments competing against each other to raise money for breast cancer research. And since I have a dear friend who just completed the months of misery that goes along with breast cancer surgery, chemo, and radiation, I am pushing people to wear the pink ribbon stickers I made and to donate money.

Once at a former job to build team spirit, my department went horseback riding in the cold Virginia rain. No one had raincoats, just wet sweaters and water absorbing jackets that brought about near hypothermia.

On another occasion the department went to a movie together. I have to say that there’s nothing like interacting with your fellow employees while being totally silent in the dark to raise team spirit. At least they bought us popcorn and drinks.

Another time at the same company, we were given $20 in quarters at a gambling casino. People with addictive personalities added some of their own money and ended up losing hundreds of dollars. Talk about a pick-me-up. After I had pushed $11.75 in quarters, one at a time, into a slot machine, I ended up taking home $99.25. So that was an individual win for me, and aren’t personal victories and small fortune-making what team building is all about?

So next door to my office right now, they are making a video where 6 people at a table are doing a hand clapping, table slapping, cup-turning-over cheer to a song by some famous singer I’ve never heard of. That will be our entry into the departmental video contest to be shown on, um, Thursday, I think. I’ll have to consult my schedule. Yes, there’s a schedule. It is a week of activities, after all.

In all honesty, I don’t have anything to complain about. I’m one of the people who loves my job, and I have never had to submit to one of the following real-life team building episodes that others have frightfully had to suffer through.

Summer Olympics challenge in Homestead, Florida. Homestead is just about the closest place in the US to the Equator while still being on mainland Florida. As an employee who’s pushing 60 and who has atrial fibrillation and dilated cardiomyopathy, I can think of nothing more “challenging” than running around in 90+ degree heat with high humidity, competing against very fit co-workers young enough to be my grandchildren.

Paintball. Always a brilliant activity from a liability standpoint. I read about managers being shot in the crotch and spending the rest of the day on a bus, others suffering severe bruising, and screaming in fear of being hurt. Personally, I had a friend who was blinded in one eye while removing his goggles to wipe sweat out of his eyes. He sued the guy who shot him and won.

Throwing paint on each other. On one website I read where a team of 10 all donned white tyvec coveralls and face masks and dumped paint on each other. I can’t think of an easier way of determining who the most hated person in the company is. Just measure the coverage on his/her coveralls. I’m sure that improved the morale of 9 of them.

Waterboarding. An April, 2008 Washington Post article details a young sales rep being pinned down with his head facing downhill while his supervisor poured a gallon of water in the poor-producer’s face as he gasped for air. Afterwards, his supervisor told the rest of his sales staff (and I’m paraphrasing), “Did you see how hard he struggled to breathe? I want to rest of you to struggle just as hard to make your sales quotas.”

Kissing. reports that one team building activity was to assign each person on a team to perform a greeting used in foreign cultures. One lucky person was assigned the task of kissing everyone in the company on both cheeks. Think of all the people you work with and imagine not catching, tasting, or smelling something really gross from this fun-filled activity.

Telling the Truth. One group I read about was forced to go around the room and tell everyone what they disliked about each person. True, they also had to tell them what they liked about the person. But when 12 people tell you have halitosis but think you are probably a good parent, which do you think Stinkybreath is going to remember? This resulted in many people running out of the room in tears. Go, team!

Outing. One team building activity I participated in was to contribute to the community by donating blood. The HR secretary was under pressure to call everyone working the day the bloodmobile came to remind them to give blood. This was about 25 years ago, way before HIPAA laws. To this day, gay men are turned away if they try to give blood. The secretary called me and asked me if I was going to give blood. I told her no, that I couldn’t.

“Why not?” she asked.

“That’s none of your goddamned business,” I replied and hung up on her.

So as I consult my Spirit Week schedule once again today, I see that points will be given for everyone who donates blood in the bloodmobile sitting right in front of my office window. If anyone nags me today to donate, I won’t use profanity. I’ll just say that the blood bank will not accept blood of men who have sex with men. It’s my own little consciousness-raising campaign.

Hopefully it’ll lift their spirits.

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