5 team-building exercises that can go horribly wrong

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If you sense a lack of “team” spirit at your company, you may want to research what employees actually think when their boss hires a consultant to run a day or even an entire weekend of “fun” team-building exercises.

Here’s a list of just five (and there are many more online) of what employees called the most “horrifying” or “embarrassing” team-building sessions they were forced to suffer through.

1) Nearly unanimously, anything involving ropes often gets a thumbs-down from those employees lacking the “outdoorsy” gene. The funny thing is that zip lines, dangling off a jagged rock cliff, or a 150-foot rappel with a mountain lake at the bottom seem to be many company’s first choice for building team unity. No one, after all, wants to drop a fellow worker to their death unless maybe it’s the boss who came up with the idea in the first place.

Not everyone, of course, is as athletic as those who value their gym membership as a better benefit than health insurance. And, yes, some people really do have a terrifying fear of heights. One employee wrote how half the women on the staff showed up in skirts and heels, essentially giving them a good excuse from participating on the rope course at all.

2) If you had to name another popular team-building outing besides a rope course, you’d probably pick paintball. What is it about mock warfare that bosses believe creates teamwork?

Turns out that paintball guns aren’t really as innocent as they sound. One employee remembers how within five seconds, someone’s gun misfired, sending a projectile into a manager’s crotch, retiring him back to the bus for the rest of the afternoon. Another supervisor was shot in the back, resulting in a black-and-blue welt the size of a baseball. The bus ride home on that team-building day, employees said, was entirely silent.

3) Another classic on team-building lists is the “trust” fall. You’re told to stand in front of a colleague, close your eyes and lean back into their arms. Just before you do, the colleague asks, “Do you trust me?” By replying “yes,” you fall back, and they catch you safely. This is all great stuff until you’re back at work, and that same co-worker never returns your emails, takes good assignments away from you and seems ready to throw you under the bus at every turn. Trust? Even though he caught you from falling, you never really trusted him at all and you still don’t!

4) Common team-building techniques include crazy “animal” sessions. Warning: These may or may not involve real animals. One team-building expert, for example, got to determine what kind of workplace animal trait was in each employee. The boss turned out to be a “lion.” Surprise, surprise. (He was paying the consultant, after all.) Another employee, however, was told he was a “monkey.” Days later, co-workers informed the embarrassed “monkey” staffer that they should never stifle his “natural simian creativity.”

5) Team building with real animals? Yes, it actually happens. One office, informed they were going to learn effective “communication” techniques, went out for an afternoon of “horse whispering” — with real horses. Unfortunately, as these things often will go, one horse galloped into the team, nearly trampling a worker to the ground. As one employee described it, it really did turn out to be a “bonding” experience. “But only because we thought were we were all going to die.”


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