My friend Louie Cronin has her first book - Everyone Loves You Back – out, and there are many reasons to love this very funny novel back as well (that is, despite the fact that the crazy squirrel-feeding lady is named Maureen). Louie worked on PBS Radio’s Car Talk for years – she was Cronin the Barbarian – and her book is the tale of Bob Boland, an aging, Irish Catholic, baby boomer, jazz-loving radio engineer living in the house he grew up in while Cambridge gentrifies around him (i.e., the oh-so-precious Harvard types move in). The book is exceptionally well-written and wry, and I would be recommending it even if I didn’t know Louie.
Among its many virtues, Everyone depicts the day-to-day workplace as well as anything I’ve ever read. And one of her best chapters is devoted to a team-building exercise that Bob and his colleagues have to endure. I won’t give away the details – you really should read this book – but while I was reading about the team building, I was laughing out loud.
It, of course, reminded me of the many team building events I attended during my decades in mondo corporate.
There was the time we were broken up into small groups, given a box of Tinker Toys, and told to build a helicopter. Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t have built a helicopter with a box of Tinker Toys. All this stupid little task did was pit everyone in our group against each other, while uniting us in solidarity against the groups that managed to make something that didn’t look like a tree house. The only team-building outcome I really recall was that, for years, when we were talking about stupid off-sites, someone would invariably mention the Tinker Toy exercise.
At another multi-day off-site event, we were split into teams and ask to create – and perform – a cheer about the company. Alas, my group had not gleaming former cheerleaders in our ranks. I probably came the closest in that I had protested the Viet Nam War by marching through the streets chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. NLF is gonna winl” (Damned if we weren’t right.) We forged on, and each team had to get up in front of hundreds of our colleagues and do our cheer. Which, for every group, required waving pompoms in the corporate colors. My team was up first, and after we performed our pathetic cheer, we had to watch the other teams do theirs. All of those groups seemed to be well-populated with pretty blondes thrusting out their boobs while performing splits and forming pyramids with lunky sales guys happily forming the bottom tier. Cheers were for naught, however. The company ended up in bankruptcy, sold off in pieces. But not before a spectacularly failed IPO. Yay, team!
Oh, occasionally there were exercises that were tolerable. I actually liked the ones where they gave us mini-personality tests so that we’d have insight into how to get along with those with different personality types. While these events were sort of fun, basically what they ended up doing is reinforcing why I hated almost all the sales people I ever worked with. Fun with Yin and Yang!
But mostly, these team-building exercises were god-awful. Not to mention futile.
I really didn’t get anything out of sitting back to back with a stranger and discussing one of my innermost fears. I really didn’t want to fall back into the arms of someone I didn’t like. Trust me on this: I don’t trust you.
I really didn’t want to spend three days with some huckster who used a technique straight out of Professor Harold Hill’s “Think Method” in the Music Man to try to convince us that wishful thinking alone was enough to pull our downwardly spiraling company out of our downward spiral. The guy who conducted this three-day travesty reminded me of a fellow I’d encountered decades earlier, when my friend Mary Beth and I decided on a lark to attend an introductory Scientology meeting. The guy conducting the meeting explained how to get on the path to becoming an Operating Thetan, and told us that, because of the superior powers of detection that he’d developed as a Scientologist, he could actually detect that there was some hostility in the room.
Given that half the people in the room were asking some fairly challenging questions about the method and the costs, and the other half were stoned college kids rolling around on the floor in hysterics, it actually didn’t take all that much to detect hostility.
The Scientology guy’s name was, I believe, Steve. That was also the name of the three-day Think Method huckster. Could it have been the same guy, 25+ years later…Hmmmm?
Team-building techniques may have improved a bit over the years. A couple of months ago, I went to a client’s off-site, and they had some exercise where we moved around in circles meeting new folks. Sort of like corporate speed-dating. Don’t know what it was supposed to accomplish, but it was interesting at the time.
And don’t get me going on the strategy sessions, where everyone stands around writing stuff down on flip charts about how to make the company run faster-cheaper-better-whatever. Whose turn is it to roll up the flip chart pages, snap a big rubber band around them, and stow it in the corner of their office? I used to believe that Duraflame logs were actually composed of rolled up flip charts from corporate meetings.
Anyway, reading Louie’s very funny book reminded me of something I really don’t miss about corporate.
I always enjoyed being part of a team, but team-building exercises?
Guess I’m like Lucy Van Pelt in that respect:
I love my team, it’s team building I can’t stand.