Helping you mobilise your inner resources to achieve your dreams

When team building days go wrong….

A few months ago I wrote some blogs on the theme of team-building/away days, which struck a chord with readers. I received a few real-life examples of why an away day didn’t work or was unproductive in some way, which got me thinking as to whether this feedback referred to isolated incidents.

ID-100115004Once I started looking for examples on the web I was both amused and shocked to see how many anecdotes and stories there were around poor/weird/disastrous team-building days. And whilst digging more examples out, I also found some of the more unusual activities employees are invited to undertake.

I think it’s fair to say that practically everyone knows the purpose of a team-building away day. Removing staff from their workplaces delivers a different perspective and shakes them from their comfort zones. Usually, the structure of the day and the types of activities involved help participants to learn trust, exercise creative thought, and interact effectively within groups.

That said, what the organisers were aiming to achieve with the following anecdotes is less apparent.

Strange but true…

 “I worked in a team that was having trouble getting along. First activity? We had to go around the room and say what we didn’t like about each other. We might have also had to add what we did like about each other but I honestly only remember the criticisms and people bursting into tears. We went from simply not being able to work together to actively disliking each other in about 30 minutes.”

“My team did ‘horse whispering,’ where you work with horses to learn about effective communication. One of the horses got over-excited, galloped towards the centre of the barn where we were being briefed, and nearly trampled one of my co-workers. It was a bonding experience to a certain extent, but only because we all thought we were going to die.”

“I work in Japan, and my worst team-building exercise was taking a bath with my boss and supervisors (of the same gender). After showering and washing your hair in a group facility, you sit in the bath together, talk and bond. The idea is that when you’re naked, everyone is equal and you feel freer to discuss and joke about things that you wouldn’t in the office.”

“We had to take a big gulp of soda and spit it into a partner’s mouth! It was incredibly disgusting.”

Even more strange?

These are genuine activities available for corporate teams:

  • Sheepdog handling
  • Stuntman training
  • Egg roulette (taking turns to smash eggs on your forehead to see if they’re boiled or raw. Lovely.)
  • Cardboard boat racing
  • Blindfold driving
  • Sumo wrestling
  • Human vs. zombies
  • Chariot racing

The intention of these activities may be to encourage participation and to bring people out of their shell, in the hope this renewed confidence and sense of community continue when everyone’s back at work. However, competition-type events only reinforce good things for those that win; the rest get the message that they’re not good enough or that only winners are rewarded, which isn’t conducive to productive work or the basis of a successful team.

What a successful team-building day looks like

An effective team-building event should: promote a greater understanding within each participant, and the people they work with on a regular basis; leave participants with a positive experience and a feeling that they’ve all worked well together; a pride in the work they do, and for their organisation; a sense that the time was beneficial and that it will ultimately help the whole group work in unity, towards shared goals.

Ensuring that those participants that help others win or get good results are recognised or rewarded – as well as the top dogs – sends a powerful message that ALL contribution is important and of value in group situations. Reminding or showing employees how everyone can benefit if they’re all pulling the same way, towards the same goal, gives the important message that co-operation often results in greater success than solitary initiatives or approaches.

A successful day also builds in time for reflection – particularly helpful for the introverts in the group – so that participants can absorb what they’ve learned, make sense of it, and hopefully understand how those skills can be implemented once back at work.

I’m sure I could find even more evidence of strange and unsuccessful team-building days – perhaps you have your own account? When planned correctly, with suitable outcomes, team-building days can prove useful tools that encourage unity, boost production and build confidence. However, as you’ve seen, the desire to help participants step out of their comfort zone and ‘think outside the box’ can conjure up some very strange tasks/initiatives indeed!

If you’d like my help to improve the success and productivity of a team within your organisation, please do get in touch to discuss the situation, under no obligation. Call 01302 220021, or email me at angela.sabin@executive-life-coaching.co.uk.

Source: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2012/07/06/the-10-most-horrifying-team-building-exercises/#sthash.UPFuHC8m.dpuf

Thanks to Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.


  1. Angela, I enjoyed reading this blog.
    I have one comment. You say:
    “A successful day also builds in time for reflection – particularly helpful for the introverts in the group – so that participants can absorb what they’ve learned, make sense of it, and hopefully understand how those skills can be implemented once back at work”
    Surely, ‘hopefully’ is a bit of a cop out. You can have a fun day out wrestling in mud, or playing Shakespeare, but unless you learn something that will change the way you operate back at work is it worth the time and money? Should not the expectation be that everyone takes away something that will improve themselves and/or the business?

    • angelasabin

      Hi Alan, Lovely to hear from you. Thanks for your comment and alerting me to the qualifying aspect of ‘hopefully’. I couldn’t agree more – if team days are to be worth the time and money, everyone needs to take something away from it to improve; be that communications, problem solving, decision making or other area targeted and agreed with the team beforehand.

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