“We’re going to run a team-building event.”
The first time I heard those words I was a young graduate trainee. I was still too junior to go on the three-day outdoor bonding exercise but I remember the effect it had on the middle managers who were being forced to participate. They were, to put it bluntly, shitting themselves.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have seen team-building events work really well. I have even witnessed a few that have actually improved the way the team works. All too often, though, they are either expensive jollies, excuses for macho posturing by executives or opportunities for self-styled gurus to test their latest mumbo-jumbo theories. Most stories of team-building excess are so ridiculous that they are funny. But no-one was laughing last week as a so-called motivational speaker was charged with manslaughter after three people died and eighteen others were injured during one of his events.
James Ray, who had built a multi-million dollar business empire out of such events, decided it would be good for his clients’ personal development to be cooked in a sweatbox in the Arizona desert for a few hours. After enduring fasting and sleep deprivation, 50 people were crammed into a tent made of plastic sheeting and slowly roasted. It’s the sort of thing you associate with war-crimes trials rather than corporate events.
It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent people are taken in by this kind of rubbish. Sure there’s something to be said for stretching yourself a bit and doing things you wouldn’t normally do but sitting and baking under a plastic cover isn’t going to make you a stronger person. At best it will give you a headache and make you smell; at worst it will kill you.