Depending on how you feel about group trips to Dave & Buster's or catching Cheryl from accounting as she falls backward from a raised platform into your not-so-loving embrace, office team-building exercises can be either an unpleasant exercise in forced bonding or a fun, morale-boosting excuse to decamp from your cubicle and get to know your co-workers better. Memorable and much appreciated or an introvert’s worst nightmare, team-building events really swing both ways.
Sure, you may be familiar with — and perhaps have been subjected to firsthand — team-building standards such as field trips to ropes courses, scavenger hunts, cooking classes and lunchtime icebreaker games. But have you ever donned a sumo fat suit, pretended to be a zombie, driven through an obstacle course while blindfolded or used your body in a percussive manner all for the sake of building trust with and getting to know your co-workers? Perhaps not.
Below, we’ve rounded up six unusual and extreme corporate team-building activities. While we're not quite sure if we’d actually want to participate in some of these, one thing’s for sure: They’re all excellent fodder for subsequent water cooler gossip.
What are your thoughts on mandatory team-building activities? Do you think they’re awkward and a waste of time? Or have they proven to be helpful by increasing your motivation and productivity? And have you ever participated in a bizarre or downright excruciating team-building activity or retreat? Please do tell us all about it in the comments section.
British firm The Teambuilding Company offers a whole slew of intense indoor and outdoor events that sound either completely mortifying and demoralizing or fun and enriching (again, depends on whom you ask) including duck herding, Human Table Football, dagger throwing and various activities involving speedboats and ATVs. And then there’s an event called “Hostage” in which “participants are sitting in a conference room when our crack force take the room by storm and kidnap a senior executive or a briefcase containing secret company documents. They are told that they must comply with the hostage takers' demands to free the person or case.”
Alrighty then. Still, when it comes down to it, the one Teambuilding Company offering that leaves us a bit on edge just thinking about it is blindfold driving. Geared to force participants to find “unique alternative solutions to complex problems, in a fun and engaging way,” the event plays out pretty much as you think it would: “… check out the course, plan your route, load your team in the back, put your blindfold on and away you go.” However, given that the use of obvious verbal direction-giving (i.e. “go straight,” turn left”) is verboten during the drive and the word “mayhem” is used by the firm to describe the proceedings, we’d probably opt to hide in the office storage room during this outing. Either that or we’d insist that another less stressful Teambuilding Company offering immediately follow a harrowing afternoon of blindfold driving: cocktail making.
Despite some doubts regarding their effectiveness, the U.K. continues to be big on extreme corporate team-building activities, and numerous firms cater to clients willing to fork over cash to send their employees zip lining, clay pigeon shooting, karting, paintballing, or, umm, tank driving, all in the name of inter-office bonding. And then, of course, there’s a beloved staple of British corporate team-building that relies more on giggles than chills and thrills: sumo wrestling.
Naturally, there’s a British firm specializing in corporate “Fatless Fat Fun” for when “the old team-building standards are feeling a bit tired.” Surrey-based Sumo Experience provides not only the sumo fat suits (complete with protective headgear that resembles a sumo hairdo) that will send your “opponent rolling on the ground like a beach ball,” but a Dohyo (sumo arena) and Gyoji (sumo referee) as well. Smoke machine and Japanese soundtrack are optional. Because really, there’s no better way to build a healthy rapport with your manager than pinning him or her to the ground while wearing a padded vinyl fat suit while your co-workers stand around and cheer on.
Humans vs. Zombies
Given that zombies are incredibly au courant these days (seriously, take a look around MNN and you’ll find more than a few living dead-related articles), naturally there’s a corporate team-building event that involves surviving an onslaught of reanimated corpses (aka the entire IT department). Conceived by a group of students at Goucher College in 2005, Humans Vs. Zombies is played at numerous colleges, high schools, summer camps and military bases (!) across the globe in an effort to create “deep bonds between players, instantly removing social boundaries by forcing players to engage as equals and cooperate for their survival.” After all, as the HvZ website points out, “zombies don’t discriminate by race, gender, or sexual preference/identity — they will eat you unless you work together.”
The creators of HvZ have, of course, expanded their sights beyond college campuses, and are available to assist in organizing team-building and corporate events. Here's a brief rundown of how the game all pans out: “On the day of the game, your team will be briefed on the rules. As soon as play starts, they’ll have to trust each other to survive the zombie outbreak while completing various missions around the area. As human players are tagged, they’ll join the zombie team. As zombies, players need to work in perfect cohesion to outsmart the humans. At the end of the day, your team will meet back up to share war stories and talk about the game.” Also, there’s this: “Zombie Team Building” the movie.
Like dressing up like an extra in a George Romero film and gallivanting around town, flash mobs — “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse” as defined by Wikipedia — are all the rage as of late (zombie flash mobbing, anyone?). Running the gamut from cringe-inducing to thought-provoking, flash mobbing is also one of the many customized events — “Flash Teaming,” to be exact — offered by leading American corporate team-building firm TeamBonding, a company with an impressive client list that includes Ford, Coca-Cola, Google, McDonalds, Disney, Starbucks, and on.
Described by the company as “the single most innovative and effective team-building event in the marketplace today,” a Flash Team event is all about “surprise, engagement, cohesion, risk taking and energy.” It’s also all about calling in sick if you don’t feel up to channeling your inner Michael Jackson with 30 to 250 of your co-workers in the food court of a local mall. Aside from Flash Team, TeamBonding also coordinates an array of rather interesting team-building programs, some charity-minded, including beehive and dollhouse building, blindfolded dinners, ice sculpting, and over a dozen themed scavenger and treasure hunts (“Scaventures,” if you will) that may or may not involve limousines, museums, drinking your face off, and/or re-enacting popular murder mystery-based board games.
In addition to sand sculpture building and something called “Tropical Libation Container Creation,” Wildly Different, an Orlando-based firm with the clever motto “Play Outside the Cubicle,” offers a whole bunch of “inspired by …”-type corporate team-building activities: “American Ideal,” “The Accomplice,” “SurStrivor,” “Extreme Room Makeover,” “The Amazing Chase” … you get the point.
However, it’s not one of Wildly Different’s reality show-themed activities that caught our attention. We just can’t get over “Chariots Afire,” a ridiculous-looking event in which participants decorate and race their own DIY chariots (your able-bodied co-workers sub in for actual horses). After each team’s chariot is appropriately adorned, “battalions saddle up their horses, riders climb aboard their chariots and horses pull riders and their chariots around various obstacles. Everyone on the battalion participates in the races. At different stops along the way, teammates meet their rider to compete in challenges." Oh, how we’d like to be a fly on the wall during this one.
'The Rhythm Method'
We suppose you haven’t really experienced an office team-building activity until you’ve witnessed Pam, your mild-manned, middle-aged cubicle mate, shake her hips with reckless abandon, stomp her feet and emit animalistic noises not otherwise found in nature. Well, you can witness just that while partaking in the “Rhythm Method,” a “groove-based workshop using body and vocal percussion” that’s offered by Australia’s Blue Mountain Events.
Blue Mountain Events divides its menu of team-building activities and workshops into three main categories: Sublime, Extraordinary and Ridiculous. Obviously, the Rhythm Method falls into that last category along with other “if you even think about tagging me in that Facebook picture from last weekend’s retreat I will make your life a living hell”-type of group activities such as fire juggling and tribal dancing. Yikes. We’re admittedly a bit more keen on some of the firm’s “Sublime” experiences including chocolate and coffee tasting, stargazing and group yoga.
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