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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Does Doing Jell-O Shots with Your Co-Workers Count as Team Building?

I spent 14 years of my life toiling away for various financial institutions.  Out of those 14 years, only 2 of them were actually enjoyable.  The rest, well, not so much. Now I am the first to admit that I am more or less of a loner.  This trait means that I am quite capable of accomplishing tasks on my own without the assistance of a team or consortium.

In my youth, I was not the type of kid that had a bazillion friends.  I always had 1 or 2 core people that I spent a majority of my time with and the rest were acquaintances and surface relationships.  You know the type.  “Hey, how was your weekend?”  “Algebra really sucks, doesn’t it?” No deep or meaningful exchanges just social pleasantries.

When I joined corporate America I did not know the level of social engagement that was going to be thrust upon me. Unfortunately, I was about to find out. Welcome to the world of cubicles! Yes, no one but Senior Vice Presidents and CEO’s are allowed any privacy.  Doors? Walls?  Who needs them?  Why not put a bunch of people that have never met one another together and see what happens?  What a terrific idea!

Having no doors or windows means that you are forced to stare at your cube mate’s “Hunk of the Month” or “Babe of the Month” posters every single day.  No escape, my friends!  You must sparkle and shine!  Always have a smile on your face even if your morning commute involved standing on the metro for two hours in heels because your co-workers are watching you! It also means that you are going to hear TONS of conversations that you don’t want to hear on a daily basis.   Let’s just say that I was privy to some discussions that included terms that even Urban Dictionary doesn’t know about. Good times, right?

The business world is also fond of creating teams.  Everything is team oriented. I understand the logic behind it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have drank the Kool Aid, so to speak. As a former athlete, I value team work, I get “Together Everyone Achieves More.” Yes, I rolled my eyes at that as well! I appreciate the journey of cooperation and that success is much sweeter when it is shared and yada yada yada. I also understand that some tasks do not require a village or a consensus. If you are in customer service and you are answering phones, do you really need to be a member of a team?  It’s not as if you can tag someone in to assist you if Mr. or Ms. Pissed Off Customer is berating you because they didn’t get the right merchandise or they couldn’t balance their checkbook. In my case, there was no one to assist me when the Excel spreadsheet I was working on decided to crap out and all of my data was lost. Is it possible to go all “Dexter Morgan” on software? But I digress.

Most of the time I felt as if I were on an episode of “Survivor.”  I was secretly hoping to be voted off the island. Of course, that didn’t happen. No, I was stuck on this program forever getting bitten by mosquitos in the searing heat or so it seemed. Invariably in one of these business institutions some CEO would receive data on how to increase worker productivity through ping pong tournaments and then the associate engagement frenzy would begin.

For those of you out there that have not been introduced to associate engagement, I will give you a quick tutorial. If employees feel warm and fuzzy about their workplace, then they will enjoy what they are doing and company revenue will increase.  What gives employees the “warm fuzzies?”

It depends on the person.  For some people, a bonus or pay bump will do the trick.  Others want flexible hours or recognition programs.

Since most corporations are way too big to know their employees on every level they rely heavily on survey results.  Each year, associates are required to participate in a survey which is designed to gauge how they feel about their company and their managers.  Prior to this event, a whirlwind o’ activity is started designed to increase favorable survey participation.

The slew of activities can include everything from bad Hawaiian shirt days, raffles for company merchandise such as mugs and shirts (YAY! Who doesn’t want that? Can you say future gift for a relative that you don’t like?) and seminars on how to manage stress. Of course, there are companies that will pay for team building exercises which is code for dinner and drinks on the house!

I can’t tell you how many functions that I have been forced to attend at restaurants or bars under the guise of getting to “know” my team. Usually these events were a plus one.  So I would bring my husband. I felt he needed to share in my discomfort.  One time, we went to a local hot spot. Now, this place would have NEVER been on my bucket list.  It was an establishment that had several entertainment venues and sawdust on the floor.  For those of you that have seen the movie, “The Blues Brothers” think Bob’s Country Bunker.  I was half expecting to be encased in chicken wire like Jake and Elwood Blues. If you aren’t familiar with this reference, then think dive bar with a capital D.  The type of place that you don’t want to see in the light of day.  I should have known what we were in for when we were greeted by one of the wait staff carrying a tray of Jell-O shots.  I was immediately transported back to my college days.  I thought what’s next, grain alcohol punch?

Right off the bat, my husband and I were accosted by one of my colleagues.  Evidently she had been frequenting the bar for several hours because she was having a hard time forming a coherent sentence. “Hey Susan!” Before I could move away, she proceeded to hug me as if we hadn’t seen each other since, oh I don’t know, 3 hours ago.  “Hi Tammie.” I said as I deftly extricated myself from her choke hold. Tammie immediately set her sights on my husband and threw her arms around him. “Who is this handsome guy?”  My husband, forever the gentleman, politely removed himself from her polar bear grip and introduced himself. After this awkward exchange, I decided to keep it moving and immediately said goodbye under the pretense of grabbing some food.

Thankful for our survival, my husband and I headed toward the buffet.  Both of us were starving.  In retrospect, we probably should have eaten at home.  Most of the hors d’oeuvre were fried nuggets of indeterminate origin.  Ever curious, I asked one of the catering staff about one of the dishes.  “Oh, that’s our specialty.  Fried rattlesnake.”  Needless to say, I gulped, thanked him and went on my merry way sans food.

My husband and I sat down on a bench just as the DJ started to play music. Yes, you did read that correctly.  We were sitting on a bench at a picnic table.  It was about this time that one of the managerial staff (with a drink in her hand no less!) attempted to sit down across from my husband and I.  Notice I used the word attempted.  She was far from successful.  As a matter of fact, she fell off the bench.  Luckily for her, a fellow manager swooped in to rescue her.

After prying my eyes away from that hot mess, I was greeted with another sight.  Several of my team mates were getting down to “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” on the dance floor. Let’s just say they wouldn’t have been contestants on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

What did I learn from this excursion?  That the only time I should go to a team building event is when I am in dire need of a good laugh.  Did that experience help me bond with my co-workers?  No. Did I make memories of a lifetime?  Well, possibly but not in a good way. The day after this train wreck, I heard through the grapevine that someone confused the event with Mardi Gras and thought that if she flashed people she would get beads or something.  I am so glad my husband and I weren’t there to witness that.

The moral of this story? You don’t need to do Jell-O shots with your co-workers in order to be productive at your job and don’t be afraid to ask what’s on the menu.  You’ll thank me later!

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