4 Team-building Activities That Went Horribly, Horribly Wrong.

December 12, 2018

Ever given your employees psychedelic mushrooms as a team-building activity? Taken them on a “horse-whispering” adventure that almost ended in tragedy? Or perhaps, organised a team game where colleagues drank soda and “spat” it into each other’s mouths to build trust?

If you’re not throwing up by now, you’re probably wondering who would be crazy enough to organise such activities. Believe it or not, every one of these things has actually been organised by a well-intentioned manager who probably thought it was great idea at the time.

It’s surprisingly easy to completely make a mess of your crucial team-building exercises. Bonding activities can range from vacuously benign to outright dangerous. Managers with an adventurous streak (or who are trying to be a little creative) can easily take their team-building exercise a bit too far if they’re not deeply involved in the principles behind successful team activities.

We came across a few personal stories online of team-building activities that went horribly wrong and thought we’d share them with you.

1. The Horse Whisperers

“My team did ‘horse whispering,’ where you work with horses to learn about great communication. One of the horses got over-excited, galloped towards the center 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.” Source: Ask a Manager

2. Paintballing the Boss

"The boss organised a paintball game for the team. We were issued safety goggles and paintball guns, one of which immediately misfired. It hit a district manager in the crotch. A lot of people pointed their guns right at their supervisors, me included. I shot mine right in the middle of his back, and he spun around with revenge in his eyes."

“The bus ride home was dead silent. I think we were all really unprepared at the impact, literally — emotionally and physically — the impact of shooting paintballs at each other. People were very mad at each other. There were apologies. There were heartfelt apologies." Source: NPR

3. The Golden Pinata

Several years ago Ben Johnson worked at a health foods store in Iowa. He remembers store management stringing up a donkey piñata to pump up the workers.

"I worked at a health foods store in Iowa and the store manager decided to string up a donkey pinata to pump up the workers. Pinned to its chest was a name tag for a rival store. They explained to everyone that this was, in fact, an effigy and that we were going to work together to figuratively, literally destroy the competition. Instead of candy, the piñata was filled with dollar coins. An overzealous middle manager with a baseball bat was first up, and he obliterated it. So when this thing explodes, dozens of the dollar gold Sacagawea coins fly through the air everywhere. Someone in the front row takes one in the face and goes down. They ricochet off the walls. And when the coins finally stop, I emerge from underneath the table, there's just a stunned silence." Source: NPR

4. Hijacked

“Managers at a Swedish teleco company were trying to organise a memorable team-building exercise for their international sales conference and so they decided to turn to hijacking.  The manager had hired two men with masks and weapons to stage a hijacking of the bus taking employees to the venue. The exercise was reportedly designed to test the employees' cool under stress. But the performance was cut short by a meddling passerby with a cell phone who called the authorities" Source: SquareWheels

5. Walking on hot coals

An insurance company once sent 13 sales-people walking across a bed of hot coals on the advice of a management consultant. Seven burned their feet, two badly enough to require hospitalization. Source: SquareWheel

Horrified yet? We all know that team-building exercises are great for building trust and psychological safety within teams but choosing an activity that your team will both enjoy and that will achieve the expected level of team-bonding can be pretty hard.

Want to build the perfect team-building activity? Read our checklist here.

Author

Ohyoon Kwon
Ohyoon Kwon is the Founder of WeQ. His background in design thinking has led him to explore the intersection between gamification and building high-performance teams. Ohyoon is passionate about creating amazing user experiences and bringing teams closer together.

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