Corporate Team Building In Today’s Economy

I have been a bit dubious about select corporate team building activities from time to time. Some are clearly exactly that, put people in an unusual setting and force them to rely on each other, or to rely on their senses in an unusual way, and the harmless vulnerability creates a bond. Things like a rope course or the Dialog in the Dark exhibit showing at Atlantic Station are clearly Team Building, but sometimes the activities chosen for the team building designation just seem to push the definition a little, as though team building were just a title used to justify an activity that someone wants to do on company time and budget. I work in downtown Atlanta. Like most companies, mine is cutting back on expenses and tightening the proverbial belt. Team building activities seem to be the first to get the ax in times like these. The result is that legitimate team building suffers at a time when moral is low.

Recently I received an email inviting me to participate in a Valentines secret pal gift exchange. The rules: We draw names. On each of the first four days of the week preceding Valentines Day we deliver, by clandestine means, gifts that cost no more than two dollars each. On the last day of the week we get together for lunch and exchange a final gift that costs no more than five dollars. As we exchange this last gift we reveal ourselves while saying a little bit about the week.

I thought it could be fun, but it was an unbudgeted personal expense. I was fairly new to the floor where I work I and felt that getting to know a few more people was worth it. All I needed to do was to skip the usual weekend entertainment, a movie and a trip to Zaxby’s for Zalad. I was in. The shopping was fun and a challenge.

Getting something for less than two dollars for someone you don’t know….well, all you can hope for is to make them smile. At the dollar store I found a stuffed pink monkey with velcro hands on long skinny arms, a dart gun that shot three foam darts and candy bracelets among other things. That was a start. I was really hoping my secret pal had a sense of humor. The five dollar gift was actually harder to pick out. The options are so limited in the lower range that choices are simpler. For five dollars one would expect to get something a little nicer and while looking for something in that range I kept picking up things that were well above the limit, sometimes double. I opted for a gift card and it was well received.

Lunch plans changed a few times as emails circulated, but it finally ended up being a partially sponsored pot luck. We met in a large conference room, ate, took turns revealing our secret pal and telling about the week. It sounds a little hoaky, but most of us enlisted others in the secret deliveries and the excuse for sneaking around, or the failure to sneak well enough was fun. We all had funny stories to tell about something that happened.

After eating we played a round of Win, Lose or Draw and a round of Taboo. There was good natured competition, encouragement and camaraderie. Before Taboo was done, we dissolved teams and were all trying to guess the answers together. This wasn’t billed as a team building, but I think it was the most effective team building we ever did during my time at that company. It was also a little bit of fun on a budget.

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