How-to: Team Building the Inclusive Way

Baboons on a fence by Meneer Zjeroen (Creative Commons) via FlickrTeam Building used to consist of everyone piling into a room, death by PowerPoint from our Glorious Leaders and thinly veiled threats of what would happen if we didn’t shut up, get on with it and meet the expected Mission Impossible revenue/savings/productivity/overtime targets.

These days we have to be more inclusive.

How do you balance a productive day of activities to encourage collaboration, discipline and commitment to shared values, with some element of fun that will suit everyone? And how, without a three-line whip and the threat of penalties for die-hard opters-out,  do you avoid ritually humiliating one or several members of staff with an experience akin to a mandatory fourth-grade cross-country run in your underpants?

Cue industrial tribunal? Make a wrong step and it’s more team-destruction than team-building, with the inevitable plummet of staff moral and financial year-end accounts.

There are those with an abiding dread of group activities, team games and anything competitive who will visibly cringe and shrink into a foetal position at the back of the room at the first hint of being made to look a fool, speaking in public or expressing the process of bread-making through the medium of modern dance.

Don’t laugh; we’ve had that one.

Physical activities that have the fit and agile fist-pumping in delight will horrify the acronophobes, hydrohobes, tacophobes and rupophobes (fear of dirt). So that takes out rock climbing, coasteering, quad-biking, high ropes, zip wires and assault courses.

Don’t get me started on paint-balling. A friend of mine got a double leg fracture playing that. He didn’t  even get to the final round where the whole thing degenerated into a combination of Lord of the Flies and Mad Max.

That’s assuming the medically overweight and wheelchair users can even get into the venue. Along with the chief cashier from the third floor who’s six months pregnant. And much as we would like to think they are a thing of the past, gender differences will influence the choice of activities; for all the have-a-go, tom-boy laddettes in the workplace there remain traditional ‘ladies’ and less-than-butch gentlemen who do not relish such physical challenges.

Don’t think you can just take everyone out for a smart or exotic lunch somewhere, either.

There will always be a contingent of those who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, diabetic, tee-total, dieting, de-toxing and de-caffinating to wreck the catering. That’s before you take into account the Christian fundamentalists (fish-only Fridays), Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists and the occasional Hare Krishna. So that eliminates fox-hunting, leather-working, sausage-making and wine-tasting.

On top of that you’ve got to make time for the persons of faith to observe regular prayer times, the nicotine-dependant to stop for a smoke and the caffeine-dependant to down a triple espresso every half hour.

So if something as innocuous as ten-pin bowling fails on multiple accounts, where does that leave you?

It’s been suggested an afternoon of Connect Four, Ker Plunk and Operation! could be arranged to fit around all tastes – although the last one did upset the person with Iatrophobia (fear of doctors). And it’s not that exciting.

Last year we went to the zoo. We did some team games around animal training. I played a splendid domestic cat and confounded the entire exercise (“train me, my ass!”). Did I mention deliberate acts of sabotage? We prepped the food and fed the chimps. To the lions – no, no, just kidding. But walking through the zoo, we discovered one of our colleagues had a childhood trauma from feeding time with the baboons at that very zoo. And someone else was allergic to animal fur.

Perhaps the best tactic is to canvas suggestions from the team?

You may be lucky enough to have four generations working together for the first time, from the interns to the near late-retirees. In which case trying to reconcile skate-boarding with ball-room dancing could be a bit of a challenge. In trying to choose activities that everyone will be willing to try (don’t even expect ‘enjoy’) you’re going to have to consider age, gender, disability, religion, diet, assorted phobias, other neuroses and generally, how everyone is going to ‘feel’ about everything from the footwear requirements to the colour of the napkins.

We’re about to start planning our Summer Team Building Away Day. Any suggestions? RC

Image credit: Baboons on a fence by Meneer Zjeroen (Creative Commons) via Flickr

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


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