The first known team-building exercise took place around 435 A.D., when Attila the Hun addressed his disjointed group as they were planning a sacking and pillaging outing that would sweep across the Roman Empire. "All right, hordes, listen up," Attila growled. "Before we begin our rampage, we’re going to get to know each other by making funny hats and then swapping them. Each barbarian must make up a personality to go with the hat. The plunderer with the most fanciful story gets a 'Hun of the Month' plaque for his horse."
Hilarity and fun team building ensued until someone passed Attila a pair of donkey ears. The exercise then turned rather brutal and came to a quick conclusion when the offending horde member was thrown into the Huns-O-Fun Fire Pit. After that inauspicious start, team building slowly ascended into the mainstream activity it is today, namely, a chance for everyone to let down their hair, have some silly fun and possibly end up rappelling down a chasm in a clown suit.
There are basically two types of team-building exercises: those that break down barriers by letting people don other personas, attitudes and costumes, and those that involve harrowing physical feats where participants place their lives in the hands of colleagues that have possibly been wronged or been left behind on the corporate ladder. It’s important, therefore, to know the makeup of the group when choosing an activity. In team building lore, for instance, harrowing stories are told about Madge from accounting who was left dangling on a rope ladder until she swore never to hold up an expense report for lack of intelligible receipts.
But if strenuous and potentially life-threatening team building doesn’t sound like the way to go and a lighthearted exercise is chosen, the participants usually fall into two categories: the introverts and extroverts. The wallflowers must be talked into doing something that they wouldn’t consider even if they were alone in a darkened steel vault. At the mere mention of team building, these people scatter like frightened gerbils and are usually found hiding behind curtains or rustling around in large potted plants. These shy creatures might be gently guided into the team building fun with a little prodding and encouragement, although the team leader might have to jovially remind the truly obstinate that, "There is a much smaller team to build this year than last, and participation is heartily encouraged, if you get my drift."
These folks are the polar opposites of the outgoing types who enjoy costumes and role playing, and have been known to barge into random conference rooms and crash other groups’ team-building activities. Given even the slightest chance of performing for an audience, these American Idol wannabes will start belting out show tunes complete with choreography and enthusiastic hand gestures. An inspirational team builder can include all the personality types in the exercise, with quiet coercion for the introverts and gentle reminders to the extroverts that sites like You Tube exist and almost any behavior, reserved or unabashedly exhibitionist, can now be seen by most of the world in an instant.
It’s handy, therefore, to keep such global recognition in mind if you’re tempted to recreate boisterous scenes from Hair, or worse, surreptitiously slip a pair of donkey ears on the boss’ head.
By Mike Donlin.
Mike does technical, marketing and creative wriiting for The Write Solution, his freelance business. He can help your company wend its way through the vagaries of the English language, and prides himself on his intimate knowledge of gerunds, semicolons and dipthongs. If you'd like Mike to pen a tome on a timely technical topic, you can reach him at email@example.com or 603-889-4955.