Back in high school when I walked into a classroom and saw a movie projector (yes, we had actual movie projectors with two big reals) I got super excited. But, know what beat seeing the movie projector hands down? Field Trip Day.
See when you walked into that class and saw a movie projector you knew that effectively the next hourish would be total kick back. But, a Field Trip Day…THAT was the holy grail of school days, because you knew you’d be going off campus, typically on a bus, spending hours away from all classes touring some sort of museum, eating a lunch in a park with your pals and ultimately coming home on the bus hopefully sitting next to that cute girl.
I often talk with my kids about how much I’d rather still be in school vs. working for the man and I often think back to those trips. But, the work world does have its equivalent of the field trip – Off-Site Meetings.
The off-site meeting can take many forms. The most common are departmental or team oriented. A full company off-site, while rare does happen every so often and is usually more of a celebratory event.
Most off-sites I’ve been involved in are focused on team building. Having team members that work well together, whether it’s engineering, marketing, sales or any other group, is the goal of all managers. The alternative, a dysfunctional group, will ultimately lead to the team leader losing his or her job due to all the infighting. Thus, every so often the boss man will gather up the troops and head off for a day long outing.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been around the block once or twice and therefore have seen my share of team building off-sites. Some have been fun, some have been painful, but all have been a great excuse to avoid email and phone calls for a day – “I’m sorry, but we’ll be off-site all day and I won’t have access to email or the phone so I’ll get back to you tomorrow (if you’re lucky).”
Some managers have creativity when deciding on the off-site theme for team building. Others pawn the job off on an assistant or worse yet one of the team members to develop a theme. Still others have absolutely no clue. So, let’s take a look at some examples of the good, the bad and the ugly off-sites that I’ve enjoyed over the years.
A few jobs ago, I worked for a guy who was very much a people person. He was always smiling and happy-go-lucky, even when chewing your out for something he had a way of making it all good. Anyway, when the new fiscal year rolled around and he wanted to pump up the troops he took the team to a retreat-like hotel near the California coast for the day and one night. Times were pretty good back then, so he spent a few bucks.
We had our usual conference room strategy sessions with lots of slides and paper flip charts filled with generally illegibly scrawled words that in theory were meant to jog our memory about actions for the coming weeks. But, when the day was done, instead of retiring to some group dinner we were brought into a room where numerous cooking stations were setup. We were split into pre-defined groups. Each team was told that we could use everything provided at our station – raw ingredients including vegetables, meats, spices, etc. and cooking tools to design, prepare and cook a complete meal during a set time. We would then all walk from station to station sampling each other’s cuisine and judging it. The votes were tallied and a team was designated with having the best meal. Some meals were fabulous, some were just ok, but many laughs were had. And, most important, other food was also brought in afterward so we wouldn’t starve in the event that all the meals sucked.
This corporate cook off forced all of us to work together in a way that had nothing to do with any of our real jobs. We had food, wine and laughs.
This was the good.
Another boss man I had at a different company really wanted to bring his team together for some fun. He wanted us to blow off some steam as we had been running a marathon at a full sprint (a favorite analogy used by most corporations to describe working excessively hard) for the better part of a year. Good intentions yes. However, he tasked an unfortunate member of the team to “figure out what we can do to have fun”.
The empowered sucker of the department, god bless him, chose for us to all go to some hippie art studio for the day. First off, this particular studio was about 40 miles from the office, thus everyone (except the empowered sucker I might add) had a hellacious commute that day. Second, this art studio specialized in painting. As we got there, we were shown some examples of
vomit on canvas creativity in all styles of painting. Then, we were given our tools – paint, smocks, and a blank canvas.
“Let your mind go. Close your eyes. Picture yourself in a very happy place. Now express that on the canvas. Go!”
Yep that’s the pep talk we were given. Some set out splashing all kinds of colors onto their canvas. Others sat there with a blank look and a blanker canvas for what seemed like hours. With the “instructor” walking around providing what was undoubtedly drug enhanced words of encouragement, everyone finally created their own little masterpiece. Some looked actually quite decent
for a 6 year old. Others looked more like something my dog would express on the floor vs. art.
This commune revival creativity session was bad all over. Boss man had nothing to do with the theme proving he really didn’t give a shit. The location was horrible for all but the one who arranged it. The “event” was completely individual – defeating the purpose. And, most of us left with paint on our clothes and a work of art that went straight into the garbage can once we got home.
This was the bad.
A few gigs ago I was part of a relatively small team – about 10 people. Our department head was a really good person. He always was interested in your family, would often take people out to lunch and would be very supportive of you in the day-to-day happenings around the office. But, he also had one of the most boring personalities. He knew his job and did it well, but his personality was about as exciting as watching a redwood tree grow.
So, one day he decided we all needed to go out and bond. He made the plans. We would go to a really nice Italian restaurant for lunch and then we’d go to a movie.
- Here’s his first mistake – a movie.
- Second mistake – a movie AFTER Italian food.
- His third mistake – this wasn’t just any film. He choose the movie Syriana. For those of you who haven’t seen this it’s very much a thinking movie. It’s not happy go lucky and fun. It’s a 2 hour adventure about governments and the oil industry. A pretty good flick but…well…
I think this pretty much sums it up:
Nothing says team building like a super heavy lunch, followed by sitting in a dark room where no one can talk to each other for 2 hours while George Clooney get’s his fingernails yanked form his hands because he dares to mess with Hezbollah and an Iranian agent, all the while big time oil execs lobby to screw America in the name of making big bucks and our government blows up people left and right with unmanned drones. Oh, did I mention the kid of Matt Damon’s character is electrocuted and drowns in the pool of a Middle Eastern Emir?
This my friends was the ugly.
Kids, enjoy your classes with movie projectors and the field trips, because one day you too will have the joy of the company off-site. And, whether good, bad or ugly, they all still beat sitting in a 6×8 polyester cell all day.
So at least I’ve got that going for me.