Down with team-building games

Count me among those who do NOT get worked up about city councils and other public bodies treating themselves to lunch. If you ask me whether taxpayers should have to pay for sandwiches for council members and staff during a meeting that stretches through meal time, I'll say no. But I'm not going to get worked up about it such petty-cash disbursements. It's the much larger spending decisions the elected officials make while they're chewing their pimento cheese sandwiches that matter.

I had to smile over Belinda Gergel's pot luck offering, and Mayor Bob's disclosure that he consumed two Life Savers, but paid for them himself. Mayor Bob can be a witty guy, in a dry sort of way.

But I DO get all worked up and indignant over learning that that same body, Columbia City Council, spent $3,000 on a "leadership seminar focused on team-building" at their retreat at the end of last week.

No, wait; I should clarify. It's not the $3,000 — excuse me, $2,950. It's the fact that they spent anything, including the precious time, on such an exercise. No offense to Juan Johnson, the H.R. whiz who led them through such vital activities as the one in which they had to "work their way through a maze without talking to each other," but what possible good did this do? I mean, pick an issue (say, homelessness), and the council members have already demonstrated amply that they can wander in a maze without talking to each other.

To confess, I have a deep-seated prejudice against team-building exercises. The senior staff here at the newspaper used to have to undergo these embarrassing ordeals. One year we went whitewater rafting in North Carolina. Oh, you think that's bad? Another time, we went to Frankie's Fun Park, where we — among other things — played laser tag. I was mortified at the thought that a reader would see and recognize me, and tell the world before I could zap him. Besides, my laser gun didn't work, and I kept getting killed, which did not help my morale a bit.

Now, I'll confess that I can get into a game as well as anybody, and after griping and moaning louder than anyone in the room, I might end up playing more enthusiastically than anyone. (My favorite team-building exercise ever, which I actually had to go to Miami for: We were shown the first part of "Twelve Angry Men." Then we had to guess in which order the 11 jurors would change their minds and agree with Henry Fonda. I got them all right except for like the eighth and ninth, which I had switched.) But I have never fooled myself into thinking I wasn't wasting time. I've always been aware that I had work that needed doing, and this foolishness was getting in the way.

We don't do these things any more. Why? Because we don't have the money to waste, that's why. If we DID have the money, though, and were bound to waste it, I'd vote that we spend it on paving our sidewalk in gold, or something — anything to avoid a team-building exercise. I'm not a curmudgeon about most things, but I am about this.

Do any of y'all have experience with these things? And have you, or your organization or its customers or anybody else EVER benefited from it? Maybe it's me; I've never had much trouble confronting people and telling them what I think, or working in teams, and have never seen any need for ice-breakers. Maybe they help some people. But I doubt it.

17 thoughts on “Down with team-building games

  1. Lee Muller

    The place to build teams is at work, by leadership of management.
    Serving part time on committees, or elected bodies composed of differing philosophies may make things more difficult, but I think you should have learned how to work on those teams at your weekly Boy Scout meetings, your Church projects, and other such endeavors, long before you thought of running for office.

  2. Doug Ross

    It’s a whole lot easier to justify spending other people’s money on frivolous stuff. I wonder how many would have participated if they had to kick in $25 each?
    $3000 would have paid for almost the entire year’s worth of monthly meals we do at First Baptist for the homeless.
    Nero would be proud…

  3. York "Budd" Durden

    A good argument for the strong mayor system. Enough of this governance by committee. Team schmeam.

  4. curt Loftis

    “Columbia needs a turnaround specialist as City Manager.”
    We all know the sad state of affairs concerning Columbia’s city government, so there is not much point of listing our shortfalls now. We also know that it is easier to moan and groan than to offer solutions.
    So let me swim against the current, and suggest a reasonable, swift and sophisticated course of action aimed at transforming the city government of Columbia from being the object of scorn, to being a model of efficiency and service.
    We need a new city manager that will act as a turnaround specialist, not a career bureaucrat. We need an executive that will consent to a short term contract, not a long period of employment. We need an experienced executive looking for a substantial and perhaps final challenge, not a careerist looking to “move on up”, using Columbia as a stepping stone of advancement. We need a person of strong character that will speak truth to power, require honesty and forthrightness in all affairs, and have the ability to understand the complex enterprise that is city government. We need someone that is not steeped in Columbia politics, and its personal entanglements.
    In short, we need someone that can quickly evaluate hundreds of problems, and not be afraid to “pull the trigger” to repair them…and do it quickly enough to outdraw the various special interests groups that have helped create this mess. We need someone that can look City Council, the Mayor and the taxpayer in the eye, and without blinking, tell the truth, and then explain what that truth means to the people of this city. We need someone with a steady hand and an accurate aim, and the courage and ability to use both.
    Einstein said it best: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” If our city leaders continue expensive, complex, nationwide searches for atypical government official, we will fail yet again. Only by changing the selection paradigm can our city government succeed.
    Columbia needs a temporary chief executive that is willing to serve for 18 to 24 months, and is unafraid, and unrepentant in his or her willingness to make city government serve the citizenry.
    And most importantly, we need this person now and not after 8 or 10 months of scouring the nation looking for the “perfect candidate” to lead us for the decade to come.
    There are those that can and will take this burden and thrive, but they can only do so if given the opportunity. Now is the time for our city leaders to look into their souls and decide if they desire more of the same, or if it is time to honor the hard working people of Columbia with change that is meaningful and measurable. A turnaround specialist as chief executive, with spirit, an ethic of hard work, and the expectation of success is what Columbia needs, and I pray this day that this is was she receives.

  5. Karen McLeod

    I agree with Lee on something. The world is undoubtably coming to an end. “Team building” exercises that aren’t irritating can be fun, but the taxpayers shouldn’t pay for them.

  6. Eric

    A turnaround person is exactly what we need. If City Council goes the old traditional route of search committee, interviews, etc…lasting months and months, we will know they are not serious about change.
    Change will come only if they have a short-timer…someone not afraid to make that change.

  7. Lee Muller

    Since I do a lot of turn around projects, and have worked with and for some heavy duty turn around specialists, I am biased in my agreement with curtis loftis – Columbia needs an outsider, a contractor with a short time window, and no career expectations, to clean up the city operations. I don’t think it would take one year.
    Sometimes it helps to hire one consultant for about six weeks, just to set the scope of the work, in order to write the job description for hiring the person who will do the dirty work.

  8. Bart

    Lee is right on the money along with curt. At times, you need someone with no agenda other than doing a specific job.
    Many years ago, the corporation I worked for hired Brooks International as a turn around agent. My involvement was to work directly with Brooks and be the coordinator/implementator between the corporation, employees, supervisors, and Brooks. The company had an immediate and long term increase in efficiency, productivity, profits, and effective, accurate communication between management, employees, and clients.

  9. Charles

    If Columbia hires another career hack looking for a fat paycheck and a nice house, all will be lost.
    Outside the box…thats what we need. Lets get someone to FIX THIS DAMN PLACE! The he can go home and lets someone else manage the place.

  10. Ralph Hightower

    I don’t think “team leadership” exercises is going to help a dysfunctional city council. I don’t live in the city, but I get my news from The State.

  11. Harris

    New leadership is needed in the trenches now.The Mayor needs to step up and be a leader. Hire someone to make the City work Mr. Mayor, or find yourself looking for a job.

  12. Greg Flowers

    Columbia gets the leadership it elects, the citizens have no one to blame but themselves. Scandal has followed misstep and we have continued to elect and reelect the same old same old.

  13. bud

    We used to do this “team building” stuff and listen to “motivational” speakers where I work. I’m with Brad on this one. It’s nothing but an embarrasing waste of time and money.
    Then there was the Total Quality Management (TQM) crap we had to endure. What a total bunch of waste that stuff was. We’d set up teams to make recommendations to management about what course of action they should follow. In the end they never implemented any of our recommendations. Yet we had a full time staff member who served as the facilitator at the meetings. At the end of each meeting we’d go around the room and everyone would say what a wonderful meeting we had. No one wanted to openly insult the boss who was pushing this nonsense. But in private everyone would acknowledge what a waste of time the whole fiasco was. Thankfully TQM faded into oblivion. Nothing official, it just happened quitely like many bad ideas tend to do.

  14. Bart

    Now I understand your attitude. Anyone who had to endure TQM should be given a pass for having to sit through and participate in mind and butt numbing TQM meetings. We had TQM at one company I worked for and two of the early participants actually believed their comments and criticisms would make a difference. They did make a difference. Two positions opened up soon afterward and guess which two they were. After the two object lessons, we learned the truth about the boss always being right.

Comments are closed.