Sunday, April 30, 2006


My company has biannual meetings to celebrate our "successes" in the first and last part of years. Most of you are probably thinking these are great opportunities to network and relax a bit huh? Actually, these meetings are the closest thing to torture that exist.

These meetings are not optional. My calendar MUST be clear for them. Additionally, vacation is strongly discouraged for these days. Sick? Unless I am dying, I better be there. Death in the family? Produce a corpse. Get the picture?

The meetings are held in a local hotel in a banquet room. I enter the room and hope it is open seating. Odd isn't it? Like a wedding, there are times these meetings have had assigned seating. A vain attempt to integrate employees in our department when it is widely known that many employees loathe each other. Ten years of hatred is going to be fixed by a teambuilding exercise? When hell freezes over.

We start with a catered lunch but no liquor of any kind. While I secretly wish for booze, it would remove the last shred of restraint I have so it is probably a good thing.

There is typically a theme to these meetings so it is wise to notice the theme and compliment whoever was responsible for it. This goes something like this: "Great surfboards, I love the beach theme."

What I am really thinking is, "Where is the sand for this beach because I would like to bury my head in it until this torture is over."

I find my seat and proceed to twirl the drink umbrella stuck in the cup of jelly beans sitting on the sun-shaped placemat at my seat. The middle of the table has shells for all of the people at my table. This can only mean the shells mean something. Yes indeed, these meetings resemble craft hour at a nursing home. Picture seventy-five professionals stuck in a room waiting for the HR Manager to tell us how these shells represent us and the work we do.

It doesn't take long.

He takes his place at the podium and asks, "By now, I am sure all of you have noticed the shells."

Most of my coworkers force a smile and chuckle in a way that implies enthusiasm.

"Pick a shell that represents you and wait. Those shells will play an integral part in our meeting today."

I was afraid this would happen. A shell that represents me? Is he suggesting a shell that represents the shape of my body? Mood? How can a shell represent me?

Is there a shell large enough for me to crawl inside? Of course not. I decide there is no point in trying to understand his logic and pick the shell with a sharp point on it. My choice is twofold. It represents my mood and could be used to gouge my eyes out if the meeting becomes unbearable.

He talks about goals, successes, and how the CEO is happy with our progress. We make things happen, this company would flounder without HR activities, etc.

Get to the damned shells.

As he continues to talk, all I can do is stare at my shell and try to imagine what is coming.

I got a masters degree for this?

The meeting did take me back to my childhood. No, I didn't frequent beaches looking for seashells. I was thinking about that episode of the Brady Bunch when Cindy has the lisp. "Seashells, seashells, by the seashore."

He gets through the usual banter and finally mentions the shells again.

"We are going to go around the room and have each of you tell us why you picked your shell. We will learn about each other and have a lot of fun in the process. "

Are you out of your freaking mind? How is this happening? Is this a case of bad karma? What did I do to deserve this?

I catch the eye of a couple of my coworkers who have the same look of horror on their faces that I do. At the same time, there is also an unspoken understanding that we have to do this.

So we sit and wait. Coming up with an explanation for our shell choice is not difficult. As I have said before, HR professionals are in their element when a little bs is needed.

Now, if this situation wasn't bad enough, it gets worse. Some of my coworkers actually believe this is great fun. What do they do? Take this seriously and ramble on for a few minutes about their great epiphany with their shell.

We have 75 people to get through. Can I blow into my shell to amuse myself?

These meetings are scheduled for two hours but in reality they end when we are done. If we are busy doing these humiliating teambuilding exercises, we don't stop. This means watching the clock is pointless.

Batter up! It's my turn. I stand up, cradling my dagger-like shell. I am tempted to say, "My name is Ms. Pink Slip and I'm an addict" but I put on my happy face.

I picked my shell because it's durable. Like this shell, I am protective. Like this shell, there is a lot on the inside you cannot see.

I'm sound like such an idiot but I like to keep them guessing. Besides, I wasn't going to drone on about beautiful colors and ridges signifying the stages of my life like others did. Shells can be full of sand. Like so many of them are full of shit. Sand is gritty and annoying, like so many of them.

It may not seem that bad to ensure this crap twice a year but it's not that simple. You see, whatever trinket, like the shell, I get at a meeting must be strategically placed in my office. To not display these items would be comparable to not standing during the National Anthem. Every time one of these meeting items catches my eye, I am forced to relive the moment. Some of my coworkers get a good laugh from this (including those who read my blog).

I will finally admit it. I laugh, too.


Kenny said...

I'm shell shocked, I so what to take this idea back to my place of work to torture others.

Battlerocker said...

Great story. I hate that kind of team building bullshit. Everyone knows that everyone else is just making stuff up and hating every minute of it. Yet somehow these horrible and ineffective ideas just repeated again and again. Someone should learn, and spread the word.

FTN said...

That's funny. I think you should have faked some huge emotion and broken down into tears, and then gone into a 20 minute soliloquy about your past experiences with shells.

My group's team building is generally much simpler -- and involves a lot of drinking. I actually kind of wish we had more of them. Anything to get out of the cube.

Middle Manager said...

I know exactly what you're talking about with these activities. My company has taken on an "employee development" focus over the last year. While I'll admit that there are a lot of positives that have come with that...the teambuilding exercises are painful. And to reiterate points that have already been made - they seem to suck up a ton of time, and most people just make up some bs for the sake of playing along and getting through the activity.

Random Musings Of My Life said...

Ha ha
Sorry to laugh at your "adventure" in "skill" building.
Wait until they make you sit through a 3 day (yes I typed that right) 3 day
I am surprised I am still alive.
I mean serious it was based on the PIKES FISH MARKET GUYS IN SEATTLE.
some parts were cool and I think it was only ment for 4 hours but our company had us make all sort of stupid shit
We actually had to BUILD a raft and try to float across a lake.

a girl in the life said...

lol! random's comment makes me think of an episode of the office. it's a funny show ... it's not as funny to be subjected to it in real life.

Michael Peralta said...

Whatever happened to "wake up-go to work-go home"?

There's this "team building" thing scheduled next Sunday (yes, Sunday). I expressed my intention not to go, ergo, I'm on leave ... on a Sunday.