I don’t know about you, but I’m somewhat perverse in nature. If someone tells me to do something, often even if it’s something I’d want to do left to my own devices, I bristle a little. “what? Have fun? Who’s gonna make me?”

Who, indeed? Well, this morning as the First Reader and I did our usual morning thing (I pack kid’s lunches, he eats breakfast, we both have coffee and chat. It’s nice) he told me he didn’t have to pack a lunch, not just because there’d be the usual food at work (testing kitchen appliances means you cook a lot. He may never look fried chicken in the face again), but because they had been told that today they were going to have mandatory fun. Hoo, boy. Look, if I’m a little perverse, my mate is a lot perverse. The idea of forced fun was making him downright cranky.

I have nothing against team-building exercises. Done well, they can be fantastic for fusing a group of disparate personalities into a unit that complements one another. Done badly, they can send people running screaming for the hills – bonding with one another over mutual dislike of the manager who is insisting on the formulaic team rah-rah is not the ultimate goal, here! But in order to be successful, the team itself has to be accounted for before the exercises are planned. The exercises cannot be taken out of the box and applied in a one-size fits-all fashion. In my distant past (I really haven’t done everything. Honest. I still can’t knit!) I had classes in team building and how to facilitate such exercises, and I have done stuff like that even before those classes. Things like trust-falls work well with a physically active group but you’d never want to, for instance, grab a admin office team and run them through those, and ropes courses. Instead of inspiration you’d wind up with injuries and insulted dignities.

Even if the mandatory fun at the First Reader’s work is done well, the fact that it was scheduled over lunch break, with no food on tap for the team, just makes me think that, well, this is not going end up with the results the green-as-grass manager thinks it will. Just the term makes me cringe, so someone using it earnestly? Hoo, boy. At least feed them!

Good team building ought to be genuine and authentic, and in ways that are not self-conscious and awkward. For one team, that might be games (as in: board, RPG, or such). For another team it might be skydiving. For another team, it might be coordinating a Christmas Angel tree for needy kids. Altruism is not only good for our brains, it’s great for getting people to come together and bond in a mutual desire to help others. But not if it’s forced. It needs to be spontaneous. Mandatory? Eeekkk…

There is much, much more to leadership than simply giving orders and having power. The foundations of it are beyond the scope of what I’m writing on today, but the point is that a leader will size up the team, look for common threads, and use those threads to wind them all together into a rope – stronger than the individual strands. It takes some wisdom and experience to assess people like that. More than simply grabbing an idea from a book or website. I can just see it now: listicle, ten things you must do to build a team. Argghh!

Now I’m going to wander off to figure out my own fun. Maybe it’ll involve building a fort from the paper archives that need organized…

(header photo was taken at a steampunk festival in Massachusetts a few years back. Now, that’s a group that knows how to have fun!)



12 responses to “Mandatory Fun”

  1. So how’d it come out?

  2. Margaret Ball Avatar
    Margaret Ball

    You ARE going to tell us how it came out, aren’t you?

    And you should totally build that paperwork fort. Think what a great cover it would make for The Castle. Or Bleak House. Or… (wanders off, trying to think of more novels about paperwork..)

    1. LOL! I didn’t get to build it today, but I’m sure it will happen eventually. I can’t put that project off forever.

      I will report on the ‘fun’ later, when the First Reader comes home from work.

  3. Mando fun.


    At least the Navy recognized that it was basically supposed to be a work-day where you had better food and weren’t in the office.

  4. set off a cherry bomb inside a bag of dog shit in the bosses office. ‘how to tell your boss to fuck off and die and leave you alone 101’ from the book of wolf.
    Did I ever do that? nah. considered it often with various bosses. gave it various consideration. also gave serious consideration to spiking the office coffee pot with extra strength ex lax. Not sure whether that one would have changed anything. the boss was an uprightly mobile, steaming pile of shit anyway.

  5. Sounds like this Manager has read too many books and worked in too few shop positions…

    Real leadership is figuring out how to get people interested in doing the mission, keeping them motivated, and insuring enough recognition to satisfy egos and motivate others.

    You can’t lead from the back row

    My biggest brag about military service was getting everyone that listened to me on the path to their next proomotion. Some needed to be encouraged to take the extra effort, and some just needed folks to get out of the way and let them excell.

    “Team Building” sometimes came from “Us vs Them” situations…
    As one of my troops complained, ‘We went to a nine month tech school, get trained on new equipment every other year, keep the uptime rate over 100% when they won’t let us take scheduled time for PMs, and they’re going to walk in here and judge us on haircuts, uniforms, and how clean the office floors are???’

    “Yep” was my answer, “but you guys know how to do that too.”

    If you ever want to experience the joys of middle management just run a shop where an average IQ wouldn’t get you through the basic electronics part. When Vietnam was in play the school was shortened from a year to nine months… The justification was “we need more cops and truck drivers”

    Gotta admit though, I loved my job. Had a horrible time adjusting to regular folks after the company of genius IQs and other intelligent and interesting folks.

  6. I’m with 1st reader. “Mandatory” fun is pretty much guaranteed to make me cranky. Not because I dislike fun, but because I dislike the pep-rally, hive-mind, mentality behind such activities. Team lunch, group parties, are fine, but even those I’ll be one of the first to finish and go back to work.

  7. I should have recognized we were in for Doofus Year when a new principal had all teachers and staff show up at a local park for mandatory fun, and we had to pay to park, because no provision had been made. Then, he read Canned Speech To Inspire, and passed out some forms to fill in about our passion. And that was our team Building. Frappen loser dude didn’t last long, but he sure damaged morale while he was there.

  8. I don’t miss mandatory fun day in all it’s evolutions.

  9. Sanford Begley Avatar
    Sanford Begley

    Note, the new team lead didn’t call it mandatory Fun, I called it that recognizing it from way too many “Company parties” from my misspent youth in the military. Second note, it got cancelled because most of the team had conflicting priorities and weren’t going to be able to make it. Funny how that happens. I’ll forgive the kid eventually, he can’t be more than 25 and is prettymuch fresh out of school. He just don’t know any better

  10. There was an engineering team boss in an office across from me. His team was, for some reason, not in the cubicles where I was, but down the long hallway.

    Quite a few afternoons, I would see the team Nerf football sail overhead, for about a half hour. That boss integrated “fun” as just a normal part of every day. His team, by the way, designed what is considered the “gold standard” of irrigation hardware.

    1. See, that’s a great example of how to do team building right! It wouldn’t work for my team at work – nerf and lab glassware is a bad combo – but it’s a fantastic idea for an office full of cubes.