Friday, July 30, 2010

Team Building Part 2

Writing the previous post made me think of the ultimate in ridiculous team-building events, Rattlesnake Canyon. What's that, you might ask? That is corporate team building at its craziest. The place was Louisville KY. Our travel department (who hates me) had sent me from North Carolina, through LaGuardia to get to Kentucky, but that's a whole different post.

Anyway, we arrive in Louisville for a "team meeting". There is all kinds of mystery around an entire afternoon on the agenda. We are even foolish enough to think we might be getting some sort of fun reward, because we'd had a really good year.

The mystery afternoon arrives, and we are ushered in to a huge conference room. But it's not just any conference room. It has been transformed to the wild wild west. Now when I tell you it was jarring, scary and disorienting; friend, believe me, it was! There were big barrels and other cheesy western decor, but my favorite was that there were actual tumbleweeds! Seriously, giant balls of jumbled up hay.

Our "cowboy guides" for the event were in full western wear. Shirts with fringe, holsters, chaps, cowboy hats, boots, etc. This might have been the most frightening part, because these poor people refused to break character. The minute we walked in the door they started shouting at us, things like, "Howdy partner, I hope you're inclined to help us build this here new railroad!", "Welcome to Rattlesnake Canyon" and other nonsensical things. Oh, and they had head microphones, a la Britney Spears, so they were amplified.

We were split off into teams and given books of stamps and bandannas. You had to wear your bandanna, seriously, your team was disqualified if you did not wear your bandanna. I wore mine on my head, gangsta style, which got a serious look from my manager. I'm going to be honest, to this day, I have no idea what the object of that game was. I know we were trying to build a railroad (?), I know we were supposed to trade stamps and collect a bunch of them, other than that it was pandemonium.

It was also timed, which of course adds to the frenzy. Just when you think you have enough "corn" stamps, along comes this John Wayne character screaming "10 MORE MINUTES" into his microphone and we all start sweating. Maybe it was supposed to teach us about negotiation or something? I don't know. What I do know is that at one point I looked across the room and saw one of the most mild mannered people in our department standing on a chair, bandanna tied around her wrist, shouting, "DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY PIGS????". I knew in that moment that we had broken down as a group. That if the world ended and currency became these mythical stamps, we would all die.

My group didn't help things either. As usual I tried to defer to others while also being organized, which makes no sense. I think we got one bale of hay stamp and maybe a few chickens. At one point I think we just lied to people, "I'll give you two chickens for a horse.", took the horse and then just ran. Some people just gave up completely, which we should have.

So, if you think that doing a scavenger hunt or obstacle course is a little over the top, may I enter Exhibit A: Rattlesnake Canyon!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Corporate Gypsies on the Loose

We had a meeting in Chicago a while back (a small meeting, not the "big meeting"/pageant). The meeting went fine and was really fun as I had never been to Chicago and loved it as a city. During the meeting, we did the infamous "team building" event. Corporations love to do these. Now, I've been working in the same job with mostly the same people for roughly 8 years. I am ridiculously close to most of my co-workers. They would probably tell you that I'm pretty smother-y and that they know way more about my life than they really want to. They should all be applauded for how well they tolerate me and my over-sharing.

So the point is, why do we need these activities? I share hotel rooms with these people, fly on planes and ride buses with them (and we all know the level of intimacy that traveling with me creates), seriously, they know me!

Whatever the reason, they are popular. They can vary in scale for sure. Sometimes it is more of an "ice breaker" (ugg, corporate term) thing, where you have to tell something you have in common, interview each other, etc.

Most of the time my company takes the approach of "go big or go home". These things can be epic. I am one of those dorks who usually will roll my eyes at the beginning, but then turn into that psycho person who "has to win". In Chicago, we did a really funny one, but I feel bad for the people of the city on that day. My co-worker who lives in Chicago put together a scavenger hunt of huge proportion. She put together elaborate clues about landmarks in Chicago and each team had to go and take pictures of themselves at these landmarks. We even had envelopes with some cash for taxis.

It was one of the most creative and fun team building events I've ever done. Lucky for us we had a Chicago native on our team. She figured out most of the clues, and then got us to all of these places. Of course we are running around like crazy people, trying to get to as many as possible. By this time I am foaming at the mouth and it is not enough for us to just take the picture at the landmark. Oh no. We must take insane pictures at the landmarks. We have to pose like Charlie's Angels, climb on statues, use props, and my favorite, we had to stand on our heads.

I'll admit, this was my idea, but I was not going to actually do it. I was a "spotter". Let's be honest, with my clumsiness, if I do something like this I'm just asking to break a hip. We got 2 of our younger team-mates to stand on their heads, while we helped them up. One of them had on a skirt, so that's dedication.

Of course it's Chicago in the fall, so it's freezing. At one point I had on a team-mates gloves and caught myself saying to her, "Hey, I just totally forgot these were your gloves and wiped my nose with them". Disgusting. Her reply, "It's fine, I don't care, do you want to stand on my shoulders for the next picture?". I mean how is that for closeness!

The best part is that we did all of this during rush hour. So here are these poor native Chicago people trying to get home from a long day of work, and they are navigating around us.

Our team won several awards the next day, like funniest, most creative, etc. So as much as I want to knock the "team building" events, how many people can say to each other, "Hey remember that time you stood on your head at the Bean?". I can!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Me, Myself & I

I sometimes feel like many different people, and probably most can relate to that. You have your work self, your real self, your family self, etc. I have never been so confused that I actually referred to myself in the third person, but I have a customer who does.

Now, for the sake of anonymity we will call him "Mr. Smith". The first time I went to his office, I got the usual "Mr. Smith will be with you shortly". This is a sign, that his staff refers to him as "Mr. Smith" and not by his first name. I'm all about manners, but Mr. Smith is relatively young, so this is a clue that I should call him Mr. Smith, which I normally would anyway, so just an observation.

Then a fellow emerges and says, "Mr. Smith is ready to meet with you". Great, okay, now he has an entourage of office people who announce his presence and lead guests back and forth, that's also interesting. I walk back to a conference room, get out my notebook and think that this tour guide will now go and get Mr. Smith for our meeting to begin. Not so. This guy sits down at the table. Interesting. Okay, so this is some staff person Mr. Smith has asked to sit in with us, I guess.

I'm about to try to clarify this by saying something vague like, "And what is your role here at the office?", but my mystery guest launches right in. "Mr. Smith has several concerns about his contract that he would like to discuss with you." Pause. "Great" I say "I'm ready to discuss those". "The concerns Mr. Smith has are...." and we are pretty much launching the meeting without Mr. Smith.

This is all very curious to me, and I start thinking that Mr. Smith has these "handlers" who I guess conduct his business for him and I'm starting to think he's as elusive as Willy Wonka or something and at any minute we are going to enter a secret world of pure imagination. I'm also starting to think that I know Mr. Smith himself signs our contracts, so perhaps this is a huge waste of my time.

We continue our discussion and I have several items of follow up written down. I am about to ask, "Do you think it would be possible for me to run this by Mr. Smith, is he here today?". Then my table mate stands up rather abruptly and says "Mr. Smith has really enjoyed meeting you, but Mr. Smith must attend to another matter at this time".

Yep, that was Mr. Smith, referring to himself in the THIRD PERSON for the entire meeting. For a minute it completely freaked me out, like watching the Sixth Sense or something. Okay, certainly not that dramatic but I have to take excitement & intrigue where I can get it. I have since worked with him several times, and it happens every time. I even took colleagues in to witness it.

As hilarious as we find it, maybe he's on to something. Maybe it would clear up confusion if we all acknowledged the different people we are in different situations.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"I'm so busy"

How many times have we heard that? How many times have we said that? If you live in the corporate world, you hear it a lot. Sometimes I feel guilty if I'm not busy, like we are all in a contest to see who can take on the most without having a nervous break down. I guess I can see where the whole "rat race" concept really came from.

There are many reasons that we all are busier these days. One of my least favorites is the dreaded blackberry. Of course cell phones, email and other technological "advances" act as electronic leashes as well, but the blackberry is my personal arch-nemesis. Now, before I start on this rant, I know, I know. Some people have to have one for their jobs, sadly they are often requirements now. And not everybody is obnoxious with them. Some of you show great restraint and self-discipline, so I'm not talking to you.

However, I am talking to the rest of you. You know who you are. You want us all to see that you have the blackberry. You need to look at it every so often, just to remind us all how important you are. If an email comes, you must look at it. Never mind if it were an actual emergency, someone would call you and not email you. I'm not sure at what point it became acceptable for someone to be mid-conversation, just stop talking or listening, and start blackberry-ing. And I also love how they act like you should keep on with the conversation and say something like "Uh-huh, sorry, no go ahead, I'm listening, sorry, I just have to deal with this 'real quick'". I also love how when you are at a meal with a blackberry addict, they dramatically sit it on the table (maybe soon they will request a place setting for it). It is a not at all subtle message to the other table mates. "If this thing goes off, I'm going to look at it, because it's important and I'm important".

So, the blackberry enables the "busy-ness". If you do not have a blackberry, clearly you are not as busy or important. Sometimes my friends and co-workers talk about being busy like it is a badge of honor, for example, "I worked 50 hours last week, my kid had an ear infection and had to go to the dr. twice, I did 8 loads of laundry, renovated my kitchen, plus I don't think I slept more than 4 hours". This is not good!

I often feel the reproachful eye at my lackadaisical life style. I never do as much as anyone else, and probably err on the side of lazy. I hate multi-tasking and I don't accomplish half as much as most other people in my life. I sleep until 10 or later sometimes on the weekends and have 0 guilt about it. Even when you smug "morning people" call and say, with exasperation, "Are you just now getting up?". Don't even get me started on the morning people. I'm going to start calling you guys at 11 pm and say, "Are you in bed already?".

About once a week, in my house, we do an un-plugged night. We don't watch tv, we don't get on our computers, we don't talk on the phone. We do let ourselves listen to the radio, which come to think of it is kind of cheating. I'll admit that sometimes I dread it. I think about how great it would be to just watch tv, and not have to think or talk (again, lazy). I'm never sad that we do it though. We've probably had some of our best conversations on "technology fast" night. We tend to have those conversations that you put off, because you don't really want to dig into it, because it will take too long and you're too busy.

Anyway, this post is pretty all over the place, but in summary:
1. Don't brag about being busy.
2. Join me in the fight to outlaw blackberries.
3. Try a night or two without technology, see what happens.