“So he told us it was a rustic retreat in the bush.” The Friend was in a state of controlled hysteria.
“Well that sounds lovely for a team-build getaway,” I said soothingly.
“We got there and we were in tents. TENTS.”
That was more serious. Tents should be banned for everyone except the army and children.
“That seems a bit mean. Couldn’t he have stretched to chalets?”
“THERE WERE NO CHALETS! THERE WERE NO BATHROOMS!”
She took a gulp of wine and said tearfully, “We were in tents and there was a portaloo.”
I did not see how being dirty and uncomfortable could make me want to bond with anyone except the chap who was going to drive the bus home.
I said so.
“So what was the actual team building exercise?”
“It was,” she spat out, “building a lapa.”
“Ah,” I said knowingly, “you had to build something together to learn how to work as a team towards a common goal, and because it’s putting up something pretty simple, you’re all on the same level, no hierarchy.”
“So,” I said, “Where is this slice of hell so I can refuse if ever I’m invited on a team build there?”
“It’s Mr. X’s house.”
He is The Boss.
“Well that can’t be right, I thought he had a place in Joburg?”
“Yes, he does,” she said, finishing the bottle, “and a place in the bush. The lapa we built was in his garden. Next to his pool.”
“Hang on, your boss made you finish his lapa and told you it was team building?”
“Yep. AND then congratulated himself for keeping costs down and suggested we all look for original ways to do the same when we were back in the office.”
Team building has developed a terrible reputation, although I’m not sure if it ever had a good one. The term ‘team building’ is associated with activities that are often at best childish and at worst humiliating. In my own experience, I’ve built bridges with sticks and sat in circles holding hands and humming with co-workers from whom I would usually recoil in a work setting. I’ve travelled to expensive adventure venues, where the company paid a premium for us to swing on ropes across large mud pits. This activity, we were assured, would ready us for when “things got sticky” in the “business arena”. If you managed, by some superhuman fruit bat-like manoeuvre, to get across unscathed, you were a ‘high-flyer’. Yes really. If you didn’t, well, team leader Pete barked encouraging words while you waded through wet filth. “Work the mud! Work it! Fight back! Strive to thrive!” Pete never found out how close to death he walked.
On that trip, one night we were separated into small groups and dropped off at various points along the river that ran through the “retreat”. The idea was that we would work as teams to find our way back to the main buildings using only the stars as our guide. Of the three groups, one made it back to the lodge (management), one decided to smoke a joint (creative) and its members were found later, stargazing in the same spot at which they were dropped, and one group (sales) ended up at a nearby pub “by accident”.
“We were in tents and there was a portaloo”
I’m not suggesting that bonding does not occur during these experiences. I’ve seen people who wouldn’t share a lift during office hours become the best of friends when united in common hatred (and mud) for someone like Pete. I also observed an altogether different bonding experience between the HR director and one of the sales team who forever afterwards was referred to as Aquaman. Suffice it to say that I had never before seen such an enthusiastic attempt at maximising human capital.
Mr. X’s team building, however, hit new heights. He ticked the training requirement box and got a lapa out of the deal. The team has bonded, admittedly in hopes that one day his bush paradise will burn to the ground with him inside it.
And apparently, there’s more!
“We have to go back if we don’t make our targets,” wept The Friend, “because if we don’t, we need to strategise how to forge a new business pipeline.”
“And how will going back help you do that?” I wondered.
“He’s going to make us dig a trench next to the electric fence.”