Bloomberg Businessweek

CEOs Explain Their Most Awkward Team-Building Experiences

April 5, 2017

“At a previous job, our boss would sometimes take us bowling. This time, though, he wanted to go paintballing. I’m not a good shot, and I wasn’t aiming for him, but my paintball went awry. The next thing I knew, he was on the floor. The game was stopped, the ambulance came, and people started talking about potential liver rupture and damage to his kidneys. He was OK—a preexisting condition had flared up. After the event, he told me it wasn’t my fault, but I felt horrible and left the company six weeks later.”
- Christina Comben, Content manager, Day Translations Inc., Valencia, Spain 

“I was working for a health-care company that had its team-building event at a Native American casino in Southern California. The company hired an outside consultant to facilitate the event, and they were doing a great job until one of the facilitators, a white guy with blond hair and blue eyes, came onstage dressed like a Native American. Many servers working the event were Native American and were offended. Casino management stopped the event and kicked us out.”
- Pete Abilla, Founder and chief executive officer, Find a Tutor Near Me, Salt Lake City

“We took a group of 120 people, divided them into teams, and set them loose on a scavenger hunt around a theme park. Each team had a different-colored bandanna, and they were running around completing missions when a security guard misinterpreted one bandanna for a gang symbol. He made that team follow him to a side alley, where he could ask them questions about what they were doing. They were allowed to continue but had to take off the bandannas.”

- Sharon Fisher, CEO, Play With a Purpose, Orlando

“We like to combine service elements into our team-building activities. In June 2015 my staff met at the Boston Harbor dock to board a boat to a nearby island to do some cleanup. While talking with a colleague, I stepped back and fell into the water, scraping my back on a post as I went down. I cut myself pretty badly, the water was freezing, and it was over my head. I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and felt weighed down. The thought of drowning came to mind, and I panicked. Thankfully, my team sprang into action and pulled me up.”
-Janet Kosloff, CEO and co-founder, InCrowd Inc., Boston

“At a previous company, I was participating in a manager-training meeting. We were divided into teams and tasked with hoisting each other through an imaginary window—basically, a rope stretched 3 feet off the ground—in an allotted time. One team had to lift an obese woman. Everyone in the room saw the struggle, and she ended up crying. Some people were kind to her, but most ignored the awkward situation and pretended it didn’t happen.”Seth Ollerton, Content marketing manager, DecisionWise, Provo, Utah 

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Katie Morell specializes in feature writing, breaking news and corporate communications.