Mooooo, Baaa, Bock bock bock, quack, quack; farmyard sounds? Yes, and no. Are they the sounds of a children’s party game? They should be, but in this instance they are the sounds of adults walking around the reception room of a swanky hotel, engaged in a team building exercise. In this case, they are the noises emanating from your children’s teachers .Yes, that sixty five dollars you forked out for a babysitter, was so that those in charge of your child's education could make asses of themselves, in the name of professional development.
I have actually participated in this team building activity on one of my school’s many PD days. The game went like this. Each of the three hundred or more people in the room had to go up to the front and draw a slip of paper out of a hat. Each slip contained the name of an animal. Without speaking to each other, and by only making the sound of the animal we had drawn, we had to find all the other people who had pulled the same animal. “How idiotic”, was my thought. A very perky young woman had told us before we started that this activity was designed to bring us together. Personally, I thought a few beers after work would serve the purpose even better. But, I had to play along or be called a non-team player!
I drew a slip from the hat. I got cow. I started walking among the crowd of co-workers all of whom were making animal sounds, with varying degrees of interest. I spotted my friend, Dave, an English teacher and a fellow cynic. I tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around I said, “Moo” with as little enthusiasm as I could muster. His reply was an equally enthusiastic, “Cluck, cluck.” “Why don’t you be a cow like me?” I said. He laughed replying, “I bet you don’t say that to too many people.”
We began to discuss what we would rather be doing. Interestingly enough, we both wished we were back at work. (To those who had to hire a babysitter, these teachers would rather be teaching). We continued to make small talk until we were interrupted by the young woman who had organized this game. “No, no,no,” she said. “You are not supposed to talk!”
Dave immediately put a finger on each side of his head and delivered a very realistic, “Moooo.” I immediately did the same. The organizer actually clapped her hands and said, “Very good, you found each other. But there are many more cows out there. Now get out there and find the rest of your team!” “You mean herd,” Dave replied in a deadpan voice. “Well, yes, very funny,” she replied, uncertain if he was poking fun at her. We wandered off in search of the other cows. As we walked away I whispered to Dave, “Do you think we’ve bonded?” “Oh yeah,” was his reply.
If someone could tell me without cracking a smile, how this ridiculous game was improving morale, building team spirit, or improving communication skills I will give them a twenty! This barnyard game was not the most inane game I have had to play in the name of professional development, but it is at the top of my list. And next on the list would be the birthday game. You cannot talk about team building activities without mentioning “the birthday game.”
In this game, you are asked to form a line, around the perimeter of the room, in order of your date of birth, and do it in under five minutes. I had played this one many times on many PD days and I had it nailed. My birthday is January 28. When we were given the go ahead to start, I would immediately run to the corner of the room where the line was to form. As I was usually the first one there, someone would rush over and ask my date of birth. Without hesitation I would say, “January 1st.” After that, all I had to do was stand there. What did I learn? It sometimes pays to lie!
I did participate in one team building exercise, however, that was informative and fun. I was to start at a new school in September. As there were many new members of staff, the principal decided to hold an event so everyone could get to know each other. It was held at a beautiful outdoor venue with a lake. Naturally, the day began with a team building exercise. We arrived at the lake and were divided into teams. Each team was given two empty oil drums, rope, some wooden planks and a canoe paddle. We were then instructed to build a raft which we would then have to paddle up to a set of buoys and back again.
This exercise was devised to focus on leadership skills and the ability to work as a team. First we sat down in a circle on the grass to discuss our plan of action but there was to be no “our” on this team. As soon as most of us were seated, John spoke up. It took no time to discern that he had an ego as big as he was small. “We have no time to discuss plans. If we want to win we have to act and act fast.” “Now hold on there,” another member of the team started to say.” He got no further. Ignoring him, John began ordering the team about. The man who had spoken up, got up and walked over to join another group.
John ignored him and picked four people to roll the oil drums into position. They didn’t do it to his satisfaction so he moved them to another spot. “You two little ladies,” he said pointing to me and the woman next to me, “don’t just sit there, get the planks.” The two of us actually did get up and get the wood which we tossed, with some force, in his direction. “Don’t leave them on the ground, lay them across the barrels at equal intervals.” Neither of us moved. I spoke first, “Excuse me, John, don’t you think you had better….” I got no farther before he interrupted with, “Never mind, just sit over there. I’ll do it myself.” We did so gladly.
I introduced myself to the other “little lady” who turned out to be the new vice principal, Jean. “I think we both know what is going to happen when someone tries to paddle that thing.” “I think we do, Jean,” I replied as we both leaned back on our elbows and watched the raft building continue.” Soon the entire team, save John, had settled comfortably on the grass to watch John at work. In no time, he had the planks lashed to the barrels and his raft was ready to hit the water. Some of our group did help him carry it to the water’s edge and the rest of us followed in their wake. “As I had to build this thing myself, I think I should be the one to race her.” We all nodded in the affirmative.
Another team was also at the water’s edge when John pushed the raft into the water and placed the paddle on top. Then with a hand on each side of the raft he proceeded to run into the lake and throw himself onto its top. “Here we go,” I said to Jean. John’s body hit the raft and both man and watercraft immediately flipped upside down. The raft bobbed to the surface just slightly before John did. “Too much buoyancy,” Jean shouted. “You needed to put some water in the barrels,” I added as both Jean and I made our way to the tents where lunch was about to be served.
“So Wendy,” Jean said with a smirk.” Did you learn anything from our team building activity?” “Most definitely,” I replied. “I learned that even if someone thinks he is a natural leader, it would behoove him to engage with all members of the group, especially the little ladies. They often have important information to impart.” Very well said,” said Jean. “Thank you. That’s what I plan to write about in my evaluation of the day’s activities. And I will have to add that this team building exercise boosted my morale more than any other.”