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Team Building Blunders: The Hall of Shame

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in HR Soapbox,Leaders & Managers,Team Building


The “What Were They Thinking?” file is full of stories about managers with a distorted view of team-building exercises. Their misguided efforts not only crushed morale but triggered expensive legal claims. Leading nominees from the Hall of Shame just in the past year…

Ho, Ho, No. The manager of a North Carolina department store forced employees to wear Santa hats during Christmas, then fired an employee who refused to do so for religious reasons. Price tag: $55,000 religious-bias settlement.

Oh, Baby! The managers of a California company hosted an outdoor “team competition” in which losing workers were spanked, forced to eat baby food and wear diapers. Price tag: $1.7 million sexual harassment verdict.

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Hot & bothered. A manager brought in a motivational fire-walking teacher to help employees see beyond their limits. The problem: The guru brought the wrong kind of wood and charcoal that day. Price tag: Nine employees sent to the hospital with burns to their feet.

Think your job is torture? A Utah manager allegedly subjected an employee to a rather unorthodox motivational practice: He "waterboarded" the employee during a sales team exercise. The company’s explanation? The manager wanted to show his sales team that they should work as hard at sales as the employee was working to breathe.

And just this month comes the story of William Ernst, owner of the QC Mart convenience store chain in Iowa. Ernst decided a great way to improve performance among his cashiers was to have them vote on which of them would be fired next.

He sent a memo to employees urging them to cast their votes. The prize: $10, then the contest would begin again.

After realizing the contest wasn’t a joke, several employees quit and filed for unemployment.
Price tag: Ernst challenged the UI claims, saying the workers had voluntarily quit. But a judge ruled that the employees were eligible for unemployment because the memo helped create a hostile work environment at the company.

Bottom line: Hopefully, your managers won't stray into fire-walking or waterboarding to boost their department sales. While team building doesn't have to be a top-down exercise, it's best to require supervisors to run their planned activities by HR and the executive team beforehand.

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