Don't be a spoilsport about team building you requested

Dear Joan:
I work as an office assistant in a 15-person department. Recently, during a department meeting, one of my bosses announced upcoming dates for "staff development meetings." She excluded myself and two other support people from these required meetings, inviting only "professional" staff to sign up to present.

I asked her why (later on when she was in her office), we (the three support people) were not included and suggested that perhaps we had something we wanted to present. I think I felt that we weren’t respected somehow. She apologized immediately and agreed that we should be included, adding our names to all memos announcing upcoming dates.

Now the problem: these developmental meetings are not what I expected. At one, we were made to play the game "Yahtzee" the entire time! Something about "getting to know each other better." At another, we played a game, designed by one of the staff members where we took turns being the "Pawn," which amounted to acting as human game pieces! During this game, we were asked questions related to our department, and we had to work together to come up with answers…but for me it was grueling.

I despise game playing, especially games with numbers and abhor charades or pictionary games. I am not alone—the other two support staff feels this is a real waste of their precious time. (It’s two hours per meeting.)

I feel as though I am being "punished" for noting the omission of the support staff. I tried getting out of the meeting and was told "we all have to do things we don’t like." I was told that being a team player meant joining in, even when I wasn’t happy.

Am I being a poor sport? Should I learn to "play well with others" and go along with these meetings I have come to literally dread? Do I have any rights?

Are you being a poor sport? Yes. Should you learn to play well with others? Yes. Do you have any rights? You had the right to ask to be invited. Now when it doesn’t suit you, you want to pull out.

Your manager made it clear that attendance at these meetings was "required," so that the entire team would work together to do some teambuilding. Pulling out of the sessions was never an option for any of the members, so why do you feel singled out and punished? You’re being treated like everyone else. That is what you wanted. It seems you felt disrespected for not being included and punished for not being excluded. Your manager can’t win as far as your concerned and I suspect that she is exasperated.

Your manager probably didn’t invite you and the other support staff initially because she didn’t perceive that the support staff was part of the problem. Perhaps she thought it might be a waste of your time. When you asked to be included, she probably reasoned that it was a good idea to include you, since her objectives were global rather than specific.

I’ve seen this situation before. Sometimes one part of a group feels slighted when other members of the group do things they aren’t a part of. It might be a planning retreat or a luncheon. They feel they aren’t being treated as an equal member of the team. But the fact is, there are often sub-teams within the larger team and not all activities are appropriate for the whole group. For example, there are sub-teams on your Board of Directors, executive team and management teams. Just because a group reports to the same person, doesn’t mean that they all have to do everything together. Their job function determines what they are involved in.

Although playing games may seem silly to you, it’s a growing trend to use playful activities in teambuilding sessions. Many organizations include games during their executive retreats. For instance, a client recently told me their international team of top executives participated in a competitive activity while riding in Bumper Cars. The year before they went mountain biking. In other cases, teams go through obstacle courses, build towers, play survival games, and a plethora of other activities. I have used some activities myself when I felt it would break down barriers, reinforce important points and make learning stick.

In the final analysis, you would be wise to paste on a smile and work on becoming a member of the team.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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