Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mandated Team Building

Some companies like to do team-building exercises by having "outings", usually to places outside the city for a bit of fresh air and nice scenery.

But the company I'm in now prefers to do things on a grand scale -- by having a company-wide sports day.

Originally it was scheduled for June, but then there were unfounded fears about catching the A (H1N1) virus so it was postponed until the fall.

The sports day involves such events as 100m, 800m, baton relays, tug-of-war, and bouncing a shuttlecock with only your feet. There are also some relay events to remind you of high school.

When the sports day was first announced I was roped into competing in an event, and as many people wanted to run in the 100-meter dash, I chose the 800 meter event.

Word quickly got around that I was running in the 800 meters and I tried not to think about it too much. It was just for fun, right?

But when the sports day was confirmed for this Saturday -- at 8am -- there was no way I was going.

And I wasn't the only one. Almost all the foreigners in the company balked at the thought of spending our weekend at a company event. When I was asked again if I would participate, I gave a firm "no" and said it was my weekend. No one tried to convince me to change my mind.

However, my colleague, who recently ran the Beijing marathon, was visited at his desk by at least six people, who, in turn, tried to persuade him to run in the 800-meter event to bring pride to our division. He politely refused, even though his female boss tried to sweet talk him into doing it.

While management can't really force the foreigners to take part in the sports day, it's the local staff I feel for, being coerced into this exercise on their precious weekend. The stadium is all the way in Haidian, diagonally across town and people have to get there on their own -- the company isn't even organizing shuttle buses to get people there.

But that's not all.

This afternoon practically all the staff were away from their desks for several hours to practice marching into the stadium and cheering. When my Chinese colleagues returned, I remarked that the organizers probably got the idea to do that after the National Day parade, but one explained that during sports day in school, they all had to march in too.

They also have snazzy old school blue tracksuit jackets with a white trim that they have to wear. The jackets don't even say our company name on them -- those would have been too expensive to make, so our division decided to just buy some factory seconds.

But probably the best part is that according to a good source, the staff have to salute the overall head of the company when marching in.

Is it these leaders who are keen to boost their insecure egos by having hundreds of staff march in and compete in a sports day, or is it their subordinates who think this is the best way to suck up to the leader to win some brownie points?

Either way it's an event that's become the biggest farce for our company.

So much for building employee morale.

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