In a previous blog post (Team Building exercises - Are they too contrived to work?) I questioned the effectiveness of artificial team-building measures. Quiet a few people agreed with me but some thought that the practice could be effective in some cases. I guess I just disagree with the whole forced aspect of these kinds of activities. It got me to thinking about an even narrower version of "team-building": required company functions.
Have you ever worked for a company that pressured you to attend company functions, whether they were off-site holiday parties or on-site birthday celebrations? I used to work for one. Once the company's CEO made it very clear that if anyone missed the holiday function set during off hours "without a good excuse," he would take note of it. The implication was that it would not be good for your career. He announced the party well in advance so no one could, as he said, "use the 'couldn't find a babysitter' excuse." I don't know if it was his way of being congenial or whether the action stemmed from some kind of power trip, but it ultimately had the effect of your mom saying, "You're going to eat that broccoli and you're going to LIKE it!"
Ironically, his edict indirectly enforced camaraderie among the staff when we all bonded over being angry at his insolence. But that was clearly not his intention.
Those of us who resented the pressure referred to it among ourselves as "mandatory fun."
Since I will be celebrating a birthday this week, the team I work with is going to take me to lunch. It is not something they're forced to do (although, you'd think with my personality, that would be the case). There will be no balloons or singing waiters (if there are, someone will die), but just a good old-fashioned get-together of people who spend a good portion of their lives only a cubicle wall apart. We'll spend the time talking and bonding over work problems and family matters.
At my old company, they used to celebrate everyone's birthday with a cake and a big gathering of the department — to the point where someone would come up and drag you out of your office to go join in if you forgot or decided to decline because you had work to do. I usually went of my own accord; after all, people, there was cake involved. But I know of cases when some people were clearly disgruntled at having to stand there and sing Happy Birthday.
So does your office practice mandatory fun? Is forced frivolity part of your company culture? If so, let's talk about it.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.