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Was this the Most Embarrassing Team Building Event Ever?

Published December 2017

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One thing we have noticed from talking to clients; is that most companies have had at least one terrible team away day in their history. For this week’s article, we thought we would share with you an anecdotal story about the worst event that our Director Ben has ever worked on. It was so bad that it actually inspired Ben to do something different… which incidentally is how and why Aim for the Sky got started. So grab a cup of tea and enjoy:

Before I started Aim for the Sky I spent several years working as a freelance instructor for a number of other events companies. On the whole I enjoyed this work, I’d turn up at a venue and be told what activity I’d be supervising. Normally this would be something like archery or orienteering and, although the equipment or setup might not be brilliant, it was pretty fun. That said I fast developed a real dislike of the classic “Team Building” activities.  No matter which company I was working for all their team building activities had one thing in common… they were all truly dreadful!

Every event I found myself on was just as bad as the rest, and I fast found out why the team building days were so loathed by many an employee from these big corporate clients. Most of the activities looked cheap, the games were boring and the themes quite often embarrassing – but nothing could prepare me for one event I was to find myself on one cold Autumnal day. The events company I worked with on that event has since ceased trading, so I feel that I can now share the story. However, the company shall nonetheless remain nameless.

The client was one of your well-known high street banks and they had picked a venue in the countryside that doesn’t come cheap. So with a decent group of 50 staff and an obviously decent budget you might expect that the events company would have suggested something fun like a selection of country sports on the estate grounds, maybe clay shooting, archery or duck herding? Not quite… what they ended up getting remains the worst event I have ever been on to this day. In fact being there to witness such a spectacle gave me the drive to setup Aim for the Sky in the first place as I knew clients deserved better than this.

I arrived to find out that the event planned was called ‘Formula Fun’. Sounded promising at first… perhaps we’d be using quads or off road buggies? Nope – it turned out that we’d be using pedal go-karts and before the teams raced they would have to decorate their karts with balloons, paper plates, felt tips and string. If I thought I was confused you should have seen the faces on the clients when it was explained to them what they would be doing with the afternoon: “You’ll be split into teams and each given a pedal go-kart which you will have to decorate with this crap, then wear a stupid helmet and race your colleagues around a circle made from traffic cones. The winners will get a box of Quality Street to share”. As you can imagine the enthusiasm in the room was almost uncontainable.

To try and add to the enjoyment of this ‘Formula Fun’ event the organisers decided to bring along a compere and a celebrity guest. Now a compere is not unusual on events. However, there’s a few things to be aware of when booking a compere. Firstly, these people are like radio presenters but more annoying - they have to talk for hours on end to themselves but usually after 10 minutes they have run out of jokes and start to annoy everyone around them. The only difference on this event was that none of his jokes were funny and he went straight to annoying the clients. By the time we were half way through the organisers had realised how bad he was and had tried to drown him out with the background music.

You might think things weren’t going well, but don’t worry we still had the celebrity guest arriving to rescue things. Out of the back of the company van stepped out a man dressed all in white racing attire and an all white helmet – in fact he looked exactly like Top Gear’s ‘The Stig’. However, as the organisers were worried about copyright we were all told to refer to him as ‘The Stidge’ – yep you can imagine the joy this knock off version of a faceless TV celeb had on the punters. 

So despite the somewhat underwhelming start, the teams gathered around their pedal go-karts and set to work decorating them with a selection of items you’d also find at my sons nursery school during the arts and crafts hour. To their credit most of the staff took part, I can only assume this is because the management and HR teams that arranged this debacle were overseeing the whole thing and heading off to the bar or making a break for it could land you in hot water.

Its worth noting at this point that although Health and Safety should never be ignored on an event, you can go too far. This particular events company was a little bit obsessive about such issues; so much so that when the teams needed things cutting (paper plates, string etc) they were not trusted with their own set of scissors so instead they had to come to me, who has been trained in the art of using such deadly weaponry. But this did slow things down a bit, having 10 teams all queuing for me to cut their paper plates. 

So after 1 hour of this we were ready to race these pedal karts. The course was a sort of oval shape, mapped out with traffic cones at the front of the hotel. The idea was the karts would race round the course in a relay race, so once you had done a lap you jumped out and handed it over to the next teammate. 

We lined all the teams up and it was ready, steady, Downpour. In spite of the rain, with a blast of the air horn the most eagerly anticipated motor race since James Hunt and Nikki Lauder began. Well sort of, it turns out that setting the course up on loose gravel was not pedal kart friendly. With excruciated faces the clients tried to pedal their way through the gravel… and the slowest race in history began …they were going nowhere! So after 15 minutes the race was stopped much to the annoyance of the man in the lead who was a full 8 meters from the starting point by then. 

An offer to move the course was made to the organisers but, in the end, common sense took hold and the event was cancelled due to the rain. And so ended the great Formula Fun Day. The clients waddled off the bar leaving their chariots of soggy plates and half deflated balloons in the elements.

Since 2008 we have added lots of team building activities to our events, but I don’t think pedal karts will be making an appearance any time soon! At Aim for the Sky we're really proud of our corporate events and the fact that our clients really love our activities. If you would like arrange an event that doesn’t involve fancy dress, role play or a knock off celebrity guest then please do get in touch, we’d be very happy to help.

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