Thus begins a series of ridiculous tales, all completely true. Or maybe wildly exaggerated. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the potentially litigious.
The Worst Team-Building Seminar Ever
I once worked for a nonprofit where the fundraising team and the accounting team were constantly at odds. The bean counters refused to count our beans, because they thought our jobs were too fun (forgetting the 3am glamour of hosing down banquet plates on the lawn). Adding to the joy and wonder, the executive director was both conflict averse and completely addicted to seminars: firewalking, outward bound, ropes courses, anything that would allow him to ignore the issues he was actually paid to address.
So one fateful day, we were forced to attend a seminar that promised to bring accounting and fundraising together in perfect harmony. We would be indelibly affected and moved to work together as we learned to walk in each other’s shoes.
Actually walk. In each other’s shoes.
Submitting to the demands of the falsely chipper seminar leader, I sacrificed my Nine West pumps to the communal pile. Chipper chirped about how so many metaphors could be internalized only if they were taken literally. In this exercise, we would touch the souls of our co-workers by actually touching their soles. By literally sharing their footwear, we would experience their pain, their hopes and their dreams.
This blather droned on while Chipper matched up similar sizes of shoes. And to my horror, I saw my sleek pumps paired with Kevin’s disreputable loafers.
Kevin. Who was terminally moist. Kevin who sweated prodigiously, regularly sporting giant perspiration circles that reached from his armpits to his waistband. Kevin of the drippy forehead. Kevin whose speech was soaked with spittle. Kevin whose pale, clammy palms made you shiver with every handshake.
Kevin. Who was as reeky as you would imagine.
And Kevin’s shoes.
Kevin’s loafers were clearly damp. I marveled at how a black shoe could be so visibly stained They were stretched into a distinctly non-footlike shape. One had tape on it.
I didn’t want to look at them, much less touch them. But Chipper said we had to pick them up.
Inside Kevin’s fecal footwear sat a half-decayed set of OdorEaters. Chunks of conquered carbon floated in a swamp of sweat.
I didn’t want to hold them, much less wear them. But Chipper said we had to put them on.
Kevin’s shoes were ice cold and oh, so moist. I was only wearing hose – had I had any idea of the day’s adventure, I would have wrapped my feet in Saran. Or aluminum foil. Or a dozen condoms. But instead, the sickening feeling seeped directly from my drenched toes to my upper lip, which curled tightly up to my nose and refused to relax.
I didn’t want to have my feet in the shoes, much less walk in them. But Chipper said we had to pace the room and say what we felt.
What I felt was a magnificently strong gag reflex. I was so disgusted I could not speak: words were blocked by an inflexible lump of intransigent revulsion. Having come so far, I failed the exercise.
As I sat, the desire to free my feet warring with my abhorrence of actually putting my fingers on those repugnant things, I looked up to see Kevin prancing in my beautiful Nine West pumps.
He tottered. He tripped. His team laughed as he shared disparaging “insights” into my character. He had taken off his sopping socks to squeeze his hooves into my poor, poor pumps. Damp, pale flesh spilled over the topline. Plentiful black hairs tickled the vamp.
Tears rose to my eyes. Bile rose in my throat. My heart darkened and diminished. And my feet still swam in an odorous miasma of misery.
I don’t remember the rest of the seminar. I think my memory retracted in horror. I assume Chipper chattered for another few hours. There were probably more exercises. I certainly felt no closer to anyone on the team. I did get a talking-to about my lack of participation.
My shoes were returned to me, misshapen and soggy. I never wore them again.
Silver lining: a gold standard of ridiculousness. In the dozens of team-building seminars, retreats, and exercises I’ve been forced into over the years, none has ever been this bad. As co-workers fume over trust falls, compulsory hugging, violations of personal boundaries, and that one person with enthusiasm, I have the ultimate comparison.
That was the worst.