Skinning squirrels or the pub, what’s a better team building activity?

It was a crisp autumnal day in November. Smoke billowed into the tree canope as a small fire spat embers at gloves hands. The team grumbled about the weather and consoled themselves with thoughts of imminent car heaters.

Meanwhile I stood with a few more hardcore colleagues around the frozen corpse of a squirrel. Our instructor, an eccentric version of Ray Mears muttered apologies as he tried to extract the squirrel skin from its bones. ‘It’s too cold’, he explained, ‘I took them out of the freezer this morning but they’ve not thawed’.

This was team building in the Online and Informal Learning team at BP. Just a number of many memorable experiences that entered into team lore. Tough Mudder, zombie immersive theatre, escape room challenges and even something akin to a semi-naked circus made the list. Each event brought the team together and gave us much to chuckle about many years later.

The role of experiences has the same effect in our personal lives. Shared stories are the glue that bind many relationships together, and recently I discovered what happens when you lose touch with the peer group narrative and become a stranger once again. Relationships take work, in the office and at home, and it’s personal choice as to whether we make the effort or not.

When I originally sat down to write this blog, I was ready to argue that getting together in a bar in the evening, is as essential to team building as crazy days in the woods. But having had several weeks to reflect on this chain of thought, I might temper my perspective somewhat.

I think outings to the bar are a social lubricant which then lead to shared experiences, rather than being the experience in themselves. I struggle to recall single visits to the pub, but have no trouble describing the time we lit fires, built a shelter and set traps in a forest in Berkshire.

This tells me that the ritual of drinking together plays a different role in business. The ritual of intoxication is partly about vulnerability, it acts as a signal that you’re willing to let your guard down. It’s also an opportunity to flatten the hierarchy. Buy the boss a drink and suddenly the ‘parent-child’ paradigm is disrupted.

There are plenty of you, I’d imagine, that are t-total, or perhaps prefer not to have a beer with your colleagues. Perhaps it’s even forbidden in your religion or culture – and respect to you. But there’s no denying pubs are a part of the fabric of British society, for better or worse. What I’m suggesting is you consider trips to the pub and more experiential team-building in the same vein. You can always have an orange juice and who knows, you might even enjoy yourself.

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