This week was the Mash Media sports day. The phones were set to voicemail, the websites queued up automatically, and the doors locked. For one afternoon, we would embrace each other’s company with blithe levity through the medium of sport. All the wholesome favourites were there: the egg and spoon race, the three-legged race, the wheelbarrow race, and a novel game whereby one would use his or her brute strength to hurl a Wellington boot along a pre-determined grass court.
It was to be a jovial day indeed, as you would expect from any teambuilding exercise. And, to boot, we will have bonded solidly and use our newfound camaraderie to take on the world and win.
This notion, though, is flawed.
There is nothing that can decimate team morale like a teambuilding day. Firstly, we were separated into four teams of 12: blue, yellow, red, and green. The scheming to defeat all opposition began in earnest, with minor acts of foul play being committed before we had even started.
We began with the egg and spoon race, which I am pleased to report my team (blue) won convincingly. The Wellington boot tossing contest followed and we fared poorly here, before snatching victory in the apple bobbing competition.
Clearly, Team Blue was on course to greatness.
Then the ante was upped. Round four was the water relay, whereby seven team members would sit line astern, passing a chalice of water from front to back: the aim of which to transfer the water from the front bucket to the aft, and the team with the most water would be declared champions. Team Blue was leading, until such a point when those charlatans Team Green, with the beastliness of forethought, callously emptied our vessel. The stewards had failed to notice this blatant act of war, so one of our team rose to the fore and attempted to remove the assailant’s shorts.
The game, then, was on.
The trash talking was taken to another level, and the plotting would make even Jeffery Archer grimace in discomfort.
Team Red’s bolshiness became a constant bugbear, their buzzing and goading all the more insufferable as they cheated their way through the activities.
Team Yellow was mostly useless, but they must have been up to no good as well.
Water dodgeball was largely uneventful, but things came to a head during the last event: rounders.
Rounders is an interesting sport, a limp-wristed version of baseball, itself a limp-wristed version of cricket. But no matter, we were tasked with playing, so we had to give it our all.
First up we would play the hateful Greens. By far the most athletic team, and with youngest median age, we knew that brawn alone would not defeat them, so our brains were required.
The beauty of rounders is that you have to run whether you hit the ball with the stupid bat or not, but if you don’t the wicket keeper only has to throw to first base to get you out – a simple action that is quicker than running from home to the first stick.
My plan, then, was simple: the microsecond the ball left the throwing-man’s hand I would drop the bat and run. I would be sitting comfortably at first base with a cup of warm tea and a copy of The Telegraph even before the wicket keeper realised the ball was on its way. This, it turns out, is not allowed. I do not understand why. Nowhere in the rules does it say that this is not permitted, but the steward deemed it illegal and I was given my marching orders.
The Greens continued to cheat as we continued to turn on each other, and we lost by a single run. It is worth pointing out that we would have won by a single run – or rounder or whatever the hell you call it – had someone of prominence on Team Blue not overtaken one of his own team members.
That was supposed to be the end of it. With our team more divided than the Labour Party we were prepared to retire, but no. It was decided that we would play one more game of rounders, and in another blatant act of partisanship we were to play those villainous, cheating Reds.
We scored many rounder runs and confidence was high, especially as the Red people were obviously terrible at catching.
When we were fielding, I was on second base, and absolutely prepared to cheat, consequences be damned. My Mash TV colleague, who was a Red traitor, decided that he would apply his own interpretation of the rules and cut inside of the stumps on one of his few runs. I barked at the steward but to no avail, and as the budget had not stretched to video technology, was forced to take the law into my own hands. So I shoulder barged him to the ground, where he lay limp and broken in a pile of shattered ego.
Next passed me was Mash’s resident New Zealander, who is often mistaken as Australian. He needed a good tripping over and duly got what he deserved. Email girl, too, needed knocking down a few pegs. It didn’t all go my way, though, as our recruitment man saw me sprawled on the deck after an act of wanton savagery.
The Red’s cheating paid off, and they duly went on to take the spoils. A 24-carat gold medal awaited each of them. The bickering and excuses laboured long into the night, and even in the nearby Raynes Park Tavern at the stroke of midnight, the cries of foul play continued.
Firstly, as my knees testify, a victory dive on hard ground is ill advised. And secondly, nothing can decimate a team like a teambuilding day. The day after, the Mash office was a sea of vengeful glares, muttering, sub-division and a general cauldron of loathing. There are people replacing the sugar in the sugar bowl with salt, hiding mouse mats, and people have taken to changing other’s desktop backgrounds. Total bedlam.
Thirdly, though, I cannot think of a better way to get to know who people really are. We all wear masks. We tinker and tailor with our personalities to fit in with our surroundings. We can spend years playing the pragmatic role in the office, being kind and asking how each other’s weekends were, but it is just a veneer. Put delegates into a competitive environment and the masks come off. The perceived nicey-nice people become bloodthirsty maniacs, the staid and professional office worker lusts for broken bones, and the cameraman is an outright swindler.
I cannot think of a better way of getting to know who people really are than forcing them into combat. Seeing how someone approaches, and executes, the pursuit of victory is more telling than any interview or stupid, meaningless appraisal.
As I sit here, looking around the office, I am reassured. Yes, some may have tried to glue their eggs to their spoons and hired Manny Pacquiao to aid their effort in the tug-of-war, but they all did it because they wanted to win.
Teambuilding, then: it will blow your team to bits, but it will show you who your winners are.