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GARY SMITH: The middle way

Maybe most Americans aren’t represented at far edges by Gary Smith | February 12, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

If you've operated in the corporate world for long, you have undoubtedly come face to face with, and perhaps even been compelled to participate in, something called a Team Builder.

Basically, Team Builders are a variety of exercises designed to, well, build teams. Yeah, I know, it's right there in the name. They do this by giving groups a series of exercises or activities designed to foster cooperation and spirit while breaking down walls and increasing trust. Or something like that.

The activities may vary, depending largely on the makeup of the team and the people who planned the session. I've heard of things ranging for paintball (yeah, shooting teammates with paint-filled capsules – that will make them like you) to ropes courses to more mundane stuff like collaborating to build the tallest structure using dry spaghetti and marshmallows.

Best-case scenario, these really help people who may not know each other very well get acquainted. Worse case (OK, not including the "getting shot with paint capsules" thing), it's a good way to get out of the office for the afternoon and watch teammates spin around with their forehead on a baseball ball before careening into walls. Or, doing that yourself.

How successful these are sort of depends on how willing you are to embrace this sort of thing. And, whether you have an engineer or architect on your team who understands how to build a marshmallow-spaghetti tower. But mostly how willing you are to share or potentially try and fail spectacularly at some activity you'll never do again that doesn't really have any practical application except, well, it's fun-ish.

Hard as it is to believe, these tend to work. OK, maybe not if the goal is to build a Band of Brothers (and Sisters) marching forward as one. But, they're good for helping folks get to know teammates they don't see all that often. Besides, it's kind of interesting to discover that guy from Accounting is into Highland dancing or that lady from Purchasing always trying to get people to do something they don't want to do comes by it naturally since it's her job and she has kids, some of whom go to the same school as yours.

The thing about Team Builders is, when they work, it's typically for one reason and one reason only. Participants went into them with a sort of goofy enthusiasm and willingness to at least give it a try and a chance. Maybe you'll love it. Maybe (unlikely) you'll hate it. Maybe you'll learn to build a tower out of non-standard materials.

I thought of Team Builders when I saw the now quasi-famous Bruce Springsteen Super Bowl commercial the other day. Which is probably at least a little bit of a fail, since I was supposed to be thinking about Jeeps. Or Kansas. Or going to church. Or maybe all three and not ... you know ... towers.

It seems Bruce and the good people at Jeep would like us to participate in a giant Team Builder. And the only activity is that we all move to the middle. Where that is (and yes, I know, Kansas was referenced, but I'm thinking that was an allegory) is a bit unclear. But, apparently, the middle is a good place and we should all go there.

Now, there appear to be issues with that, issues which have been vocalized and have little to do with Springsteen's recent legal concerns. Basically, those issues seem to coalesce around the reality that we are a very divided country and our camps are so far apart that getting to the middle is going to take a lot more than a Jeep.

To that I say, yes. It's going to be hard. Harder than a ropes course or Two Truths and Lie. Especially when both sides are more than willing to believe everything the other side says is a lie.

But if we enter this with a goofy enthusiasm and a willingness to at least give it a try, maybe we'll find that the far edges don't represent us as much as the middle. And that there are a lot more of us there than we think.

Like that marshmallow-spaghetti tower, the key is a wide base and not trying to build the tower to an extreme. And if it doesn't work, well, at least you tried. And you have a snack.

Gary Smith is a recovering journalist living in Rogers.

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