Mandatory Fun Isn’t Fun (Here are Better Team Building Events)


Mandatory fun is something we’ve all experienced at work.  Although it usually starts out with honorable intentions, research shows that mandatory fun can be quite, well, unfun. We at Humor That Works run a lot of team building events and there are better ways to do team building events!

Research from Barbara Plester and Kerr Inkson’s book Laugh out Loud – A User’s Guide to Workplace Humor suggests that overly-curated team building events can be less fun and intimidating, especially when C-level and people in positions of power are the only ones creating and cultivating the fun. Think of the Dunder Mifflin basketball game on The Office TV show.

So, how do you create awesome team building events without the mandatory fun vibes? Here is what we recommend:

1) Get Input on Team Building from different Stakeholders

Intentionally reach out to employees from different groups to brainstorm an inclusive team building events.  Talking to people who may be less likely to speak up or participate involves both introverts and extroverts (ie all the ‘verts’ at work) and ensures the team building events serve everyone.

2) Develop and Discuss Humor boundaries

Create humor boundaries that outline where humor and friendly banter slips into insults, bullying, or unwanted behavior.  Discuss these boundaries openly with the unofficial humor gatekeepers of every organization – the middle managers.  Follow the classic newspaper rule: is the humor, joke or fun event appropriate for the front page of the newspaper?  If so, then it’s cool to do at work, if not, then leave it out. 

If someone crosses a boundary or makes you uncomfortable, you could try saying something like, “I appreciate the humor, and I know you didn’t mean it like that, but [this aspect] made me feel unvalued or excluded.”

3) Connect the Fun with a Learning Outcome to improve Culture

In addition to doing a fun activity, brainstorm the takeaways you want employees to have after the event and use humor as a trigger to discuss these learning outcomes.  When a group laughs, it catches everyone’s attention and gets people to listen – that means they’re open to new ideas.  Team building events are a great way to teach new skills because they are enjoyable and an interactive way to learn.

What takeaways might the activities bring? The learning outcomes could be giving others the benefit of the doubt, making time to connect with coworkers on a personal level even when we’re all busy, or any of the benefits from our list of 10 Benefits of Creating a Humor Culture for Organizations.

Use Team Building Events to Create Psychological Safety

Rod A Martin also points out in his book, The Psychology of Humor, An Integrated Approach, “play is characterized by a protective frame, which is a psychological safety zone”.  Every form of play has protective boundaries that gives people psychological safety. Team Building events are the same. So, use Team Building Events to create the humor boundaries you want in your company, so your company creates a culture of psychological safety, where employees can be themselves and take risks in a safe environment. 

Checkout our blogpost on Team Building activities that are not Awful for some more tips and tricks and here are some of our favorite Team Building activities for Virtual teams that are actually fun! Enjoy!



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