Q: My company is staffed by a lot of young, outgoing people. HR just announced our next team-building event: an improv class at a local comedy club. Everyone else seems excited, but it fills me with dread and anxiety—I can’t imagine it doing me any good. What advantage is something like this supposed to have? It just sounds like a bad joke about corporate culture to me.
A: I feel for you. Even as an extrovert, this sounds like it could be a significantly high stress situation and a personal challenge. However, that’s usually when growth experiences occur. These kinds of events are not designed to embarrass or humiliate anyone, so let that ease your mind a little. Stay open-minded, communicate with your manager and HR, and do some research ahead of time.
It’s not unreasonable for you to ask the head of HR what developmental opportunities she hopes to see out of a program like this. Be open about the level of anxiety you’re experiencing, while making it clear that you don’t want to miss out on important team experiences: “This event is a little bit threatening; I want to develop relationships with the team and get the most out of this event, but I know if my anxiety is overwhelming, I won’t be able to. I’d love to know more about what the developmental opportunities are.” Depending on your company’s industry, HR could be trying to facilitate a variety of developmental opportunities—such as helping introverts build public presentation skills or honing employees’ extemporaneous speaking skills if they often speak about the organization in public situations. You can’t be the only introvert at this company, so it’s likely you’re not alone in your anxiety over the event—getting some clarity on objectives would be helpful for everyone.
A big part of this could also be the teambuilding process and having employees understand and appreciate people’s differences—that’s going to be an key takeaway. One of the great benefits of teambuilding is identifying the diversity of skills that are needed for success and recognizing that a good team can’t have people who all play the same position. What does the best kind of team look like? A bunch of people with the same exact strengths? Of course not. For example, if your organization was holding a singing event, but you knew you couldn’t carry a tune, you would look at the other skill sets needed and find a role that was right for you. You might identify as someone who is good with lyrics while others would happily step up to the mic. Use this opportunity to explore your strengths and connect with people whose strengths differ from yours.
Consider arriving early to the event or calling ahead to talk to the instructor. Let them know that you’re very anxious about being put in an uncomfortable position and that you would appreciate their help in making sure that didn’t occur. They should respect and honor that request. Read online reviews of the improv place to see what experiences others have had. If they are accustomed to holding corporate teambuilding events and know they get a range of personality types, they’re likely very skilled at handling different comfort levels and making sure everyone has a positive experience.
Whatever you do to calm your fears, trying to get out of the event or being angry about participating would be poor form. Stay open minded. People are often put in uncomfortable situations, whether at work, at home, or socially, but they make the best of it—and that is the best thing you can do. Find a way to play up your strengths and collaborate with others. Remember, a good joke needs a funny writer as much as it needs a funny presenter.