Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

IRS needs Large Group Team Building instead of $27,000 Innovation Speakers

Lessons Gained from the IRS about Team Building, Training and Development

On hearing that the IRS is coming under scrutiny for the high price of its various and, perhaps in this case, probably not effective, team building programs and outrageously paid speaker presentations, one can’t help but reflect on why these kinds of things come about. 

Two links to news shows that detail some of what I am referring to:

I’m not one for piling on, but seeing that the IRS spent ALL that money for speakers standing there talking about things like innovation or talking about leadership while demonstrating how to paint pictures of Michael Jordan, Abe Lincoln and Bono for $17,000 – I wonder who got the pictures? —  sure seems like a waste. (And I am a MJ FAN!)

The planners actually took people off the job to “train” them how to line dance and to do the skits, that were professionally recorded and packaged. You can even find the IRS videos online (!)

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with the people participating actually complaining on the video about the waste and irrelevancy of it all! Amazing! And the woman with the broken leg? They infer it was dance-related!!

Ya think that maybe the IRS might sell those three pictures at auction? I am guaranteeing that they would fetch a huge price, especially now! Boehner would love the one of Lincoln, I am sure, but maybe not the one of Bono…

Years ago, Burger King did a Firewalking team building program and it made headlines because one of the participants in the event was burned and hospitalized. As I read about this IRS leadership conference stuff and also learn about the IRS and its many issues now coming to light, I can’t help but reflect on why it’s always been a crucial point to me to develop team building games and do presentations that are more than just fun and engaging but give something of value to the participants while also adding value to the workplace.

In the case of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building exercise, for instance, I designed it to include a debriefing that would give the players an opportunity to see how their method of playing the game could impact how they perform their jobs within their organizations. People come away from this game feeling that they actually learned some important behaviors toward increasing workplace performance and outcome. For about one third of what they paid the painter, they could have bought and run the game for ALL of their people and then discussed the real issues and opportunities they face. Think that happened with that presentation?

All told, the IRS spent $135,000 on 15 speakers for their  Leadership Development event and you have probably seen the Gilligan’s Island skit that they had produced for $50,000. They have reportedly spent nearly $50,000,000 in support of these “developmental conferences” with no accountability or even any defined outcomes, from what one can gather. I mean, a “happiness speaker” for $11,000? They could have just given out chocolate bars!

Not sure how much their line dancing lessons cost but for $10 including food, you can go to a place locally and do all of that you want. I am guessing that the senior leadership and the conference design people’s underlying thinking was, “We cannot spend too much money on having fun, can we?” 

Well, it appears that they can. And to a great degree of overall embarrassment to one and all. And I wonder what outcomes they got from all this; what documented ideas and opportunities for action resulted from these sessions and all that spending?

When doing presentations using my Square Wheels illustrations, yes, there is humor involved but the bottom line is that people are given tools that they can take back to the workplace and actually use to make a difference in how the people they manage, perform. This is good for both the individual and the organization.

Anyone who is interested in doing a team building program or having a speaker present at an event, should want to receive value for the cost involved. Another pet peeve I have regards the cost of doing a workshop or program. A company can pay high prices to get what they might perceive as an interesting program or speaker. To me, high prices do not have to be part of the mix to getting a solid program in place. This is another reason that I have designed products that are reasonably priced, especially considering that users feel they are a great return on their investment.

Team building games and exercises should be high quality and high impact, certainly, but not all are. Many are simply fun events that cost a lot of money (can I hear “Golf at Pebble Creek?” for example?)

When a situation occurs where we hear about the seemingly ridiculous scenarios that happen out there with companies using programs that seem to have no benefit, what it does is hurt the credibility, in general, of programs that are worth the investment.

Not all team building is bad at all… Some can really focus on organizational change, engagement and involvement in people,  spark new ideas and improve actual job teamwork and collaboration.  Unfortunately, the IRS seems to have not prospered so well with choices they made.

Have Fun out there, but also learn something!

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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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1 Comment

  1. Dr. Johnny Chung

    When I had kept my T&D business for years in Korea, I had constantly preached out the same message as Scott addresses here. Most of the companies and organizations tend to spend money and time for no meaningful return…. Time for Speaker, not for Listner… Seems like fun but not applicable…

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