The Fuzzy Line Between Corporate Teambuilding and Waterboarding

I found Wednesday’s Salt Lake Tribune article about a Provo motivational coaching business’s technique at corporate teambuilding to be a bit shocking but still had to laugh out of a sense of schadenfreude.

This has come to light because of a lawsuit brought by a former employee of the Provo firm who claims in the suit that he was waterboarded as part of a pep talk about raising sales figures:

The suit claims that Hudgens’ team leader, Joshua Christopherson, asked for volunteers in May for “a new motivational exercise,” which he did not describe. Hudgens, who was 26 at the time, volunteered in order to “prove his loyalty and determination,” the suit claims.

Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill, the suit claims. Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs.

“At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded,” the suit alleges.

This is what the former employee is alleging in the lawsuit. As in every lawsuit, there are two sides to the story. The Provo company offers the following in the newspaper article:

Ellis [the company's president] said the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. Socrates responds by plunging the student’s head underwater and telling him he will learn once his desire for knowledge is as great as his desire to breathe.

However, Ellis said Christopherson explained the exercise before Hudgens volunteered, no one held Hudgens down and Hudgens was free to get up if he was uncomfortable.

“It was meant to be a team-building exercise,” Ellis said. “Everybody was . . . involved and enthusiastic.”

I’m not sure if the company’s explanation is really all that much better. Perhaps if the Attorney General is reading the Salt Lake Tribune, it will dawn on him that the next time a pesky congressional probe asks him in a hearing whether he believes waterboarding is torture he can reply, “Of course not, it’s teambuilding.”

The schadenfreude angle is self-referential, i.e. it is having to laugh at our own shame (as opposed to the usual object of schadenfreude, which is someone else’s shame). The reason for this is that, although I am not afflicted with the notion that anything that happens in Provo must be directly attributed to the Church, I know that others do take this view. Thus, when this is reported outside of Utah County, whether in SLC or at Above the Law, readers are sure to take the absurd antics of this Provo company and make it into a statement about Mormons or the Church.

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3 Responses to The Fuzzy Line Between Corporate Teambuilding and Waterboarding

  1. Christopher says:

    Of course, Romney’s statements on torture and waterboarding will only help those outside of Utah County looking to make a connection to this event in Provo and the Church.

  2. Dave says:

    This is too good — you can’t even make up stuff this good. At least it wasn’t a zealous EQP trying to drum up enthusiasm for home teaching.

  3. John Phile says:

    Of course people will connect the story to mormons with Provo being home to the mormon “university,” BYU, and with the great majority of Provo’s population being mormon. By their fruits ye shall know them and there are a lot of fruits in Utah County.

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