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The most cringe-worthy, team-building exercise that I ever participated in

“Fabio is at the door.”

This phrase, uttered in a mockingly dramatic tone, can still elicit groans and laughter in certain Seattle advertising circles. This team-building exercise, which happened over 20 years ago, is legendary in its awfulness.

I was a new hire — and new to the role as a copywriter for a large advertising agency which is now part of a behemoth global concern. My first of many jobs for this group of agencies, which are generous as a rule, and tend to have plenty of funds for employee development programs, no matter how dubious.

This particular office suffered from an unusually competitive, back-stabby culture. In retrospect, I also think the culture extended to client and vendor relations. Maybe some of them complained about things like padded invoices and inflated hours which they couldn’t prove, or maybe someone thought we needed continuing education in ethics.

Regardless of the reason, they thought they could fix things by bringing in this consultant, a Tony Robbins type, who announced:

“I am here to help you feel inspired.”

Inspired to, you know, not pad the expense reports and stuff. At least this was the gist of it; again in retrospect. But it was all couched in these touchy-feely parables about relationships, including a hypothetical situation he outlined while instructing us to “shut your eyes.”

“I want you to imagine you’re a woman, home alone. Your husband is traveling on business. He will be gone for awhile. Nobody else is around to see you or hear you.”

Okay, my eyes are shut. I’m picturing myself on the couch with a pint of ice cream, watching As The World Turns like the 1990’s stay-at-home housewife I wasn’t.

“Suddenly, you hear a knock. You go to answer it.”

“Fabio is at the door.”

Huh? You mean that dude on the fake butter commercials? Why would he be at the door?

The guy waited with bated breath. “What do you do? Do you invite him in? After all, nobody will know.”

Um, ew, no. God no. That’s super creepy, and quite frankly, more of a male fantasy than something women would dream up, especially those who might have been raped or attacked by an intruder.

Why on earth would this guy think that this was an appropriate question to bring up in a corporate setting? It’s horrible, even in an everyday setting. Like he assumed that if were offered a chance to cheat without getting caught, we’d jump at it, even with a total stranger.

Besides, Fabio??? I mean, he could have used Antonio Banderas or Harrison Ford or even the guy in the Cindy Crawford Diet Coke commercial. But no, not Fabio.

I wasn’t the only one to be shocked. Stunned silence was followed by laughter, followed by boos, followed by a lot of people — the women especially — walking out on the whole thing to complain.

Funny enough, I did end up meeting Fabio during a personal appearance at Whole Foods years later. He was handsome, I guess, but the attraction was mitigated by the presence of a box fan he’d set up so his hair would remain windblown as he talked about the whey protein he was shilling.

Nice enough guy, but if he showed up at my door, I’d still call the cops.

Photo credit: me. I’m the second person on the left, cuddling up to the big lug.

This post first appeared on Quora.

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