The Case for Fun

Mar 20, 2011 No Comments by

The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is in full swing this weekend and fans across the country are glued to their televisions and web browsers to catch all the action. It’s become an annual Spring ritual in many organizations to run an office pool based on picking the winners of the tournament games.

Costly Fun: It has been estimated that this “March Madness” may cost US corporations nearly $200 million in lost productivity this year.  This threat to the bottom line has caused many organizations to completely ban the practice of allowing basketball pools at work. In yesterday’s article I listed a few more good reasons why this might make sense for your company.

But Wait! Banning the basketball pool may sound like a good idea, but it’s not a slam dunk!  Today I’ll give you the opposite side of the argument.

Here are a few good reasons why I think most organizations should say “yes” to encouraging a bit of office-based fun like a March Madness pool:

Five Reasons to Condone it: While I wouldn’t want to tell anyone to break their own rules, I can think of a few good reasons to allow your team to engage in this annual Spring distraction:

1. It’s a Spirit Thing: Encouraging a basketball pool can build your team’s informal engagement skills by having them all focused on one non-work-related thing for a few days.  It gives people a completely new context in which to consider their fellow work mates. What schools are they rooting for and why? Did they go to Notre Dame or USC? Maybe they are rooting for a given team because they have relatives who went to Old Dominion University or The Ohio State University. Informal conversations are an important component of team-building and a pool can be a great conversation-starter.

2. I Just Want to Scream at Work: Some company cultures really discourage the expression of emotions in the work setting.  By introducing the sports fan element into this situation, people may just cut loose with a few positive emotional outbursts that create an opening to express other emotions long after the tournament.

3. Beating the Boss. Bosses can be intimidating. Some bosses use the NCAA pool experience as a way to demonstrate humility. For example, at the start of the tournament, everyone has an equal chance of winning and the process will play out for everyone using the same formula.

There is no “boss override” or executive opinion involved in winning this kind of contest. The bracket challenge creates a chance for the Boss to truly be One of the Gang.  (Hint to bosses: they are watching you for a definition of how far they can take this, so think ahead about boundaries!)

The President of the United States even fills out a bracket – now if that boss can do it, why not every boss? (Some people would say that picking a bracket makes him look like a “normal guy”.) We’ve entered Barack Obama’s predictions into our NCAA pool for the past few years.  As of this morning, he was in first place!

4. Camaraderie is Hard Enough to Build: In addition to being co-workers, these people are human beings who will be more productive in the long run if they enjoy the company of those they work with. Part of getting people to like each other is getting them to know each other. The informality of an office pool can be a great, non-threatening way to generate camaraderie. In addition to having everyone compete as individuals, consider breaking the office into teams like Boys -vs- Girls or Sales -vs- Operations.  Having a little competitive fun through exercises like this can contribute to your future teaming capacity.

5. Pay it Forward. Few good employees will flinch at a request to stay late at some point during the heat of a critical project if they truly believe the company needs their help and the company has their best interest in mind.  Basketball pools, birthday celebrations and other informal events help to build that sense of shared values.  If you have ever felt unappreciated at work – or felt like the first celebration of success came after you had already invested far too much in your organization’s success, you probably recognize the value of “paying it forward”.

… One Last Shot @ the Buzzer: Finally, if your company has a strict rule against wagering at work – consider having the boss, the managers or the company itself offer the winning prize and open the pool to anyone so there is no employee money at stake.  Just be sure it’s a totally free contest that doesn’t show favoritism to any particular player – similar to a fund-raising raffle.

The Bottom line: I’d recommend companies not only allow NCAA basketball pools – but encourage them!  Assume the best in your people and let them have a little fun at company expense.  It will pay back several times over.

While the case can be made for banning an NCAA pool in your office, I fall on the opposite side of this argument.   As long as there is no legal reason not to have one, I believe the benefits of allowing a pool far outweigh the risks.

OBTW: Here’s my bracket. I noticed that the President copied my idea by picking Kansas to win the title. :)

-Steve

Questions for Chatter:

  1. How do you feel about President Obama filing out a bracket on ESPN’s Sportscenter?
  2. Does your organization ban contests like the March Madness pool? If so, what reasons did they give?  Do you agree with their logic?

Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

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