4 Reasons Companies Should Embrace March Madness Office Competitions

Use the fun and energy of March Madness to boost staff morale and client relationships.

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By Tom Gimbel Originally published

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There's a lot out there about how March Madness decreases workplace productivity, but the reality is productivity at work is lost daily. Companies that attempt to squash the fun and energy of March Madness are approaching it the wrong way. If companies have good managers who hold people accountable, work still gets done -- and employees get to bond. No one is saying to throw goals out the window, but I am saying it's OK to have fun.

Related: Why Office Perks Are Traps, Not Benefits

Here's how embracing March Madness can boost staff morale and client relationships:

Developing team camaraderie

Sports can bring the most eclectic groups of people together, from various ages, genders, workplace titles, passions and more. When people get together and have conversations tied to personal interests, they become more engaged -- and happy employees drive profit.

When managers are a part of it, they become less critical. The worst thing managers can do is completely ban bracket competitions, because the reality is, people will do it anyway -- they'll just try to do it discreetly and their work may suffer. Why not use March Madness as an opportunity to bring people together? As long as managers set deadlines and hold their staff accountable, work will get done. Have fun with it -- encourage bracket challenges and competition. That's normally when friendly banter begins between employees who don't normally interact, and strong relationships start to form. You can't buy synergy.

Related: 6 Companies Reveal How Their Unique Cultures Make Them a Success

Strengthening client relationships

In a day and age where so much interaction happens over the phone or email, there's something to be said for putting faces to names. Don't just keep the celebration internal -- invite clients, customers and vendors. At my company, we throw an annual March Madness open house, where we invite all of our clients and create an exciting atmosphere like being at the stadium, complete with hot dog vendors, a popcorn stand, beer and TVs. It's fun and casual and helps our staff and clients connect on a more personal level. Just like the Super Bowl, even people who don't care for the games can enjoy the festivities.

The games are a great opportunity to maximize relationships, get to know the people on the other end of the phone, and show appreciation for their business.

I've found college basketball is a great starting point, because it often leads people to talking about their own college experiences, and all of a sudden you have people sharing personal stories and relating to each other. And more often than not, having a personal connection translates into a better professional relationship.

Related: 3 Ways to Engage Offsite Employees in Your Culture

Encouraging competiveness among staff

Competition is good -- so embrace it. Encourage people to wear the shirt from their favorite college team. Create a prize for the best bracket. At Berkshire Hathaway, if an employee picks all the right teams in their Sweet 16, he receives a million dollars -- every year for the rest of his life.

Not all CEOs are Warren Buffett, but every company can find their own ways to motivate people to participate, even the ones who don't follow sports. Competition increases employee engagement, which only has positive effects on the company and clients.

Related: 6 Tips for Keeping Your Team Focused When the News Won't Stop

Building culture

The popcorn and beer are great, but the staff bonding is even better. According to Harvard Business Review, close friendships at work boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent. People want to be friends with others who they feel have as much on the line as they do, people who work as hard as them to help their teams and the company grow. March Madness provides a terrific opportunity for people to bond over common interests, which helps build friendships.

Celebrating March Madness isn't about basketball at the end of the day. It's about showing employees the company appreciates their passions and encourages relationships. It's not a "break" from work; it's an incentive to work harder. Above all, it shows people the company cares about them, and that's the foundation of all great culture.

Tom Gimbel

Founder and CEO of LaSalle Network

Tom Gimbel is the founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a staffing, recruiting and culture company headquartered in Chicago. LaSalle was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s "Top Company Cultures” list in 2015 and 2017, and Glassdoor’s 2016 list of “Best Places to Work.” 

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