The other day, I wandered into my neighborhood pizza joint for a giant slice and a soda. As part of my daily routine, I brought along the sports page (to read) and The Wall Street Journal (to impress other diners). Glancing up to the TV mounted on the wall, I expected to see the end of “All My Children,” but instead noticed that the Cardinals/Cubs baseball game was about to begin. Somehow, my hectic duties around the office that morning caused me to forget about the game, a monumental game featuring the McGwire/Sosa homerun derby. I settled into my seat and prepared to watch history in the making. Like many others, I even dreamed of being that lucky fan who could potentially earn a handsome reward (pre-IRS).
Mark McGwire stepped to the plate in the first inning, looking to hit his 61st homerun of the season and tie a 37 year old record that many baseball historians thought would never be equaled. With one swing of his bat, the baseball soared a mile high, leaving no doubt as to its ultimate destination. Instinctively, I thrust my fist into the air and let out a mighty roar of “YES” as I watched the slugger accomplish the very same feat I had conquered so many times in my backyard as a youth (unfortunately with no witnesses). I was so overcome by the emotion of the moment that I had forgotten I was in a public restaurant, among strangers who were trying to enjoy a peaceful lunch.
Embarrassed, I looked around the room expecting to see some puzzled looks and maybe even hear laughter aimed at my direction. To my surprise, virtually everyone in the pizza place had a similar reaction. Two elderly ladies at the table next to mine traded congratulatory high fives. A younger man instantly reached for his cellular phone, apparently wanting to share his excitement with a buddy (or his bookie). The pandemonium at the restaurant was surpassed only by that at Busch Stadium. For the next half hour or so, I talked jubilantly with my fellow baseball fans, comparing different eras, different players, different records that stood to be broken.
A COMMON BOND
As I left my newly made friends behind, I pondered the little piece of Americana I had just experienced. I was just sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers, each facing distinct daily struggles created through careers, families, personal relationships. Yet, for one brief moment, something as simple as a baseball game took our minds off of our hectic lives and brought us together to root for a common cause. And in the days to follow, as McGwire went on to break that record, the country shared a spirit, a triumph, that rarely occurs anymore.
We enjoyed conversations around the office, in elevators, and in shopping malls with people with whom we have very little in common. Even non-sports fans, who barely knew the difference between a baseball and a hockey puck, were eager to join in the euphoria. My sister’s face still lights up when she speaks of the accomplishments of slugger “Mark McIntyre.” Yes, baseball may have once been America’s pastime, and during a period when presidential scandals, volatile stock markets, and threats of terrorism dominate the nightly news and our daily conversations, it’s nice to see it finally making a comeback.
TEAMWORK AT WORK
The lessons of Mark McGwire can easily be translated into the workplace. Too often, we are so overly concerned with our individual duties at the office that we take little time to interact with our co-workers, many of whom we have known for years. Unfortunately, a less than friendly office atmosphere is less than conducive to productivity and morale. Management’s challenge is to find a common goal, a common interest to share throughout the office which will hopefully promote that sense of teamwork throughout. Certainly we all exchanged a brief dialogue about the homerun record or the Astros playoff run, but those moments are too few and far between. A universal ongoing bonding experience can go a long way to generating a sense of camaraderie and make for a more effective working environment.
For any large scale company functions like Christmas parties or community service projects, make sure everyone who wishes to be involved takes part in some aspect of the planning. Form committees and encourage participation throughout the office. A function takes on a whole new meaning when numerous people help to pull it off and take pride in the undertaking. Within the actual workplace, structure contests and promotions around company goals rather than solely focused on individual accomplishments. Employees should always be made to feel a part of the team, and should reap the rewards and benefits of all universal successes. (Stock options and profit sharing can be truly unifying perks.)
A GOOD SPORT
Once again, sports may be another logical place to start creating those inner-office bonds. Friendly office pools (non-monetary, of course) concerning major sporting events give employees reasons to root for common teams and players, while providing them with that routine conversation to start the new week. Participation in organized sports leagues can be a fun way to bring employees together after work to get better acquainted in a very informal atmosphere. While winning may certainly be one of the secondary goals, try to avoid any overly competitive teams which may create animosity and discourage participation from the less coordinated among us. In fact, a lack of coordination does not necessarily translate into a lack of interest in sporting events. A company excursion to the ballpark (hopefully when a game is being played) makes for a nice break from the day to day grind. And if one employee happens to catch that final McGwire homerun, everyone should share in that $1 million dollar financial reward. What a tremendous bonding experience.