It’s that crazy time of year in the U.S., when football, hockey and basketball compete for attention. Flick through the TV channels any fall weekend and you’ll find a college or pro football match, as well as games involving the other sporting venues.

Let’s face it – we love our sports. Some of us more than others, like the fans who paint their faces in their favorite team’s colors. Or those who show up to work wearing jerseys and other regalia that reflect their team allegiances. And you can always count on friendly rivalries emerging in the workplace this time of year.

While America gets caught up in the football/baseball/hockey/basketball frenzy, it won’t be long before the rest of the world gets hyped up by two other major sporting events – the 22nd Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. The Olympics are scheduled February 7-23 in Sochi, Russia, while the World Cup will be held June 12 through July 13 next year in Brazil. Both are global sports spectacles that are sure to generate lots of excitement.

Each event will stir intense patriotism and rivalries, and each will have its fair share of agony and ecstasy. This will be the first time the Russian Federation will host the Olympics; the former Soviet Union was host to the Summer Games in 1980, the official Olympics website states. The 2014 Olympic Winter Games will be the first time that the Russian Federation will have hosted the Winter GamesThe Cup, meanwhile, promotes itself as “the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world,” according to its website.

Sporting spirit helps fire up the workplace
Our love of sports and loyalty to teams and players is a common thread among cultures around the world. And sports bring out a lot of admirable characteristics: teamwork, competitive spirit, drive and determination. Many of these characteristics cross over into the workplace, which might explain why we relate so well to sports in general.

The impact of sports on the working world has not gone unnoticed by researchers. A major study undertaken in the United Kingdom a few years ago found that sports “can have a positive impact on boosting morale and improving mood, motivation and productivity in the working environment.”

The study — commissioned by Hudson, a professional services recruitment and talent management consultancy, and conducted by The Social Issues Research Centre — was first published just prior to the World Cup in 2006. You can read an overview of the study and access the complete document here.

Some interesting statistics compiled during the study include:

  • 63 percent of men and 52 percent of women said that sporting success (i.e. their team winning) influences their approach to work.
  • 47 percent of women and 40 percent of men said that sporting success lifts their mood and makes them more productive in their jobs.
  • Only 3 percent said that sporting success is distracting and makes them less productive.

Getting a kick out of the World Cup
The World Cup, in particular, influenced the outlook of those who were interviewed. “Seventy percent of men and 62 percent of women residents in England said that it will have an impact on their working lives – by boosting morale if the team does well, creating a team spirit and providing an environment for social inclusion,” the study summary states.

But it’s not just sporting events themselves that have sway in the workplace. The study revealed that discussing sports on a routine basis among employees and customers can help tear down barriers. “It can make or break a sale or the relationship between a manager and his/her team. In fact, sport enhances creativity and promotes sharing of ideas,” the summary says. And such discussions can improve communication among team members, solidify customer relations and break down hierarchical boundaries.

The researchers also discovered other positive attributes stemming from the sports-work scenario. They included the importance of dedication and commitment; influencing and identifying what makes a good team player; the importance of collective responsibility and the value of working as a team; and the value of individual creativity and flair.

“Sport(s) can teach managers about the importance of thinking creatively and reflect the skills that make a good manager,” the study states.

Promoting teamwork
I’ve found that many managers seize on the sports theme to rally employees and build up enthusiasm around new projects and campaigns. And they’ve used activities such as baseball or soccer games to promote team bonding.

I also believe there is no better parallel for good leadership and organizational success in business than an athletic team, where talent, strategy, culture and discipline are clear and real-time differentiators.  And coaches (aka, the leadership team) are measured and rewarded accurately for their leadership abilities – a win/loss record.

Admittedly, there have been and will always be aberrations in the athletic team model (such as players and coaches displaying unruly or inexcusable behavior), but that’s to be expected in an imperfect world. It’s the core standards of team structure that we should strive for.

So go ahead, cheer on your favorite team and engage in some friendly banter with your co-workers over who has the most talented players. It’s healthy, it’s productive and, just as important, it’s fun!


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