By Paul Chai 31 October 2017

Kicking goals, getting a slam dunk, dropping the ball – the language of business is full of metaphors drawn from sport. So what better corporate team building activity could there be than building an actual sporting team?

Playing games with your workmates has wide ranging benefits, says a report published last year in the Journal of Sport Sciences. Team sports benefit individual health, group cohesion and performance. Employers gain from employees’ increased work performance and concentration. 

Will Jackson, an executive in Cushman & Wakefield’s commercial leasing division, helped set up the firm’s inaugural PropertySki retreat in 2017 so that his industry could get some of the benefits that come from participating in team sports. 

In August 2017, over 140 people headed to Thredbo to take part in a three day event that included team races, functions and an awards night.

“The idea is to bring people into a barriers-down environment to network and connect over a shared experience outside of the office. It removes people from their corporate surroundings, where it can often be more difficult to let their guard down,” Jackson says.

Slalom champs

Asked if the PropertySki was a success, he used the team from Dexus as an example. The Dexus participants hardly knew each other before the event, but by the final night they found themselves on the awards podium collecting the award for Best Team. Jackson says that the Dexus employees went from being just work colleagues to becoming a tight-knit group. 

“I spoke to them after the trip, they were really buzzing about it, they were proud of themselves for winning that award,” he says. "On top of that, when you’re outdoors and being active, your energy levels increase and you feel healthier. That positive effect is brought back to the workplace and your concentration is far better, morale is up, and you’re more enthusiastic and excited to be there.”

Walt Hiltner is director of Corporate Games, an annual event (in 2017, held November 24-26, in Melbourne) that has celebrated workplace team sports since 1993. The event, with 15,000 participants in 2017, encourages organisations across Australia to support their employees in adopting a healthy lifestyle. 

Hiltner says that being active and social in sports naturally improves how an individual interacts with colleagues. But it’s important to be as inclusive as possible, he points out.

The chance to talk on the sporting field makes it easier to talk to people around the office. Richard Barnes, structural engineer, Bureau SRH

Anyone for poker?

“One of the things we have tried to do with the Corporate Games is include members of the workforce who are not necessarily sporty,” he says. “We have a quiz event and team poker. It is about getting the other side of the office, particularly those who may not be into sports, to say, 'Basketball’s really not my thing, but is there something else I can do?’” And as long as there is a feeling of team spirit, everyone gets the benefits.

Richard Barnes, structural engineer with architectural firm Bureau SRH, has attended the Corporate Games for more than two decades. Barnes has played a wide range of sports, from soccer to volleyball and tennis to running. He says that playing workplace team sports not only breaks down barriers, but rekindles the fun he had when he played team sports as a kid.

Barnes also believes that playing with colleagues is a great leveller. “When the boss comes and plays with the team, that is a really positive way of mixing everyone up. You feel part of the same big team,” says Barnes. “The chance to talk on the sporting field makes it easier to talk to people around the office.”

And to those who worry that it’s only employees who get the benefits from a corporate team, Will Jackson says that’s not so. The companies which support these initiatives are likely to see a distinct rise in their approval ratings from staff.

“It creates the sense that your company cares about your health and life outside of work,” he says. “And when you feel like your company supports that, then it makes you feel more loyal toward your company because they are encouraging all aspects of your life, not just encouraging you to sit behind your desk.”

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