Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 4, 2010

Ask a Manager: Are we at a disadvantage if we never played a team sport?

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence

Dear Manager,

Do team sports make good workers? If you never played a team sport are you at a disadvantage in the workplace?

I love this question because it really made me think. The theory here is that playing on a team teaches a person to perform well on a team at work. I used to work with a manager who firmly believed this notion to be true. I never felt as strongly about this, so we tended to disagree. My contention at the time was that it was more valuable to have people who had held a job in some form growing up, so that they would have learned responsibility and hard work from an early age.

I am realizing now that my default view was based on the fact that I had spent most of my free time working when I was a teenager. It is not surprising that the above manager had spent most of his time playing sports. Funny how that works.

So it probably stands to reason that a Jesus Freak manager would say that the quality of an employee is directly related to the amount of time he has spent on the altar, while a manager who spent his high school years as a 5th level Dungeonmaster would tie it to the number of hitpoints the employee had racked up fighting giants in the land of Zog.

There is no one formula for the perfect employee, because there is no such thing as a perfect employee. (Although I have unfortunately run across several employees who think they are perfect, but that is a topic for a different post.)

As managers, we have a tendency to look for qualities in employees that are closest to our own, but it is important that we challenge ourselves to look for diversity for the sake of a strong team. Diversity in style comes in many forms and can be influenced by a number of things, ranging from innate talents to work experience to the way a person was raised.

So do team sports make good employees? Why, sure they can….yes they can! But not necessarily in all cases. Sports can help to develop teamwork, a focus on goals, a winning attitude, and whatnot. But then, I’ve known a lot of athletes that I wouldn’t want on one of my teams. I suppose it depends a lot on how you played your sport. Believe me, I’ve managed plenty of ball hogs and prima donnas and klutzes (some of whom never stepped onto a ball field) in my career.

For me, it really comes down to character, as in: it is important that every employee has some. Generally I think it is safe to say that character is best developed early in life for the purpose of future growth. So with regard to character…the question is: how do I get me some of that?

Again, there is no one specific way. Young people can build character by participating in sports, or theater, or Boy Scouts, or by helping to raise younger siblings, or by taking a long walk along the train tracks with three friends in search of a dead body and having to stand up to a dangerous bully at the end of the journey. There are lots of ways. But I digress.

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