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Why encouraging employees to ‘Bend it like Beckham’ can boost your startup's growth

Harshith Mallya
13th Feb 2016
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“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is an oft-quoted saying since time immemorial. But it is more relevant in this day and age, where technology and the ‘on-demand’ economy has made most of us dislike any form of physical activity. The benefit of ‘convenience’ has made us more dependent on technology and also lazier. This attitude has made its way into professional life too.

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Balancing work with play

a)In early-stage startups

Most early-stage startup offices are often noisy with a ‘hustle and bustle’ of activity. Every day is another challenge. Employees often have to work in chaotic environments with crazy working hours depending on their assigned duties. Recreation and team building activities are almost never high up on the priority list.

Most early-stage startups may also not have the necessary budget to provide recreational facilities or corporate retreats and outings that the larger organisations can afford. In most cases, the founders and the small tightly knit band of employees head out to a nearby stadium or park to indulge in a game of football, cricket, or other recreational activities. In most cases, these activities encourage team bonding and is good for employee morale. But finding the time and organising regular team outings is not an easy task. The founders need to manage finances and growth, retain company culture, and boost morale as their team size fluctuates (increases or decreases) based on how the startup is doing.

b)In mature companies

Sitting in cubicles and typing or coding away furiously on computers all day long in multi-storey, air conditioned corporate buildings with minimal breaks in between can have adverse effects on one’s health in the long run. Most mature startups and large corporates do provide employees access to gyms to help them unwind after a long day in the office. But in-door activities in the gym are mostly a solitary activity and don’t always boost team morale or encourage bonding. To help with that, some companies organise monthly outings outside the city for team bonding, rest, and relaxation. The aim is to encourage team bonding and improve company culture.

In organisations with hundreds of employees, these outings may not work well, if not managed properly. In some cases, corporates may hire a third party to spearhead its ‘corporate retreat’ and the company culture is lost out when the third party is not sure how to keep the employees engaged. So employees may participate in activities and sports mechanically but not take much else away from it unless the founders and other key persons participate and spearhead the efforts. But this is not always feasible as it can take many days to plan and book such outings. How can large organisations and mature startups solve this problem and keep employees engaged? Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all solution.

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Related read: Announcing YourStory Startup Sports League


What the numbers say

Scientific research and surveys have long proven the benefits of utilising sports as a tool to build company culture and encourage team bonding. Sixty-three per cent of men and 52 per cent of women equated sporting success had a positive impact on their approach to work according to a quantitative and qualitative survey conducted by Hudson across participants aged 18–70.

Almost three-quarters of men (71 per cent) and 68 per cent of women said that employers and employees can learn valuable lessons from sport: the value of working as a team; only three per cent felt that sporting success is distracting and makes them less productive. So it is possible to conclude that encouraging sports and regular physical activities at the workplace has a positive impact on the workplace.

But that is easier said than done. There is a big need for a solution that can cater to and provide ‘on-demand’ team building sports activities for both large and small organisations. Here are some ways that different startups have leveraged sports and other recreational activities to improve productivity and team bonding.

Hiring active employees

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Anish Basu Roy, the Co-founder of Shotang, an on-cloud marketplace, is a firm believer in the benefits that regular physical activities can bring to a workplace. He mentioned that the founders in-fact consider a person’s interest in participating in the company’s sports activities while hiring a person to join their team. He said, “We believe that a physically active person will contribute to the team more in the long run than a person who is possibly a workaholic and doesn’t wish to mix with the rest of the team.”

Weekend getaways

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While fashion and technology are the key focus areas at Voonik’s office, the company encourages employees to actively participate in cricket and football matches in their free time and on the weekends.

Shower in the office

The Shotang team regularly indulges in group cycle rides and other activities. Anish mentioned that they plan to provide showers and locker rooms in the new office that they are in the process of moving too. He said,

We want to encourage employees to either walk or cycle to work, and providing showers and locker rooms allows them to change and refresh in the office. This had multifold benefits on morale and on the environment.

Annual tournaments

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Hackerrank encourages employees to participate in its annual events, where table tennis and football are currently their main focus. Alfred Alexander, Asia Head of Marketing, added,

Sports is at the centre of our company culture. Apart from internal tournaments, we also encourage employees to participate in external sports tournaments and also assist them financially with the registrations and other fees.

IPL-style auctions

Crowdfire, a social media ‘friend management platform’, started out with cricket matches as a recreational activity after work, which turned out to be a great hit. They found their player count constantly increasing, with active participation from both guys and girls.

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It then went on to becoming weekly cricket nights and adopted different elements to foster team bonding and develop leadership skills. Priyanka Sharma, Culture Curator at Crowdfire, explained,

We kept rotating captains every two months to give everyone an opportunity to lead a team. One of the newest elements which we brought in was a player auction, where all the players were auctioned (like in IPL) based on their skills and it has made the players perform better at games.

The success of cricket had a network effect and prompted football fanatics in the office to start their own initiatives and indulge in the sport they like. Crowdfire claims that their employees now indulge in both cricket and football religiously with a fervour that keeps increasing with every week.

Slack strategy sessions

Crowdfire found that the action, passion, and camaraderie would also move from the field to after office hours where teams started with discussions on dedicated slack channels about their strategies and moves for opponents. Priyanka added, “Sports plays a crucial role in our culture; it’s a stress buster, it’s healthy, and a team exercise for us. We are now looking to participate in other corporate tournaments to take our sports passion to the next level.”

What are some of the unique ways that you have seen companies utilise sports and other recreational activities to enhance culture and boost team bonding? Please share and we will update the most innovative ideas in this article.

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