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March madness

By the time you read this, it will most likely be over. But as I write this, March Madness is about to reach its crescendo. It’s the second week of March and NCAA college basketball is in full swing. Major college basketball teams just finished their last weekend of conference play; conference tournaments are this week, and Selection Sunday is this coming up this weekend. And then the real madness begins: the 68-team NCAA Basketball Tournament.

If you’re not a college basketball fan, none of this means anything to you. However, I find it hard to believe that you aren’t in some way impacted by it. If the word ‘fanatic’ more describes your passion for this sport – as it does for me – then you would be preparing to watch non-stop basketball for the next few weeks.

I’m writing this on a Monday morning. I watched four games on Saturday and four games on Sunday all while keeping up with other games online. And it is not just me; my wife matches my energy and enthusiasm, as do a number of people in the office, who I was trading texts with throughout the weekend.

I wonder what the statistics say about labor productivity lost in the workforce during the last two weeks of March each year. You can’t help but hear the excitement in water cooler conversations, workers passionately discussing their teams, the office pool, how much money they are going to win and so on.

At first glance, the hard core among us might see this as productivity lost and make a strong case for reducing or eliminating this distraction from the real job at hand – working.

However, I prefer to take a different approach. Take a moment to examine what is really happening during these ‘distractions’ from work: There is lots of smiling and laughter, lots of good natured ribbing and poking; clearly people are having fun with this.

Then watch what happens when someone steps in to stop this and send everyone back to work – the fun drains right out of their bodies and their conversation. Everyone plods back to their workspace.

It does make you think: why can’t we make work as much fun as this? Or maybe: How can we bring this kind of passion into the workplace more often than during spring college basketball season? What would it take to duplicate that kind of energy all year round with all of our people?

Let’s look at this March Madness phenomenon a little closer. What is really happening with this that draws so many people into it? Is it the big time schools that have large fan bases that seem to return to the tournament year after year? Is it the small schools that have a great year and get into the tournament their first time and gather around them all the fans of the ‘underdog’? Is it the Cinderella teams – those that achieve success that weren’t supposed to?

All of the above. What other sport offers a tournament with so many teams representing so many different people and so many good stories about those people? I think it’s the stories that draw us into it. Stories of ordinary kids motivated to win and to achieve extraordinary results.

Now if we could just transfer that passion to the stories about all the people that make up our companies and our clients and our suppliers. People motivated by goals and rewards to create similar extraordinary results. Wouldn’t that make the workplace more fun? And more full of energy?

There are lots and lots of business consultants and professional motivators and corporate coaches out there who try to help companies improve their cultures and change the way people interact inside companies. In college basketball I see great leaders – the coaches collaborating with hard workers, the players all bonded together to achieve a common goal, the championship.

I’m thinking we may be able to learn as much about building an extraordinary workforce from watching what happens around a bunch of college kids playing basketball in March.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry over 30 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house executive. He is now a partner in a new company: Reveal: Exhibiting a World of Difference. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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