Building better connections through PLAY.

I Was My Company's Team Captain and It Changed My Life

Posted by Rob Herzog on Aug 11, 2017 10:22:00 AM

I was 22 years old. It was my first job post college. I already missed the camaraderie of college and playing intramural sports, but this was my first real job (and a tough one at that — at global consulting firm Mercer). I needed to focus 100% on work. Make a good impression. Show them how committed I was. Didn’t I?

I started working in September. I did everything I was supposed to do. I liked the work. It was interesting and challenging. But there was something missing. I didn’t feel like I was part of something bigger.

So I started asking around. Was there a company basketball or volleyball team for winter? How about softball for spring/summer? My answer — “No, but you can start one and if you get enough interest, we’ll pay for it.” I thought, “Wow! They’re willing to give me that much responsibility just because I asked. And I get to play team sports and be the captain. Sign me up!”

It wasn’t easy since I was still the new guy, but it yielded great results. I made tons of real personal connections with my co-workers and enjoyed my job more than any other (until I launched ZogSports, of course) because I knew everyone and learned valuable skills that I took with me to all my subsequent jobs.

Here are the top benefits from being team captain:

1) Getting to know everyone — I had an excuse to introduce myself and try to recruit people to play.
Through the people on the team, I met their co-workers. I wound up knowing more people than the head of the office (I probably knew 200 out of the 300 people who worked there). I remember standing next to the head of the office at an event and saying hello to a bunch of senior people, and he asked me with surprise and admiration, “How do you know everyone?” I replied, “Just helping create community here by running our company sports teams.”
I knew the office managers, front desk managers, mailroom employees, principals, managers, associates and everyone in between. I always had an easy, natural ice breaker, “Do you want to play?”
2) Creating shared experiences — I got to know people outside of work. No suits. No client responsibilities. No bosses. Their guards were down and I got to know the real them. Our teams did OK (well our hoops team not so much — 0 wins and 12 losses one season) but our post-game happy hours were outstanding! I’m still in touch with some of my teammates 20+ years later.
3) Holding people accountable — we needed a full squad for every game (we never forfeited) and I learned how to hold people to their promise to show up for games. I sent reminders. I told them how many players we had. I stopped by their desks with a big smile (so they would have to blow me off to my face instead of via email). It’s hard to take on this role when you’re a junior employee, but this taught me how to ask with respect and understanding, and help people understand how others were counting on them.
4) Managing a team when you are not the most senior person — It sounds scary to captain a team that includes people senior to you including a boss or two. It was scary at first, but I learned how navigate this.
I kept it competitive, yet fun. While I started by putting our better players in the most important positions most of the time, I still gave everyone a chance to play where they wanted. I also asked them what positions they wanted to play in private. Most people want to be put in a situation where they can succeed and exceed expectations.
Lastly, I made sure we were all in it together and acted like an actual team. We had clear measures of success. Did we compete? Did we win? Did we have fun? And most importantly, did we cheer for each other? By being on the team, everyone cheered for each other’s success. You immediately had a built-in cheering section.
Learning that life is more than just work — It’s all about developing personal connections, feeling like you’re part of a caring community and infusing a sense of play into people’s lives. I made that happen as the team captain. Looking back 20+ years, it was a big insight into what company culture should be that I’ve carried forward to our “Best Places to Work” company.

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About the Author

Robert Herzog, Founder and CEO, ZogCulture and ZogSports

I believe life is better with real personal connections, caring communities and a sense of play. I founded ZogSports after my close call on 9/11. In 2012, we launched ZogCulture to help create playful experiences at work so that employees can connect, be part of a community, and infuse play into the DNA of their company’s culture. We are directly impacting over 150,000 people per year across the country and have donated over $3.4M to charity. In 2017, Zog made the Crain’s Best Places to Work list (again!) and earned the prestigious B Corporation “Best For the World — Community” award.

If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, I have an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management from Wharton and a BA in Economics (which I rarely use) from Brown. I live and play in NYC with my awesome wife of 15+ years and two super active, sporty boys.

Interested in playing in a ZogSports league? ZogSports is America’s most popular social sports community, with over 125,000 players forming millions of new friendships every year. Sign up here to play.

Interested in bringing play to your company? ZogCulture creates playful employee experiences that create connections and builds community at work. Learn more by visiting our site or email Danny@ZogSports.com to inquire about bringing Zog to your office.

Topics: Play, Team, Connection, Community, Company Culture

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