Some Work and Some Play

 In Community, Game

How Corporates Are Using Football To Create A Better Workplace

Porus Hansotia, an Allscripts employee, knows what the average corporate meeting looks like. But not all meeting are made equal; some special ones require him to discuss strategy and teamwork – on a real playing field. Porus plays with and manages his team for Allscripts’ five-a-side football tournament. It seems almost surreal, having to ask workmates to go down a particular wing or to mark a particular player, but efforts bear results, as the part-time player-manager remarks. Last year his team won the internal tournament on a battlefield far removed from the boardrooms and Skype sessions that mark the corporate life.

Porus is one of the thousand of Indian employees taking part in corporate football tournaments, a mainstay of most large IT companies these days. It would seem counterproductive to send employees to make hard tackles and run hard on the field, but it makes sense if you ask the ones involved. Hussain Jassani, a BNY employee, represents his team at the inter-corporate tournament that takes place in Pune each year. “The prestige associated with having represented your company is something else,” he says, “People recognize you for a talent other than the one you were hired for.”

Hussain’s words will resonate with everyone who has a skill other than their primary job requirement. Many current employees of various companies have been sportspeople at the college level and it is quite encouraging for them to be able to play in a league of peers. Magarpatta City, one of the largest IT parks in the country, has its own three-month long sports season which has teams for various sports competing for the prize. Not surprisingly, football emerges a close second after cricket. One of the reasons could be how involving it is for everyone involved on the pitch. Hussain has another interesting observation. “Once you join work, it is hard to find time for fitness. But when the season comes around, all of us train specifically for it.”

Fitness is just one of the aspects of the sport that players enjoy. Porus tells me about the passion with which he has seen players, even new recruits, perform on the pitch. This team cohesion carries on to the cubicle as well. Several studies speak about how team events help inculcate skills that make for a better workplace. A football season is something to look forward to, as the trophy cabinets at various corporate offices will testify.

Football can also be a tool to break workplace barriers of all kinds. The internal tournament at BNY, for example, requires that two girls be present in every five-a-side team, in the crucial positions of goalkeeper and striker. This is not an exception – most corporate tournaments insist on gender equality on the pitch. Working together as a sports team can perhaps help build more bridges and induce gender sensitivity better than presentations on a screen.
These tournaments have gone from internal kickabouts to large events with hundreds of teams participating. The Legends Cup, an annual corporate league that now features in six cities with the finals being held at Delhi, holds the Limca record for the large corporate football league in India. 232 individual companies fielded teams, with the total number of the teams nearing 400. I spoke to co-founder Hemant Sharma about his journey. “I had always been playing through college and in a few corporate tournaments. Then one day the opportunity to make this a big thing appeared, and we took it.” And indeed, they made it large. The Cup boasts of Adidas as a partner and sent last year’s winners to Sete Bernabeu for a meet-and-greet – certainly a prize worthy of a tournament this size. “A trophy cannot be divided,” Hemant explains. “But an experience can be shared. What we provide is an experience.”

The winners of last year’s Legends cup. Via ITMagia Solutions.

Many such organizers and leagues offer this experience to companies of all sizes. Starting with a basic package of just turf time, you can get custom kits and all kinds of refreshments and travel and even commentators for hire. As for players, there is no dearth in most corporate environments.

Sports at the workplace introduce another kind of reward system, one that isn’t based on performance reviews and appraisals but on sweat and teamwork. Employees enjoy being appreciated for skills outside of their desk and offices don’t seem so dreary anymore when you know that a football pitch awaits you on a weekend around the corner.

And the greatest lesson is learned when one realizes that winning isn’t all that matters. Porus’s fondest tournament memory is of the time when he coached a team that had only one proper football player other than him, and five very eager people that included two girls who were also new to the sport. They emerged the runners-up in a major upset. Who is to say the whistle would not have been as sweet as the one at the end of, say, the Champions League? We all must best the leagues we are put into, and corporate India seems to realize that skills from the pitch do carry over to the boardroom.

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