23 January 2009

EMD V: The Problem with Softball

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

Social outings in an organization have become almost de rigueur: getting the folks in accounting together with the sales team, the warehouse people in touch with the executives, the people among the admin staff interacting with the cubicle denizens – all good stuff, aimed to promote camaraderie, social networking, and general humanizing of an often impersonal, fractious, and otherwise cold bureaucratic environment. Such outings are often disguised as so-called team building exercises, but they often only focus on those among the hierarchical elite who participate in work teams. But how effectively does trusting that someone will catch you when you fall backwards into a mini-moshpit of work colleagues translate into trusting that those same colleagues will expedite your expense report, or provide you with all the information you need for your account presentation, or not damage your reputation through innuendo when you’re both up for promotion?

Granted, activities like outings, picnics and the seemingly ubiquitous softball tournament (golf for sales people) among work colleagues are ways of breaking the ice in a (mostly) non-threatening, relatively low-stakes environment. Familiar faces often get matched with names and an appreciation for unrecognized skills, and thus, so the theory goes, creates better working relationships. Yes, affective engagement is very important in the workplace, sometimes even more important than strict competence according to Rotman professor, Tiziana Casciaro. But does outside-the-workplace socializing translate to more effective behaviours within?

I’m not sure the answer to that question is clear. What is clear to me is that going outside the workplace to have fun, and thereby creating positive affective connections, is a characteristic behaviour of BAH organizations attempting to rebalance the often out-of-balance work/life balance. Creating opportunities for social engagement (“social networking” to use the new-fangled jargon) is important. I'm not at all disputing that. However, creating such opportunities in a way that is not holistically integrated into the work environment and the organizational culture ironically reinforces the notion that one’s work is distinct from one’s life. What happens in Vegas may well stay in Vegas; to a large extent, what happens in the infield (or even the outfield) stays out in the field and rarely translates to the office in a way that effects cultural tranformation and the healing of organizational dysfunctions.

What I have seen in the more-UCaPP organizations that have participated in my research is that, characteristically, social engagement is well-integrated into the work environment. One organization with a global reach, whose members are often travelling far afield, still place a high value on social engagement through mutual checking-in, “socializing" information (their terminology that expresses not merely conveying information, but contextualizing it in a holistic fashion), and watching out for each other’s psycho-social wellbeing through systemic organizational structures. Another participant organization has created a language and framework for getting things done – especially those things that are more infrastructure related within the organization. They have created a game metaphor, complete with game boards, rules of play, and required, permitted and forbidden moves. They role play for extended periods to understand their client’s customers, and the CEO often signs her emails asking how her correspondent is going to have fun today.

In BAH organizations, work/life balance is measured according to how much time is spent away from the workplace. In UCaPP organizations, the life part of work/life balance is generally considered holistically, with work being an integral part of life. The balance comes from assessing how much those with whom the individual is in relation truly recognize and value the individual’s contributions to work, compared to how other aspects of the person’s life are valued (which, not surprisingly, corresponds to the economic-ba valence relationship). Softball outings and the like don’t help with this sort of valuing in UCaPP organizations, and arguably can over-emphasize systemic dysfunctions in BAH organizations.

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1 comment:

Texas Barbie said...

i think that one problem is that people get hit to much and after that they dont want to play as hard as they want to