The Business Off-Site, The Sports Team Dinner

The sports/business parallel world continues. Last night, my varsity basketball team had a team dinner after a 2.5 hour practice. Think of it as a business off-site: occassional in frequency, a lot of pleasure a little business, and a chief goal of team bonding.

In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a Leadership Fable, he emphasizes the value of off-sites in a big way. He makes it clear however that there is a right way to do them and a wrong way. I haven’t had experience orchestrating a business off-site because we haven’t felt it necessary to do one at my company. My experience last night was along the positive lines of Lencioni endorsement.

The team of 12 gathers at the house of someone who lives near school after a long and tiring practice. We sit around the dining room table and the joking begins immediately. For the first 30 minutes, laughter is the name of the game. I take my responsibility for comic relief very seriously. Most of the jokes bordered on the unappropriate (ok, all of the jokes) but what do you expect from a group of athletes. Then, my co-captain and I bring in the Team Shoes we all ordered that are customized with our number and name. More joking. The one person whose shoes do not arrive asserts that’s so “because he’s Jewish.” A black guy on the team asserts that he should have scouted an opponent because he won’t be recognized, and, after all, “what’s a black guy doing with a video camera anyway.” (In high school the tension around “diversity” is so intense that often the subjects of the diversity action will make jokes about themselves to try to defuse some of the political correctness.)

The pizza is delivered and as always I pay with my own cash, and then everyone else pays me back, and I usually end up a few dollars ahead. I feel it’s my right to do this because so far I have dipped well into my own wallet to pay for others’ YMCA memberships, shoes, videotapes, etc.

We start devouring the pizza, and someone tries to ask me something as we are eating. I say, “I’m not interested in talking right now because I’m focused on eating.” He fires back, “Ok Ben, then are you saying no one talks during business lunches?” I respond, “You never really eat in a business lunch, you just nibble, and have your real meal at another time.”

Everyone finishes eating and now the serious part comes in. I start by incorporating some of the helpful feedback Rauno Saarinen gave me after my Leadership post and our subsequent email exchange. “We can’t be afraid of winning.” We talked about process goals.

The evening finishes with everyone listening to our potential warm up music for our first home basketball game. It’s all rap, and I hadn’t heard of one of them. Further proof how disconnected I am from a side of pop culture. That doesn’t stop me from making one last joke, and then making a bee line for the door so I could go home and collapse in bed.

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