Monday, March 11, 2013

You Need A Cheering Section

There is an interesting phenomenon in sports that also speaks to achievement and success for all of us. Studying the season of any team statistics strongly point to a “home court advantage.” Any team seems to play better when the cheering section is behind them. This is so much of a factor that in basketball, the fans are often called “the sixth man” as though they played the game with the team. But what has this got to do with success and achievement?
Recently the new CEO of Yahoo rattled the working world by calling their employees back into their offices. No more tele-commuting for Yahoo. Her motives focused on the necessity of employees interacting personally to foster innovation. Studies indicate that she is right about bringing employees together. Following her lead, Best Buy and KPMG also ordered their employees back into the office.
Let’s put aside the question of flexibility and work-life balance for a minute. I’m all for flexibility and utilizing the power of technology to complete work wherever and whenever the employee can. (I’ve done some of my best projects sitting on the sand looking at the ocean.) But for a moment, let’s look at some of the positives of working together.
Alex Pentland of MIT studies the highest performing work groups and found that one of the key factors for success is physical proximity. Teams that were near each other, where they could bounce ideas off each other, meet at the water fountain, take a coffee break or lunch together were more productive and innovative. They were more successful. Pentland even found he could identify that how the employees spoke to each other; where and how they stood in proximity to each other, was indicative of how successful the work group would be.
Additionally studies in Positive Psychology indicate that the social aspect of work, just being around other people and interacting with them, can make people happier. We are social animals and we enjoy being with others. The simple affirmation of being recognized as we walk into work, or in a restaurant, or bar, elevates us for the moment as part of a hive.
But we also need to consider the “cheering section” effect. Speaking to many people about their successes in life I realize that its very difficult to “go it alone.” When there are people around who acknowledge what you’ve done, how you’ve contributed and (if applicable) how good your work is, you do better work. It’s like having a “sixth man.”
Yes, there is a freedom that technology allows us so we can work from anywhere. But what are we giving up? We are social animals. We love a hive and to be part of one. So whether your company demands employees return to the office or not, you need to design your own cheering section. Meet at Starbucks with other workers. Take a home worker out to lunch. You will be amazed at the results. And, if you are really serious about succeeding, create your own cheering section. Identify the people who will encourage and help you along the way. Nothing will stop you because you will always have the home court advantage.

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