The Office Lab

Corporate Softball Team Behavior


For the past few months, come 5 p.m., office grunts nationwide have changed out of their wingtips or high heels into poly-blend company softball uniforms. As the rank-and-file take on competing enterprises, these contests can become more than a ball game. “You’re playing with your tribe, bonded through the common enemy of the other team, the way Americans bonded together against Osama bin Laden,” says David Givens, author of Your Body at Work. It’s also democratizing when execs suit up alongside assistants. “It’s the more accessible golf, a chance to network and chat with the boss,” says Annemarie Farrell, who teaches sports psychology at Ithaca College. “But it’s also a social outlet, because most adults are bad at making new friends.” This pastime can also be fraught with tension, as office conflicts often play out on the diamond.

Bloomberg Businessweek hit the Heckscher Ballfields in New York’s Central Park to watch a week’s worth of corporate games. (Among those observed: Ernst & Young vs. KPMG in a battle of auditor supremacy; Standard & Poor’s vs. HBO in what must have been an interleague game; and PricewaterhouseCoopers vs. itself—the other team no-showed.) We then asked Givens and Farrell to analyze the behaviors and subtypes observed, along with our expert panel: Patti Wood, author of the forthcoming Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions; Joe Navarro, author, What Every BODY is Saying; and former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

 
WEIRD BUT LESS COMMON SOFTBALL BEHAVIOR
 
Making tonguing faces behind female player’s back
Valentine: “That must have been some kind of special sign for that particular team.”
 
Female players who flirt with the other team as they run the bases
Valentine: “She probably just won a bet.”
 
Hecklers who stand behind home plate and skeeve out opponents
Navarro: “Parents often act like that at their kids’ games.”
 
French tourists who stop to watch as they eat snacks
Valentine: “They’re trying to figure why they’re hitting the ball with the bat and not kicking it.”


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