A modern mania is about to descend upon us: March Madness. Sixty-eight colleges and universities will send their basketball teams into a tournament that will end with one team recognized as national champion. And the other 67? All fails, but not major fails: This tournament is such a big deal that just qualifying gets you bragging rights.
March Madness undoubtedly will lead to a loss of lunacy for some fans. People will watch, which is fine unless they are supposed to be doing something else — driving trains, directing traffic, wiring a GFI circuit, proofing a million-dollar contract or running those budget numbers for the coming staff meeting.
Each year, Corporate America wonders at the tournament’s cost in productivity, as ever-diligent personnel are seduced into all kinds of distracting diversions: streaming the games, checking scores, wagering in office brackets, celebrating victories with too much relish (and libation) and meshing their Facebook statuses with their favorite team’s fortunes on the floor. (Challenger Gray & Christmas estimates 50 million Americans will participate in an office pool and that companies could lose $1.2 billion per hour in productivity the first week of the NCAA tournament.)
That’s a lot of money, no doubt, but as the efficiency experts of the old days of organizational charts and stopwatches discovered, there is more to workplace productivity than time at task.
The gains March Madness yields, in terms of strengthened social and psychological relationships, might overshadow the minor losses of a few hours spent in the shared enjoyment of the tournament. The event is replete with rituals and traditions — collective acknowledgement of victory, celebration of the underdog, recognition of the fair play and competition — and when these rituals spill into the workplace, they align the group, turning the parts into a whole. Such rituals are strangely satisfying, for they strengthen interpersonal bonds and heighten camaraderie. March Madness can boost cohesion in the workplace, providing for free what those team-building junkets so often promise but can’t deliver.