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Playing Corporate Basketball

May 21, 2014


Hey Rodney, do you want to play in the corporate basketball league?

What kind of league?

It’s just the IT groups. We divide up into 4 man teams and play 3 on 3.


I haven’t played basketball in 3 years. And I’ll be 50 this year. Most of the people I work with are in their 20’s and 30’s. Plus, I’m very conscious of what I wear to work. (Your Company Has A Uniform Even If It Doesn’t Have A Dress Code.) And our building has no shower. So, if I play a basketball game, I have to spend the rest of the day in workout clothes, not exactly the image that I’ve been projecting at my new job for the past two months.

Why would I volunteer? Trying to recapture some lost glory? Trying to show the young kids that the old man’s still got it?

Nope. I did it for a much more important and personal reason: To get my projects done quicker. My basketball team includes the PM that sits next to me, a lead from another IT group and a database engineer. (We got thrown together as a group of free agents so our team is more diverse.)

There are some people who think that corporate basketball leagues shouldn’t be allowed. Why? They are sexist. Typically it’s only men that go play. And while they are stumbling around in the heat, they are bonding. They are establishing relationships that are separate from the typical corporate interaction and as a result the backchannel communication channels get strengthened.

Yesterday morning we played the “Systems” team. These guys maintain our Exchange Email System and file share systems. (We lost 21 to 18 in a game that really wasn’t that close.) Yesterday afternoon I went to see the systems guys.

Mark, I have a favor to ask.

No, we aren’t going to replay the game!

Well, you guys made it look too easy. If we hadn’t had Brian come late as our sub, it wouldn’t have been even that close.

What’s up?

I need some network shares created by Thursday. I know that typically you need two weeks for a change, but I only found out yesterday that I needed you guys to do this. I put a ticket in, but we’ve promised it to the client by Thursday.

Well, we have a lot of tickets right now and I don’t remember seeing that one. But, it’s only three shares? That actually is a very quick task. Send me the ticket number in email and we’ll get it done. But, you owe us one.

Are you kidding? I think I’m already into the double digits on what I owe you guys, Telecom and Networks. Thanks. I appreciate it.

Would Mark have rushed my change through if we hadn’t just played basketball for 30 minutes? Probably. Is he happier about doing it now than he would have been otherwise? Definitely.

As a Project Manager, I can’t really DO anything. PM’s are pretty useless when it comes to actually doing work like configuring computers, or creating network shares, or troubleshooting firewall issues. So, if I’m going to be successful as a PM, I need help from the engineering teams. . . a LOT of help.

Every company has a process for different groups to work together. The process typically involves some sort of database where you enter a ticket and it eventually gets looked at by the appropriate engineering team. If they have questions it comes back to you. The process is designed to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. However to do that it’s long on process and typically not quick.

If you want to short circuit the process, it cost you. You have to spend political capital to get someone to work outside the process. One of the ways you build political capital is when you do favors for others. But, another way is to become friends with people. Friends do things for their friends.

This is a two way street of course. If you “become friends” with the Desktop team simply for what they can do for you and you never give back, you’ll quickly burn through your political capital and they will find reasons that “I’m sorry I can’t help right now.”

We’ve lost every game so far this year. And every game has been a huge success. The score at the during the game is a lot less important than the bridges it builds going forward.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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