About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Understanding a culture through its sports

Over the last few months I have justified my children's participation in sports as a good introduction to office politics. There are days when I just want to stop the fight. But then I think they will be better prepared for the real world if they learn how to handle the social relationships, politics, and yes, down right unfairness of organized sports.

A few months ago, Karyn Romeis wrote about her son's participation in athletics in Britain. Having "foreign" parents (South Africa and Sweden), her son was labeled by his classmates as being "too competitive." This reminded me of a documentary I had seen on Japanese baseball and doing business in Japan. In Japan, a professional baseball team will not have a "blowout" of a game in which they beat an opponant by a large amount. Likewise, the purpose of a business is not to put their competition out of business, but to do better than them. Karyn mentioned that secondary sports teams will play for the "game", not necessarily to win. To which her son asked, "Then why play?" I think the same is true for many in the US. I have always had the philosophy that a team is only as strong as their weakest player, so it is important that the team supports the weakest player. But in the US, most teams cut or do not play the weakest player (they are simply a spare, just in case). As a result, team members, while they are supposed to act like a team, will do anything not to be perceived as the weakest player.

So how does this play out in business? Many businesses have "teams" that in fact will look at the individual effort. Team members will want to be on teams where the other members will make them look good. In some cases, the team member is just a "spare". I am sure many have been on those teams where a worker can't be fired, but needs some "work." Usually what happens is they are given the job the least likely to effect the team adversely if it is done poorly. The team "leader" is the star of the team whether it is warrented or not. However, just like in sports, if the final outcome is negative, the "star" takes the heat for it.

My own philosophy of team work, I think was greatly influenced by my own work in Costa Rica. In work, we often worked in teams (I was an English teacher for business professionals). It was important to coordinate lessons and to ensure that the weakest teacher was given help in preparing lessons so the rest of the instruction would be at an appropriate level. Sometimes this meant taking up the slack in another class; sometimes it meant helping the teacher to prepare; other times it meant just giving a team member moral support and encouragement. It is interesting to see a Latin American soccer game as this team work is evident in the way the game is played. Those that appear the weakest become the strongest given different conditions.

What does this all mean? I think anyone working with international groups should use sports to analyze how a team will work. Not only is this a good team building activity, it is also a good way to develop team communication skills, processes, and identify team roles and how team members will work together.

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