Monday, October 3, 2011

Work is like Dodgeball

Every Wednesday night, I head over to a run-down gym in SoHo to play a game meant for schoolchildren with a bunch of 20-somethings. After a long & stressful day at work, throwing and dodging high-speed rubber balls is actually the absolute perfect way to let loose. Plus, the people that play are generally friendly, and my teammates are awesome. Even better? We’re undefeated on the year (at the time of writing this post). Go Hogs! So, why should you care about my dodgeball obsession? Apart from the fact that you should immediately join your nearest dodgeball league, the game has helped reinforce five important lessons about being successful in the workplace, which I’d like to share with you.
Communicate & coordinate. In dodgeball, it’s essential to communicate with your teammates, understand the plan of attack, and know where & when to throw the ball. Without proper coordination of throws, you’ll likely lose the game. The same goes for the workplace. Proper communication with coworkers, clients, and/or consumers is essential. Plain & simple.
Understand & embrace your role. Some people can throw the ball really hard. Others can catch the ball really well. Some people are excellent dodgers. Others can do it all. On a dodgeball court, everyone has a role. And the team has a better chance of success when everyone does what they’re supposed to. If Dwiddy, one of our best catchers, gets out on a stupid throw, we’re losing one of our best players because he didn’t stick with his role.
The same concept goes for the workplace. Companies function best when employees understand their roles and do the best they can at what they’re good at. I’m a decent designer, but I’m better at communication and idea generation, that’s why I’m a project manager. I get more done for our company in my project manager role than I would in a designer role. On the dodgeball court, it’s a different story. I like to think I can do it all! :)
Don’t lose your cool. I’m competitive, to say the least. In my first season of dodgeball, I was known by the refs as a complainer. I’d see someone cheat, or I’d disagree with a call, and I would start yelling and whining. The refs didn’t love on-the-court-Sam, to say the least. This season, I’ve been better. I learned that losing my cool only hurts myself and my team. I played worse when I got upset.
The same goes at work. People make mistakes. The Internet goes out. The heat is too hot or the air conditioner is too cold. Things won’t always be perfect, it’s just the way it is. The important thing to remember is that losing your cool won’t solve anything (most of the time), and staying focused on your goals and the task at hand is simply the best option. Further, your coworkers and superiors won’t react well to complaints and whining.
(Work hard.) Play hard. The dodgeball league is full of young professionals, who work all day and come to the gym at night simply to have fun. The ironic thing? Apart from my coworker and teammate Dave Zhang (thanks for re-introducing me to the game!), I have no idea what anyone I play with does for a living. Why? Because when we get to the gym, it’s all about dodgeball. Work hard during the day. Play hard on Wednesday nights.
Never turn away from the action (or risk being hit in the back of the head with a fast-flying rubber ball). Don’t be afraid of a challenge. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. When the other team’s fastest thrower sizes you up and launches the ball, open your arms and make your best effort to catch it. If you turn away, you have no chance; you’re going to get hit in the back of the head.
I feel the same way about challenges at work. Sure, you won’t always succeed. Sometimes you’re going to drop the ball. But better to try your best and approach scary situations with confidence than to turn away. You’ll gain from your experience. Maybe you’ll learn something you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. There’s nothing to be afraid of, apart from maybe a couple of bruises.

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