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Management: Fantasy Sports In The Office
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Management: Fantasy Sports In The Office - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Fantasy Sports In The Office

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Fantasy Sports In The Office

Fantasy football, that strange obsession for 41 million Americans every autumn, has been a booming pastime for twenty years with no signs of slowing down. As its popularity has spread through the mainstream, what used to be a geeky alone-with-your-computer activity has found its way onto primetime airwaves, entire shelves of magazines in bookstores, and of course the workplace, where fantasy leagues have become the preferred water cooler talk in many offices, much to the joy of devotees and much to the chagrin of non-participants.

Proponents of office fantasy leagues say the games encourage camaraderie in a healthy way that lets employees interact on safe, common, non-work-related ground. Critics say the competitive nature of the games, especially where a monetary prize is awarded, is a minefield laden with possible missteps, and they can lead to perceived cliquishness that excludes non-participants.

As a manager, of course you have to take care of legal considerations first. If money is trading hands, there may be gambling laws to take into consideration. If your office has a fantasy league, keep it well within legal bounds, and your only real concerns will have to do with office dynamics.

Have a conversation with whoever the league commissioner is—every league has a person either formally or unofficially in charge—and find out what the league’s intentions are. In the overwhelming majority of cases, “workplace bonding” is offered as a rationale, certainly an admirable goal. Work with this commissioner to make sure this goal is addressed as best it can: is it inclusive? Is it fiercely competitive or jocularly recreational? Are options available for those who wish to participate but may not be knowledgeable enough to field a team? What safeties are in place for dealing with potential bad feelings?

Another consideration is the effect a fantasy league has on productivity. You already know how crazy things can get during the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament each March—now imagine that madness spread out across an entire football season, a span of about four months. Only you can determine where your line of tolerance is on that, but if you’re a bit of a hardliner, make sure expectations are spelled out for participants. They care about their fantasy teams, but nobody wants to irritate the boss because of them. If you’re more of a let-it-be manager, just keep an eye on distractions and pick your spots for reminding participants that they have jobs to do.

If you’re vigilant about the friends-employees line, as many managers are, you probably want to keep yourself out of the fantasy league (‘though there’s nothing keeping you from forming a league with other managers!), but you can encourage participation by springing for the office league’s perpetual trophy, and possibly a last-place consolation prize, which is likely to be won by those eager participants who don’t know a thing about football but want to be part of the fun. Do your best to keep the emphasis on fun, as opposed to winning, and the office fantasy league can be a powerful agent in workplace relationships.


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