These are the secrets to keeping your team productive and happy during March Madness

How can a manager rein it in while not totally putting the kibosh on office camaraderie and fun?

Photo by Andy Thrasher

There’s an excitement in the air, people are walking with a spring in their step and everyone seems to be generally more jovial. Is it Christmas already? No, it’s March Madness. It’s a super fun time for many people, but for offices, it can be a real problem when it comes to productivity.

According to new findings from OfficeTeam Ladders reported on, companies could lose a maximum of $2.1 billion in “lost wages” during the tournament and the average employee “spends six hours on sports-related activities.” If they keep up that pattern for the entire tournament, which lasts 15 workdays, that is 25.5 minutes per day.

So, how can a manager rein it in while not totally putting the kibosh on office camaraderie and fun? After all, doing a bracket in your office can be a great way for coworkers to bond.

Ladders talked with Audrey Epstein, a partner in the Trispecitve Group and author of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations about how to keep employees productive and happy during The Madness (no Boss Button needed!):

cbssports.com’s Boss Button

Don’t set a zero-tolerance policy

“When it comes to March Madness, the worst impact on productivity happens when employees go underground. The tournament invokes passion in so many people, and telling employees to simply ignore the tournament during work hours is not realistic. When businesses invoke a ‘zero tolerance policy,’ employees sneak, become passive aggressive, and get resentful.

“A better approach is to embrace the tournament in productive ways. Ensure employees know their work still needs to come first, but that checking the scores, talking about their bracket in the break room, and rooting for their team is totally fine.”

Use March Madness to encourage morale and team camaraderie

“Have tournament-themed events or get-togethers, let employees wear jerseys supporting their team, take some time off for updates or showing leaderboards. Then, ensure everyone gets back to work when they need to.

“Posting information about the tourney publicly, either digitally or in a break room, can keep employees engaged without them taking time out themselves to check in and then get sucked into all the other articles etc that appear online.”

Take a swim in the office pool

“Office pools are always fun, and they are not just for sports. For example, I’ve seen great office pools guessing an employee’s new baby’s birth date or weight. However, you want to stay in bounds legally. Think about creativity in your pools versus betting money.

“Can the winner get a prize that demonstrates bragging rights in their cube for the year? Can you collect money (voluntary) but the winner gets to choose the charity to donate it to? Can the winner choose the venue or food for an upcoming office party or celebration?”

Get the bench warmers in the game

“The good thing about March Madness is many people involved don’t really know much about the basketball teams. I personally choose teams based on cool names (who doesn’t love the name Gonzaga?), personal relationships with school alumni, or proximity to locations close to my heart. You never have to watch a single game to check your bracket and even win!”

Go team go!

“In our extensive research on team performance, we uncovered an extraordinary statistic: 70% of the difference between great teams and terrible teams is directly correlated to the quality of relationships between team members. Building a great team is not just a matter of being a great boss. Teamwork is dependent on teammates connecting, collaborating, and working towards a common mission and set of goals. Your team members need to know each other’s strengths, talents, and expectations.

“Teams need to spend time together actually talking about how to be a stronger team. So, while team outings and fun events are great, they aren’t sufficient for maintaining morale on your team if the fundamental issue is that the team is not working well together and don’t trust each other. You also need to have team off-sites that work on the productivity of the team and develop team norms, discuss challenges, and build a plan for future team success.”

Lean into the Madness

“Remember too that great leaders inspire follower-ship, they don’t command it. When you make demands as a leader you may get compliance in the moment when you are standing there – hence the magic button that turns streaming games into spreadsheets. What we want as leaders is voluntary agreement to a set of standards and behaviors that happen whether you are there or not.

“If you’re concerned that all you are getting is compliance in the moment, take a risk and share your concerns with the team. Ask what needs to change and what they need from you to make that shift. Maybe you should lean into the Madness instead of trying to over control it. Try something different this year. This could be the change you are looking for.”

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.