Corporate Softball Team Behavior

  1. Play On!

    Play On!

    For the past few months, come 5 p.m., office grunts nationwide have changed out of their wingtips or high heels into poly-blend company softball uniforms. As the rank-and-file take on competing enterprises, these contests can become more than a ball game. “You’re playing with your tribe, bonded through the common enemy of the other team, the way Americans bonded together against Osama bin Laden,” says David Givens, author of Your Body at Work. It’s also democratizing when execs suit up alongside assistants. “It’s the more accessible golf, a chance to network and chat with the boss,” says Anne­marie Farrell, who teaches sports psychology at Ithaca College. “But it’s also a social outlet, because most adults are bad at making new friends.” This pastime can also be fraught with tension, as office conflicts often play out on the diamond.

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek hit the Heckscher Ballfields in New York’s Central Park to watch a week’s worth of corporate games. (Among those observed: Ernst & Young vs. KPMG in a battle of auditor supremacy; Standard & Poor’s vs. HBO in what must have been an interleague game; and Pricewaterhouse­Coopers vs. itself—the other team no-showed.) We then asked Givens and Farrell to analyze the behaviors and subtypes observed, along with our expert panel: Patti Wood, author of the forthcoming Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions; Joe Navarro, author, What Every BODY is Saying; and former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

  2. The Company Jester

    The Company Jester

    10% (of people observed)
    The one who entertains teammates with dumb cracks about Weinergate. “He’d be frustrated if the attention were off him for any length of time,” says Wood. Valentine doesn’t see the harm: “Most teams need to have some levity.”

  3. Really Bored Unathletic Colleagues Looking On

    Really Bored Unathletic Colleagues Looking On

    5% (of people observed)
    Watching your colleagues play softball is a latent form of support. Seriously latent. Wood: “They’re probably bored, but they’re really loyal,” says Wood. “Their rear end is saying ‘I support you,’ but they’re not really there.”

  4. Aggressive Fist-Bumpers

    Aggressive Fist-Bumpers

    11% (of people observed)
    “It’s called haptics, the science of social touching,” says Navarro. “Butt-grabbing says, ‘We’re so close we’re allowed to do this.’ It goes back tens of thousands of years to … picking bugs off each other.”

  5. Umpire  Fight-Pickers

    Umpire Fight-Pickers

    7% (of people observed)
    “It’s all part of being competitive,” says ­Valentine, of those who vent their cube-rage at umpires. But others see other patterns at work. “Their power is important to them,” notes Wood. Givens: “The poor umps.”

  6. Excessively Ritualistic  Batters

    Excessively Ritualistic Batters

    15% (of people observed)
    Some employees get all Garciaparra-like by stamping, kicking dirt, shaking their booty before the pitch. “Any behavior we do that’s repetitive is a pacifying behavior,” says Navarro. According to Wood, “Those are comfort cues.”

  7. Sensual  Fence-Danglers

    Sensual Fence-Danglers

    7% (of people observed)
    Between innings, some players hang on the fence like backup dancers in a Beyoncé video. “Outstretched arms is an alpha characteristic,” says Wood. Navarro: “If they throw their hip out, it means notice me—it’s a high-fertility gesture.”

  8. On-Field Gossipers  and Snickerers

    On-Field Gossipers and Snickerers

    9% (of people observed)
    “People don’t stop being jerks when they hit the field,” says Farrell. Or “maybe they’re talking about good-looking girls in the stands,” Valentine offers, helpfully.

  9. Annoying Team  Cheerleader

    Annoying Team Cheerleader

    9% (of people observed)
    There are always those for whom corporate softball is a madeleine. “People bring different things to a team,” notes Farrell. “They see [rah-rah] as their contribution.” Sighs Valentine, “You don’t have that at the professional level.”

  10. Exceedingly Genteel  Pitchers

    Exceedingly Genteel Pitchers

    14% (of people observed)
    Some players throw the ball so softly it barely reaches the plate—­especially when pitching to women. “It’s harmonious social generosity,” says Navarro. Farrell agrees: “Nobody likes the player that takes it too seriously.”

  11. Outfield  Zombies

    Outfield Zombies

    11% (of people observed)
    Some complacent workers zone out. “It’s like the person wondering, ‘Why do I even need to be on this conference call?’” says Wood. Warns Navarro: “A lot of outfielders, that’s how they lead their lives. They’re not the hustlers.”