March Madness has arrived, and with it your office's annual obsession with the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament. Don't worry, that's a good thing, as research shows that staging an NCAA office pool is actually good for employee morale.
March Madness detractors will of course trot out the annual press release from Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimating the billions of dollars in lost productivity caused by bracket obsession. This misses the point: everyone wants to be in an office pool, and fighting against it (often futilely) merely makes your office an unpleasant place to work.
As the Challenger report itself warns, "Efforts to suppress the Madness would most likely result in long-term damage to employee morale, loyalty and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity."
(Seriously, people will undergo elective surgery to get days off to watch the tournament. At Talla, we just shut down for the first two days of the NCAAs so no one need get this desperate.)
So, if even the bean-counters are on board with the office pool, the question becomes: how do you stage the best office pool, one that maximizes morale while minimizing distractions.
Rule #1 - Don't bet on it
If management is going to sign off and sanction an NCAA bracket office pool, by no means should any money change hands. Strictly speaking, private NCAA bracket pools are a violation of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Making predictions is fine. Giving out prizes for the best bracket is fine. Collecting five dollars for every photocopied bracket and awarding cash payouts to the bracket with the highest score? Technically a crime.
Free-to-enter pools where the company offers door prizes for the best bracket are harmless. Just don't charge an entry fee -- because then participants are placing a bet, and your office isn't (likely) a licensed sportsbook.
Rule #2 - Keep it in-house
A number of websites offer to run your NCAA bracket pools for you for free -- provided that you get all your coworkers to create an account on their site (and agree to receive promotional messages from their sponsors). The last thing you need is your staff sharing the one password they can remember with a not-all-that-secure sports media site, let alone everyone creating exceptions in their spam filters for sponsor messages.
If you're going to run a bracket pool, keep the administration in-house. There are plenty of software tools out there that let you run a bracket pool without resorting to a public website.
Rule #3 - Invite everyone
The goal of an NCAA bracket pool is to boost morale and increase employee engagement. That means getting everyone involved. Don't make the pool mandatory -- that takes the fun out of it -- but don't make anyone feel excluded. Everyone gets an invite; every employee is welcome.
Rule #4 - Be clear about the rules
Nothing spoils a morale-boost like a second-place finisher complaining they lost on a technicality. If you're going to make correct Final Four picks worth more than correct Sweet 16 picks -- tell everybody up front. Keep the rules simple, make them public, and don't change them after the tournament starts.
Rule #5 - Make it easy to keep score
A lot of the productivity costs of the NCAA basketball tournament come from employees trying to keep up with game results in real time. Thanks to online streaming services, it's relatively easy for office workers to watch live games at their desks or on their phones. This is not how you boost morale or build team cohesion.
First, if at all possible, screen any games televised during office hours in a common room and invite employees to watch. Thus, no one needs to sneak around to see their teams and root for their picks.
Second, publish regular results and bracket-score updates so no one needs to waste time running down their standings. They can skip straight to the trash-talk and excuse-making.
Rule #6 - Celebrate the winners
Whoever wins your NCAA bracket office pool, heap praise upon them and congratulate everyone who participated. Reinforce that this was a sanctioned team-building event done for fun. (It helps if the prizes don't suck, too.)
Bonus Rule #0.4 - Use BracketBot
Talla makes tools to run your office more efficiently, and BracketBot is our own personal answer to running better March Madness office pools. BracketBot is free, integrates directly with Slack, and accommodates every best practice of awesome NCAA bracket competitions. Invite coworkers, build brackets, keep score, and crown a champion all without ever leaving Slack.
Install BracketBot for Slack today, and let the madness of March begin!