March Madness, Cell Phones, and Team Building

March Madness, Cell Phones, and Team Building

Posted Mar 19, 2010

Georgia Tech basketball players gave up their cell phones during the ACC Tournament. They went without calls and texts during the weekend, and nearly won the tournament. What do cell phones have to do with winning basketball games?

I read about this in a news article by Charles Odum for the AP wire. The coach made the suggestion to ditch the cell phones for a simple reason: He was trying to "bring his players together." The players described the difference giving up their cell phones made: They talked and interacted. Previously, when the players traveled together, they weren't really together. They were on the same bus, in the same dining room, in the same hotel, but in a different mental space. The players were texting and talking with someone else, someplace else. When the phones were put away, suddenly they were in the same mental space. They interacted, they talked, and they "learned about each other," said one player, D'Andre Bell.

They also played basketball together effectively as a team. Basketball is a team sport that requires communication, cooperation, trust, and confidence. Those social components of a team are built both on the court and on the bus. If the players were constantly interrupting their conversations with each other to interact with their phones, then they were directly disrupting their team building.

Cell phone interactions, whether via voice or text, frequently lead to divided attention. Unfortunately, people text while engaged in a wide variety of secondary activities. I've seen students text during class, university administrators text during meetings, and my sons text while studying. Dividing attention disrupts performance on both activities. In a previous blog, I wrote about cell phone conversations causing people to not see unicycling clowns and to forget to land a plane. I've also written my rant about hanging up and driving.

Dividing attention during social interaction has an additional negative ramification. Stopping a conversation to react to your phone tells your conversation partners how unimportant they are. Surely this will eventually impact the nature of that relationship. I imagine that we've all been the victim. We've been engaged in a conversation with someone when they've stopped to take a call or respond to a text. Isn't it annoying to have someone tell you to keep talking while they are texting someone else? You know that person is not listening to you with their full attention. I've generally assumed that when people text during a meeting, they are publicly stating that they and their text message are more important than the meeting. Nice to know where I rank. Conversation may strengthen a relationship, but interrupting a conversation to text someone else most likely weakens that conversational relationship.

The Georgia Tech basketball team may have a distinct advantage during their games this weekend. If they put aside the phones and focus on each other, they may once again perform better as a team.

I'll be rooting against cell phone divided attention, for teamwork, and for the Georgia Tech team. Go Yellow Jackets.

UPDATE:  Georgia Tech won as the underdog team in the first round, so maybe working on team building is really working.  Big test on Sunday.

UPDATE 2:  GT lost in the second round to a much higher ranked team.  Team building ran out of magic for them at the end.  I'll still stand by my position of attending to the people you're interacting with rather than responding to your phone.