Ping Pong in Suites


A number of years ago while working at the Motley Fool I learned a really important lesson about corporate culture.  The Motley Fool has as one of their core values “Play to Win”.  That mantra has stuck with me throughout my professional career.  I love to play and I love to win, but more importantly I like to succeed as part of a team.  Too many companies are so focused on delivering results that they forget to have fun along the way.  From my experience those companies that create a fun and playful environment tend to achieve even better results than those that are purely focused on the results.  It is as much about the “how” as it is about the “what”.

I have worked for three companies in my career that had Ping-Pong (Table Tennis) tables in the offices.  The Motley Fool,Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner operation and Doosan Infracore International.  The existence of a Ping-Pong table in each of those environments was very telling about the type of culture that each company wanted to foster.

Jack Welch in his book Jack: Straight From The Gut talks about how he first discovered Larry Bossidy at GE over a game of Ping-Pong.  Based on their initial meeting over a game of Ping-Pong, Jack recognized the competitive nature of Larry and his gut told him that Larry would be a great leader.  A lot can be learned over a game of Ping-Pong.

In 2008, I was leading post merger integration for Doosan Infracore International, a Korean conglomerate that had purchasedBobcat from Ingersoll Rand.  We set up a new global headquarters in the US and began the task of building a new corporate culture that embraced the best qualities of each company.  That was a major task considering the pride in each company, the language barriers and the eastern versus western philosophy.  We needed a catalyst in the office to help drive the integration.  Thinking back on the impact that Ping-Pong had on other corporate cultures, I pitched the idea of a Ping-Pong table in the office to the Chief People Officer.  Fortunately, the Chief People Officer, Ray Lewis (not the football player) was on-board with the idea.

We bought a table on and had it delivered to the office.  Initially there was some trepidation about people being seen playing Ping-Pong during office hours.  After getting both Korean and American members of the leadership team to join me in a casual game of Ping-Pong during office hours, others began to see that it was ok to play while at work.

The Ping-Pong table became an important gathering place.  It enabled people from various departments to make new friends and to discuss business in a casual setting.  Regardless of level in the organization, people got to know each other.  The Korean/English language barrier was not an issue.  We held numerous round robin tournaments in the office.  Most importantly the Ping-Pong table served as a uniting tool.  We made it clear that is was cool to “Play to Win” in our office.

To this day, I still have professional acquaintances that I would never have met had it not been for Ping-Pong in the office.  When you are ready to shift your corporate culture and inject a little friendly competition, consider adding a Ping-Pong table.  It might just be your most important first step towards a more engaged workforce.