In Pasadena, California on January 6, 2014, about 40,000 fans exchanged high-fives, fist bumps, and hugs at the same time. My team, the Florida State University Seminoles, had just won the national championship game against the formidable Auburn University Tigers, and the energy after the game was electric.
And of course, it wasn’t just those of us in the stands. The players on the field were filled with emotion, embracing while they celebrated.
Appropriate physical touch is common in sports and its helps strengthen teamwork and cooperation.
A team of researchers, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychologist Michael Kraus, recently studied the effect of touch on teams. In the study, Kraus and his researchers tracked physical contact between teammates during NBA games. You know when they high or low five, chest or fist bump or slap each other on the back. In a recent article on Psychologytoday.com, it was reported that on-court touching early in a season created greater team success later in the season. From the article:
The effect of touch was independent of salary or performance, eliminating the possibility that players touch more if they’re more skilled or better compensated. “We were very surprised. Touch predicted performance across all the NBA teams,” says Kraus. “Basketball players sometimes don’t have time to say an encouraging word to a teammate; instead, they developed this incredible repertoire of touch to communicate quickly and accurately,” he explains, adding that touch can likely improve performance across any cooperative context. As with our primate relatives, who strengthen social bonds by grooming each other, in humans, “touch strengthens relationships and is a marker of closeness,” he says. “It increases cooperation but is also an indicator of how strong bonds are between people.”
As a youth soccer coach for many years, I always stand on the sidelines ready to offer a fist bump with an encouraging comment as my players come off the field. I encourage my players to high-five, hug, and fist bump after someone assists, scores or prevents a score.
Could these small actions work off the field as well? Easily.
The next time you close a sale, meet a big deadline, receive positive customer appreciation, or see a co-worker do an exceptional job offer a fist-bump or high-five. Positive physical touch creates workplace enthusiasm, unites teams, and encourages new thinking.
What are other ways you can use appropriate physical touch to build teamwork, comradery, and cooperation at work?