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Collaborate Better, Play Hacky Sack

OK, so when you think of Hacky Sack I’m sure images of high school or college kids who looked like they just-rolled-out-of-bed come to mind. It’s OK, I do to. While I realize this may be difficult, try to push those images and stereotypes of the game aside for a minute as it might just teach you a thing or two.

Personally, I never really got into hacky sack – I think it’s because I suffer from an extreme lack of coordination – I grew up with friends who loved it. A few weeks ago I came across this post from Adam Richardson talking about how the game is actually a great tool for teaching collaboration. For those a little less versed in Hacky Sack, the goal is to keep the Hacky Sack off the ground for as long as possible. You are free to use various team members to help you accomplish this, so as you can see collaboration is at the game’s core. Richardson puts is best by saying that Hacky Sack is “all about exploring the balance between ‘I’ and ‘We’, and mingling them together seamlessly.”

Now before you succumb to your subconscious telling you that I’m clearly taking crazy pills take a minute and check out what the game teaches you.

Self-promotion is OK, just not at the team’s expense

Hacky Sack teaches an important lesson in group dynamics: you have to learn how to manage self-expression within a group. While it’s ok to show-off a bit, you have to make sure to share appropriately as you can reach a point in the game where it becomes selfish. The goal is to “stop just before you get to that point, and pass it off to another player,” says Richardson.  So what does this mean for your office? It’s perfectly acceptable to have your fifteen minutes of fame, but this should not come at the expense of others being able to do the same.

It’s important to help the team look good

It’s important to also set up your team mates for success. “Passing off to another player with a kick that is too difficult, or where all they can do is get one kick in to recover it into play and must immediately send it to another player, is considered rude.” The same can be said for the workplace. Richardson compares it to the free sharing of ideas. It’s important to foster a community where the free flowing of ideas is expected. Having the ability to take someone’s idea and build upon it, is a powerful tool. However, you don’t want to cross that line and take sole credit – it’s the workplace equivalent of hogging the Hacky Sack to show boat for a while, then passing it off with a poor kick.

House Rules

As the case with many games, slight variations in the “standard” set of rules will emerge. This happens organically, “It is an experimental and iterative process, but it also has a touch of Darwinism.” The rules that don’t seem to work will either be altered or omitted for future games. The same can be said when collaborating in teams. As groups start to work with each other different processes will be established. Some will work, some will need tweaking and some will be dropped but this is expected and should be wholly embraced.

Flexibility & Sacrifice

Unlike other sports there aren’t any defined positions in Hacky Sack. Richardson states, “Everyone plays the same role, and must pitch in equally, and adhere to the norms of the group as they emerge.” It’s incredibly important that everyone understands this. Having no set positions can be difficult. However as you start to work with others you’ll soon start learning team members’ strengths and weaknesses allowing you better proactively guess their next move.

Remember the Grand Plan

“Hacky Sack combines enjoying individual moments and tricks…being clever shouldn’t come at the success of the longer term goal.” It’s really easy to lose sight of the larger picture and get too focused on that next trick. However, what really sets a good team apart is their ability to share both: those cool individual tricks, without sacrificing the larger goal.

Next time you’re having trouble creating a collaborative workplace environment, bust out some Hacky Sack – the “just-rolled-out-of-bed” look is optional – and you’ll quickly see that it’s a great tool to help with collaboration.

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