(MoneyWatch) If your response to an email asking you to join the company softball team is to immediately click "Delete," you could be throwing away a great career opportunity. You hate softball? Doesn't matter. "Signing up for the office softball team is more than playing softball. It is about building personal relationships with your colleagues, managers and peers," says leadership consultant Debra B. Davenport, founder of The Davenport Institute, adding that this could be true of any organized social event outside of work that requires teamwork. Here are 7 great reasons to join in this season:
You'll meet new faces.
Meeting those outside your peer group is a great way to get noticed by higher-ups. "Social events like these can expose you to multiple areas of the company, allow you to be tapped for special projects, and maybe even put you in line for a promotion," says Scott Ragusa, President of WinterWyman Contract Staffing. "If the executive team is talking about promoting people, it benefits you if you've interacted with people like the CFO, even socially." You might feel (rightfully) awkward casually chatting with an executive about their favorite baseball team or hobbies in the break room, but on the bench it's a natural conversation.
You can show that you're a leader.
One of the challenges facing those in lower-level jobs is that their job description offers no room to show leadership, but mid-level positions require them to have demonstrated that they can supervise and inspire others. Volunteering to organize your company's softball team is a great way to make your own leadership opportunity. In fact, Ragusa says his company recently promoted someone who did just that. "One of my employees stepped into a role and showed the ability to cross division lines, build consensus, manage multiple deadlines and get things done. In her day-to-day role she couldn't have demonstrated those qualities."
You'll work together better.
Playing well on the field can improve your team's performance in the office. "Events like softball or basketball games, picnics, volunteer and fundraising activities, and ceremonies celebrate the group's ability to operate as one in achieving a goal," says Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "Even when a game is lost or a fundraising record goes unbroken, there is still an energy and a belief that members of the group are all in this together."
It's more effective networking than happy hour.
In softball and similar team sports, you have a position on the field, and that will force you to interact with these new faces described above. Now, picture your last after-work happy hour. How many new people did you meet? "While after hour drinks are helpful, you're going to naturally gravitate towards people you know," says Ragusa. And in a happy hour situation, your boss is still your boss -- maybe just a little more inebriated. At a softball game, it's a level playing field, which can help you both get to know each other in a different context.
It's a career insurance policy.
After the last few years, nobody reading this column needs to be reminded that their job security isn't what it used to be. Being a joiner could keep your job safer. "When the company hits a rough patch those employees who are well-liked and appear to make an effort to fit in are more likely to be saved," says Cohen. If tough choices need to be made, and your job is up against someone else with the same credentials, but they played shortstop and you sat out, they'll probably keep the team player on the roster.
You'll feel left out if you don't play.
Love inside jokes? Then you have to play the game, which includes softball or whatever other events your company sponsors outside of work. "If you can't participate because of physical limitations, join the team and be a water boy or a mascot or a cheerleader!" suggests Susan Whitcomb, founder of the Leadership Coach Academy consulting firm.
Having friends at work can benefit you and your company.
Since you're probably spending more time with your co-workers than your friends and family, building relationships at work can make your quality of life better. And having a happier work environment isn't only good for employees, it's great for the bottom line, says Davenport: "Savvy employers should encourage the development of workplace friendships as an effective means for boosting morale and reducing attrition."
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Olsen.se