How DHL Express uses football and cheerleading as an employee connector
The parallels between football and business are striking as both hinge on passion, speed, teamwork, leadership, and a can-do spirit
When he’s not captaining DHL Express India’s football team, Mumbai-based Manmeet Dhillon is a telesales executive at the logistics firm. An employee of DHL Express for seven years, he believes that the company’s intra-region football tourneys work towards DHL’s philosophy of functioning “As One”.
The parallels between football and business are striking. Both hinge on passion, speed, teamwork, leadership, and a can-do spirit. Reason enough for DHL Express, a division of German logistics firm Deutsche Post DHL, to associate with the game globally.
DHL sponsors some of the world’s biggest football clubs and tournaments, including Manchester United, FC Bayern Munich and the Copa Libertadores, besides being an associate sponsor of the Hero Indian Super League.
Across the world, DHL organizes a series of tournaments every year, with employees kicking up major action on the ground. Be it the DHL EuroCup, DHL Americas Cup, DHL Express MENA Football Tournament or the DHL Africa Cup, DHL’s tournaments help knit together a network of employees working in more than 200 countries.
In this region, DHL Express hosts the DHL Asia Cup, an Asia-wide employee football and cheerleading tournament. The event was held this year in August in Singapore. Over 1,000 DHL employees attended and close to 600 participated in the football and cheerleading competitions.
R.S. Subramanian, country manager, DHL Express India, says the company has over 3,000 employees in India, and uses the sport to “emotionally engage” people. “We want to be an employer of choice; this is a celebration of 22 football and 20 cheerleading teams from across the region (Asia Pacific). India was represented by one cheerleading team and one football team,” says Mumbai-based Subramanian. Employees practise for months ahead of the tournament. “We have a national-level selection process (for football) and we have trials and practice runs to shortlist probables. Hierarchy has no role to play in the selection; only talent matters,” Subramanian adds.
For the Singapore event, the teams even attended a boot camp in Mumbai. For Dhillon, a former Maharashtra state-level footballer who was part of the DHL India team last year, the tournament is an opportunity to showcase his skills on the field. “Off the field, the practice sessions fuel me up and help me perform better at work, enabling a good work-life balance,” he says.
The cheerleading team is selected by a specially appointed choreographer. This year, it was trained by a professional international cheerleading coach.
Mumbai-based Harsh Shah, retail support manager (digital) and captain of the cheerleading team, has been working with DHL Express for almost three years. He believes the initiative inculcates a sense of pride among employees as the teams represent DHL India on an international platform. “It is a wonderful opportunity to interact with our colleagues from across Asia for a non-work purpose. This contributes to building a great organizational culture,” he says.
The development of skills notwithstanding, most employees laud the bonds and friendships that are built on the ground. “These connections that go beyond work really help when we need to connect over calls. I have made friends in Singapore and Korea; this is a great feeling,” Dhillon says.
“Cheerleading requires a lot of physical strength; one wrong move could injure you severely. Therefore, you implicitly trust your team; this trust and camaraderie is carried forward to work. Interpersonal communication has also improved, because we do not just talk about work,” Shah says.
Subramanian says that with workplace hierarchies disappearing, emotional engagement brings people closer and gives them the tools to work better as a team. “Winning is not the goal; motivating employees and forging connections is,” he says.
Football great Pelé put it best: “Football is not about one or two star players. The only way to win is as a team.”
Game On is a series that looks at companies that take their sporting events seriously, and how this helps build team spirit