Nikhil Joshi, director, sales, fixed income, currencies and commodities (Ficc), at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, won a table tennis competition during the multinational’s fitness championship, GetActive, last year. Mumbai-based Joshi, who has been with the company for six years, says he found the tournament a great way to get healthier “as most of us are chained to our desks throughout the day".

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the second largest bank by asset size in the US, operates in as many as 41 countries. And, while it champions financial health, its management believes this is not possible without the sound physical health of its employees. That’s the idea behind GetActive, the fitness programme that has been held at their offices globally in June-July every year since 2014.

GetActive is essentially a step-counting challenge that aims to inculcate a more active lifestyle. To help build team spirit, the bank invites employees to form teams and compete internally for the top spots—and become fitter. Employees register on a common web-based platform and record daily steps/calories burnt.

Participants and/or teams can use different ways to increase the number of steps they take—running, jogging, trekking, gymming, or playing a sport. They get points at every milestone count, which can be redeemed for gifts from the bank’s online store.

“In this global campaign, colleagues across countries and continents connect and compete against each other through GetActive. Employees form teams and record the number of steps they have walked through activities like playing sports, working out, jogging, or walking," says Somna Singh, country human resources head.

This year, the event ran for six weeks, ending on 29 July. Over 18,000 employees in India—from across its six offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Gurugram, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai—enrolled for the challenge; more than 40,000 employees registered globally.

The team sports include baseball in the US, cycling in Europe, and table tennis—chosen by the employees—in India. Teams can see what others are doing thanks to the automated league tables that offer day-to-day and weekly comparisons.

The table tennis tournament started three years ago. Over 50 employees have participated in this contest in the last two years.

Sanchay Agrawal, head of corporate sales—India, global transaction services, says GetActive helps build camaraderie across businesses and control functions. “The campaign—and the table tennis competition—have helped me meet new colleagues, understand their roles, and profile and explore the possibilities of doing things differently," says Mumbai-based Agrawal.

Throughout the year, employees play table tennis before/after starting work or during breaks. However, things heat up at the TT tables a couple of months before the tournament, with people booking time slots for practice. Since the number of tables is fewer than the people who want to practise, there’s always a rush for the prime slots.

Mumbai-based Krunal Kakkad, business finance and controls officer, CFO Group, says: “Interacting with colleagues across continents not only helps in networking but also improves bonding and team spirit. Every year, we add new members to our teams/groups, and this informal setting helps us know each other better. It’s all about understanding the skills, mindsets and qualities of people in the firm, which eventually helps in delivering results."

He says the GetActive challenge helped him rediscover his love for table tennis, badminton and long-distance running. “Thanks to the GetActive challenge, I have participated in four marathons till date," he adds.

Joshi, who has been participating in the GetActive challenge for three years, says he has built great friendships with colleagues, within India and in cities like Hong Kong, London and New York. “We stay in touch and bond together regularly," he says. “During the course of the challenge, we give each other funny nicknames that stick; we laugh about them through the year," he adds

Game On is a series that looks at companies that take their sporting events seriously, and how this helps build team spirit.

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