The Power of Humor in the Olympic Journey

By Jordan Raney, Wendy Reicher, Vanessa Lide, Naomi Bagdonas, Jennifer Aaker
2018 | Case No. M374 | Length 8 pgs.
There was nothing humorous about an athlete’s dreams of Olympic gold, or the mission statement and values of USA Water Polo, a nonprofit that trained elite athletes to compete in the highest levels of competition worldwide. This case study looks at the Olympic journey for the women’s senior national team, and the long practices and hard work that ultimately led to success in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Interviews with team members reveal a surprising force behind their gold-medal performance: humor. For the women who turned up every day for long and grueling practice sessions, humor helped create strong team bonds, but also helped the athletes power through the pain and exhaustion. This case study offers unique insights into the psychology of winning, and how humor helped bond teammates and defuse tensions that might sidetrack the mindset of a team focused on a single goal: Olympic gold.

Learning Objective

Students will discuss and explore the various ways humor can foster teamwork and keep people focused and committed to organizational goals—tools that have broad applications across the business world.
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