The joy of applause

Mar 30 2006 by Max McKeown Print This Article

There are 722 soccer games played each season in the English Premier League of which approximately 50 per cent will be home wins compared to only 30 per cent away wins. Losing the benefit of "home advantage" reduces the likelihood that a team will win and reduces the number of goals that it is likely to score from 1.5 to 1.15.

This home advantage is fairly constant across sports, seasons, and countries, although it can rise to 65 per cent in basketball and hockey. Research has found that of all the factors that could explain it - crowd, learning, travel, and rules - the difference that the home crowd makes is the most likely cause of home advantage.

Home advantage also increases with crowd size until the crowd reaches a certain size or consistency (a more balanced number of home and away supporters), after which a peak in home advantage is observed.

So why the advantage of home crowd support? One explanation is that the applause (and expectations) of home supporters raises the performance of the home competitors by motivating them to try harder and giving them the belief that more is possible.

In this scenario, the home crowd produces an amplification of the 'Hawthorne Effect', a phenomenon that emerged from a research project carried out between 1927 and 1932 at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois, by Harvard Business School professor Elton Mayo.

Just showing an interest in workers improved their productivity more than any other factor

The project had been designed to improve productivity by changing the physical environment of workers but the huge surprise was that just showing an interest in workers improved their productivity more than any other factor.

In fact productivity improved even when conditions were made less favourable to efficient working.

Mayo's team concluded that social factors were an important factor of performance - more important, in fact, than aptitude or skill. It also found that informal organisation, such as relationships with supervisors, as well as work-group norms - such as what is considered a "fair day's work" - also affect productivity. This lead them to the conclusion that the workplace is a social system made up of interdependent parts.

It would appear reasonable, then, that having 70,000 fans watching their team perform would not only increase the motivation of the players but also up the ante as far as what is considered to be a fair or acceptable effort on the pitch.

Two possible mechanisms have been proposed to explain these observations. Either:
(i) the crowd is able to raise the performance of the home competitors relative to the away competitors; or
(ii) the crowd is able to influence the officials to subconsciously favour the home team – after all, it only takes two or three crucial decisions to go against the away team to give the home team the edge.

Both of this mechanisms are worth reflecting upon because both underline the importance of giving and getting support (applause if you will) to increase our performance and our results. If we know that enough people around us want us to succeed then we will try harder and think more clearly.

This is something that relay runners know all about. Relay teams' results are often faster than the total of individuals' personal bests and the individual leg times are also quicker than the individuals' personal bests.

In other words, if enough people around us want us to succeed then they will influence others around us to give us an advantage and make some of the crucial decisions go our way.

So we need to pick up supporters who are and fans of us personally and of our work. So start from the inner circle – our best friends – who can understand what we are trying to achieve and can keep expectation and belief high and then move outwards to the many people who can make an incremental difference because they want us to succeed, because they enjoy our style, agree with our point of view, stand to gain something - or simply because they like us.

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About The Author

Max McKeown
Max McKeown

Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now, was published in July 2016.

Older Comments

Right On! It would be great to be noticed at work and get a clap on the back or, as you say, some applause. Our team at the company I work for is never (and I mean never) cheered on by anyone it's like we are playing away from home every single day with people waiting for us to make a mistake (I work in IT) and trying to get us booked rather than hoping that we win and trying to get the ref to cut us some slack.

Simon Wallace Kansas

In my country we tend to threaten those who don't win (look at our football!) rather than cheer on our team...

Aadi Cortes Mexico

I prefer to get a small group around me (at work and at home) who want me to win and then I share my ideas with them - it gives me a kick to tell them about a success and they always take my side :D

Tony Knowles London

I think Max has hit on an important message that management would do well to heed. The type of support Max is suggesting is grounded in legitimate regard for others. It is the type of support that reflects a genuine desire to see someone else do well - to win, to be successful.

I believe this is distinctly different from management training and performance initiatives that try to teach managers to appear to be interested in their subordinates. I do not think you can teach the type of support Max is describing.

One can be taught how to encourage others, to mentor them or to coach them but you cannot teach people how to feel good about the success of others. It comes from a deeper place that is beyond situational convenience or personal gain. Max suggest that we encircle ourselves with these types of people to facilitate our personal success and well-being, and I think that is some of the best advice I have seen in print.

Jerry Pounds Lake Oconee, Georgia