Dynamo Dresden is a soccer team in the second division (2. Bundesliga) in Germany. They are currently ninth in a league of 18, without any chances of qualifying for the first league or danger of being relegated to the third league. In the domestic cup, they dropped out against Bundesliga powerhouse Borussia Dortmund. Basically not quite a thrilling season one might think, if that cup loss wouldn’t have had created a negative by-product:
Some Dynamo supporters were going too far, started rioting and fired pyrotechnics inside the Dortmund stadium. German soccer association DFB reacted with banning Dresden from next year’s cup – a huge blow for the team given their financial struggles (the cup can generate significant income for lower class clubs when playing against Bundesliga top teams). After an appeal, the verdict was reduced to forcing Dynamo to play one league home game in an empty stadium without any spectators – a “ghost game”.
That match finally took place last weekend, when Dresden played Ingolstadt in front of a crowd of officially exactly 0 (they even had the humor to announce it on the scoreboard during the second half).
Dynamo’s fans however were not quite happy with the ban. They felt like being collectively punished for what only very few of them did, and with Dresden being a club from the former eastern part of Germany, many of them also believe they lack a lobby at might DFB.
This lead to an unbelievable reaction: Fans started to buy tickets for the Ingolstadt game despite knowing they wouldn’t be allowed into the stadium. The word spread and more and more tickets were sold. When the game kicked off, Dynamo sold exactly 34.638 tickets – more than the capacity of their stadium (32.066). This earned the club 250.000€ (ca. 330.000$).
While the match went on inside the stadium (both teams scored as many goals as there were spectators – a 0-0 draw), thousands of fans demonstrated against DFB outside. And next week they will meet again, this time inside of the stadium, to watch their team’s away game at Frankfurt on a giant screen.
What a remarkable development: When the Dortmund incident happened, it looked as if club officials and fans would not be on a common ground when the club announced official excuses for the behavior of their supporters, criticizing them harshly. Now, just a few months later, club and fans are like one unit and a strong dynamic has been created.
Whenever we do teambuilding efforts in our companies and whenever you read books about how to build and develop teams, it’s all about being positive. Creating a joint positive mission, knowing what we all want to achieve, tell others what you like about them, about the group, about the company, etc.
The Dresden example shows something seldom found in a text book: The power of having a joint opponent. This is a strong power and despite being a forbidden fruit, it can, if used wisely, create extremely strong bonds within groups.
Groups grow together by discovering what they have in common. While it may be tough to find very specific positive commonalities, negative ones are often easier.
Just look at many of the protest movements: They feel a strong sense of community which often is based on what they fight against together. If you ask “Occupy Wall Street” activists what their vision for the future is, you may hear very different answers from them. The picture will not be so diverse if you ask what they want to fight against.
Or have you been serving in military? Maybe you wondered why your superiors were treating you all so bad during your first days there. Ever thought it might have been to give the group a common enemy and by doing so grow the bonds within the group?
The challenge when using the “joint enemy” approach is that you have to manage channeling the bonds you created into positive energy. Dynamo Dresden fans do it by watching the next match together (and probably supporting the team like hell in the next home game), but many companies or organizations struggle. If we go back to the protest movement example, it seems like only those that – after building the group based on fighting against something – were able to create a positive target were here to stay for long.
So next time a coach asks you to invent a line dance choreography with your group: Don’t feel bad when you realize a certain aggressiveness against that coach brewing in you. That can be quite helpful – if the others feel the same way…