Culture Lessons from the Baseball Diamond

A few Saturdays ago my family gathered to watch my nephew, a college freshman on a baseball scholarship, pitch the first “no-no” (for the uninformed, that’s a no hit game) of his college career. When that final strike went over the plate, my nephew’s team rushed the mound to celebrate. Over the loudspeaker, the game announcer congratulated my nephew first, then the team. It was both a singular achievement and a group success.

Later that day a thought came to my mind. That milestone could have been missed so easily. After all, the game included a number of fly balls and pop ups – what if the players in the field weren’t successful? One ball not caught, and there’s a man on base, maybe even a run scored. Did I see a special, extra effort among the entire team to get to that no hitter, or was it an aunt’s imagination working overtime? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about sports metaphors a lot since that game. In helping businesses understand how to become higher performing organizations, sports comparisons are the go-to source for making the case. So I’ve been wondering: is there anything new to learn from my nephew’s big baseball win? Is the only moral of my story that old saw: “it takes teamwork”?

I do think there is something more subtle to consider here. It’s about creating a culture that values and encourages all contributors to understand and care about the impact their work has elsewhere in the organization.

How many times as individual contributors do we fail to understand the impact our job has down the line on someone else, on another department, or on the end result? Every single bit of work an individual performs relates to their own success, their departmental or functional success and to the success of the larger mission.

At many organizations Clarity Group encounters, there is a thirst for greater, more holistic organizational perspective, recognition that knocking down organizational “silos” is crucial, and a yearning for departments to understand and appreciate one another’s contributions. Yet they also describe environments where staff feels overwhelmed with their day to day duties, too busy to step outside of their functional silos, too focused on their own tasks to connect to the rest of the organization.

There are limited wins, individual or group, in this type of environment. So what’s an organization to do to combat this?

If you’re an individual contributor: it’s your job to understand how your tasks fit into the whole of your organization. If you don’t know, ask your manager. And ask again if you need to. Oh, and keep asking until you’re satisfied that you get it.

If you’re a functional leader: connect the proverbial dots for your staff. Help them see how their contributions are impacting the organization. And if you see a competing or conflicting priority, chances are you’re not the only one, so raise the red flag. Respectfully challenging such things can strengthen an organization.

If you’re an executive: encourage a culture that respects all contributions; both front line and back office staff.

Otherwise, worse than playing on different teams, you may not even be in the same ballpark!

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About Gayle Davey

I'm fascinated about the "business of conducting business": how organizations function, how they can be higher performing, how personalities drive culture... great stuff worth thinking about!
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