What Baseball Teaches us about Teamwork

October 18, 2019
There are few sports quite like baseball—nearly everyone you meet has some sort of baseball memory; even if you are not a fan, chances are you have attended at least one baseball game in your life. Baseball teaches us to root for the underdog, believe in superstitions and magic, and to always hang around until the last pitch is thrown. With all the excitement surrounding the Playoffs and the World Series (which, thanks to the success of the Washington Nationals, many of the RCS staff has been able to experience firsthand!) We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about baseball lately, and while it may seem obvious that a team sport can teach you about teamwork, have you ever really considered how the fundamental lessons of baseball translate into your staff’s daily life?
A Team is a Group of People Who Trust Each Other
When you play on a sports team like baseball, first and foremost the players have to trust each other. Every man on the field trust the others to do their job, to be prepared, and have their head in the game. They have to trust that everyone is giving their all and will be where they need to be when they should be – each and every play.
Magical things happen when a team genuinely likes and enjoys each other – hello, Washington Nationals – but it’s not a necessity to like one another to respect and trust each another as a team. Many teams perform at exceptional levels because of the mutual trust and respect.
You CAN work with people you don’t personally like or choose as a friend. The key is mutual trust and respect - you still belong to the team.
Cover Home Plate
In baseball, there is arguably no base more important to protect than home plate—when your team is on defense, your goal is to prevent your opponent from reaching home plate by all means possible. It takes a group effort to ensure that this goal is carried out, and when a runner is on third base heading for home, it takes trust and communication on the part of the fielders, the pitcher and the catcher to ensure that the runner doesn’t score. If there is a breakdown in communication or trust, confusion and collisions are sure to follow—not to mention your opponent likely scores.
Effective and positive communication is the key to ensuring your organization’s goals are met and pitfalls don’t occur. Managers who communicate well with their staff decrease the chance of misunderstanding, hurt feelings and workplace conflict.
Make a Call to the Bullpen
A baseball manager would never pull his star pitcher when he’s on a hot streak, but when the tide starts to turn and his arm starts to get tired, it’s time to call in some backup to keep the game alive. The best baseball teams have pitchers warmed up and ready to pick up where the starting pitcher left off. Those relief pitchers know that their job is equally as important; if not more important than the starting pitcher’s role.
Just like a star pitcher can’t be expected to carry the weight of their team, you can’t rely on one person or a core group of staff to carry out the essential duties of your operation without guidance, training, and support. The best managers train their employees to value everyone’s role as equally essential and the employees feel valued and appreciated; regardless of their day to day roles.
Don’t Leave a Man on Base
Leaving a man on base is clearly something that at times is unavoidable, but it’s an unspoken rule in baseball that if there is a player on base; if you are the next batter up, it is your job to try to bring that player in to score—even if that means preventing yourself from getting on base. There is a reason this is called a sacrifice the key is that you sacrifice yourself for the success of the team.
A batter stepping up to the plate who has a teammate in scoring position looks to put the team first before considering his own personal success. It is ingrained in players from a very young age – to put team above self. As a player on your own team, this means that you look for ways to help your team whenever and however you can and are happy to do so because everyone wins.
No person in your organization should feel he or she is working on an island, and no one is too superior to pitch in and lend a helping hand. (pun intended) The key to creating a strong organizational culture is to ensure that employees feel motivated to work towards a common goal.
It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over
Ask any die-hard baseball fan and they will tell you that there is something magical about baseball. It’s a sport in which the underdogs always have a chance and the threat of a team’s luck turning around is right around the corner. While they are the stuff of legends, these magical moments are not pure chance—they are the result of very hard work, anticipation, practice and thoughtful planning. They don’t just happen overnight.
Major organizational changes take time and hard work, but they aren’t lost causes. If your organization has hit a bit of a losing streak, it’s time for leadership to band together and take stock of what is working and what isn’t and make changes accordingly. A bump in the road doesn’t spell disaster.
Learn from Mistakes and Celebrate Success
Looking at it pitch by pitch, baseball is a game of failures and optimism. If you let each failure drag you down, you will never make it to the next play – so optimism is key. Every pitch is the possibility for a learning or success, isn’t it? Players are constantly learning in real time – adjusting their swing, adjusting their approach at the plate, adjusting to the umpire, or how they hold the bat. In those real moments, they are also checking the defensive alignment and may make adjustments based on what they see. In the dugout, players are communicating about what they experience and what they see happening. For example, the lead off batter’s job is to capture as much information about the pitcher as possible to help the remaining lineup be successful at the plate.
Then, when it all comes together, you have success! And celebrating success as a team is critical. You work hard together, you learn together, you cover each other, and you sacrifice to help the team– of COURSE you celebrate your success together because it belongs to everyone - the entire team, not one person. As they say – you win together and lose together.
If your team operates like a baseball team, your organization is here for the long haul thanks to a solid foundation of communication, continuous improvement, effective training, strategic planning, team guidelines and perhaps just a little bit of good fortune.
Now, let’s go find out who’s going to the World Series….