Play Ball! Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh cut grass on a balmy Spring day and the crack of a baseball hitting a hardwood bat? This month in Florida and Arizona, the 2011 Major League Baseball Spring Training season got underway. As a baseball fan, I love this time of year because the optimism is unmitigated. Every team honestly believes they have a shot at winning the World Series championship at season’s end.
Optimism Meets Reality on Opening Day: Of course only one team wins it all. In this series of posts I will talk about some of the things that the league’s best managers will do between March and October to make the playoffs and in the case of one team, earn championship rings. And since this blog is about guiding teams through change, I’ll correlate some of these managerial master strokes into suggestions that you can use to help your team reach its goals for realizing successful change.
So what do baseball managers think about during Spring Training? And what elements of their process might be worth thinking about as you plan to take on that big change project? Here are the first three things that you may want to toss around:
1. You’ll Need Good Players. Winning teams are not always loaded with the best talent,
but it’s very difficult to win without it. Over the long grind of the season, players with the best talent will eventually overcome those who only show occasional flashes of brilliance. Teams with a deep pool of talent will plug in a strong bench player when a superstar gets hurt.
What does this mean for your change team? Avoid settling for “whoever’s available” when you assemble your cast. Look for real change agents who want to be a part of making something important happen. Check that they have solid skills in communication, listening, planning, execution and problem-solving. Look for a mix of new people with fresh ideas and veterans who can help you navigate your organization’s political environment while helping the team remain grounded through the rough patches of a long season.
2. Put Your Players In a Position To Succeed. The best managers try to build a lineup that assigns players to their best natural positions. It’s tough to ask a guy who has played the designated hitter position all season to sub in at catcher. (…expect your opposing coaches to flash the “steal” sign…) In a more subtle example, the chances of your bullpen closer suddenly being able to last nine innings as a starting pitcher are pretty slim too.
As you fill out your lineup card, think about the knowledge, skills, abilities and other intangibles each member brings to the team. Make sure to look long and hard at the players you have and be honest about what you can realistically ask them to do. Who’s your best writer? Your best organizer? Your best facilitator? Who already has connections to the right people in the organization to rally temporary resources to help your initiative? Who has what technical skills? Who is great at brainstorming creative things?
It’s good to demand great things from each player, but don’t bet your project on the chances of an average player pulling off a 56-game streak of miracles.
3. Work on the Fundamentals Early. In Spring Training, baseball teams practice basic skills like hitting the cutoff man and laying down a good bunt. In the heat of a July double-header, there won’t be much time to figure these things out. Spring is the time to make sure the basics of the game are ingrained in your players.
Your change team has a chance to set the tone early in the project in a few fundamental areas as well. These might include clearly defined deliverables, effective time management, intra-team communication or status reporting. What’s the risk if you wait until something goes wrong before you start coordinating communications with the right people or gathering feedback from the field? The answer: it could look like a mid-game reaction to a failure. It could be seen as a missed element of planning. Both of these negatives can chip away at the credibility of everything the change team is doing.
The reason coaches emphasize the fundamental skills so strongly in the run-up to the season is simple: it can be very difficult to break a bad habit in mid-season. The same will be true once the hard work of implementing change gets underway.
On Deck: In my next post, I’ll share a few more things that baseball managers focus on in the Spring in order to win close games in the Summer and hoist a trophy in the Fall.
Questions for Chatter:
- What can you do if the talent you need is just not available for your change project?
- What are the “fundamentals” your team will need to have ingrained into their “game” in order to avoid making errors over the course of your project’s long season?