One of my favorite things about this time of the year is that baseball returns from its long winter slumber. Teams begin spring training drills under the bright sunshine of Florida and Arizona even as the snow is still falling up North.
Baseball managers face a unique set of challenges in the pre-season that are not unlike the challenges Change Leaders face as they launch their projects. In my last article I talked about some of the things we can learn from the way baseball leaders prepare their teams during the run-up to a new season. Today I’ll add a few more tips to that list.
A Time to Teach: Baseball spring training is a time for instruction and practice. Coaches demand their players focus on the basics – not just the physical stuff, but the mental game as well. Even though most of the ballplayers have been involved in the game for years, managers count on them being open to learning.
What can your change initiative draw from this approach? Set aside time early in the process to make sure your people know how to do the basic things you’ll ask of them later.
- It can help to make a short list of what background information you expect all team members to know. For example, does everyone understand the business case for the change and how the impacted organization is structured?
- Review the tools and processes you’ll use for collaboration, communication and status reporting. Does anyone need targeted training on these tools?
- Are there any new software packages they will be asked to use?
- Do they need any formal training to understand the context of the change? (for example, ERP’s often come with an entire new language of buzzwords and acronyms…)
- The most effective change teams consider each participant to be a Change Agent. Early in the project is a good time to take stock of your staff as Change Agents and hone their skills for communication, facilitation, customer service and problem-solving.
If Not Now, When? Baseball teams play a month of exhibition games before they start counting the wins and losses for real. Most change teams will not have the luxury of waiting to “train up” before engaging their people in real work.
One way you can mimic the effect of spring training is by having your players exercise their Change Agent skills within the core team setting before engaging the broader audience of stakeholders. For example:
- Have your people take turns facilitating team meetings to boost their skills in this area. Use agendas, action items and timekeepers to start ingraining those good meeting habits. When they start leading meetings that involve a wider circle of people, they will be setting an example for how to execute this process.
- Have each team member conduct a few “learning lunch” sessions to sharpen their teaching skills. Have them first choose a subject that they are already comfortable with to make it easy, then shift to having them teach something new that they have recently learned. It will help them prepare to empathize with the stakeholders who will be asked to learn new information as a part of the change.
- Have those who will work on the change-related communication draft messages and review them internally with the change team before engaging the broader team or sending anything out. This will help build a shared knowledge of the communication process as well as establish a strong bench of communication backup players for later in the project.
- Use the “devil’s advocate” approach to incrementally improve how team members do their work. Gather “Pluses and Deltas” at the end of each meeting or each day to sharpen these processes. You may want to keep this exercise within the team at first to create a safe environment for constructive feedback.
It’s Practice – But It’s Also Real: Nothing beats real-world experience. It’s even better if you can work on these skills before the heat of the delivery project gets going. Doing these things within the safe circle of your team is a low-risk way to build the capabilities of your core change team.
Summary: Exhibition baseball games may not count in the league standings, but the experience gained by players during Spring Training is critical to preparing for the season. Change teams can also use the early portion of their project time line to build skills needed for the long haul.
Questions for Chatter:
- How can you help team members prepare if you have little to no budget for training?
- What are some other skills your Change Agents should practice early in a project?