Insight Blog

Who’s on First, What’s on Second?

by Frank Carrera

July 16, 2020 | Change Management

In this COVID-19 world that we now are living through, one aspect that seems to be more challenging both in work and life is teamwork. From a life perspective, organized recreational baseball is a prime example where many children missed out on learning about teamwork on a baseball field. For some who may have been starting out in t-ball, being on a baseball field at the same time with eight other players and “playing a position” so all the players are not gathered together on the pitching mound (everyone wants to be the pitcher) was not to be. Working as a team where every player needs to trust to throw the ball over to 1st base versus running it over there themselves – a teamwork opportunity was missed. While baseball teaches many life lessons where you fail more than you succeed, the lesson of teamwork is a fundamental one which its usage goes beyond baseball.

From a work perspective, we are all collaborating over Microsoft Teams or Zoom with our colleagues, clients and customers. And similar to baseball, teamwork is not as easy over these impersonal channels.  As a consultant teamwork is essential to delivering value to our customers. Additionally, in any client engagement, teamwork includes working with client personnel who are actively involved in the project. For many engagements, our teams would be engaged onsite in a project room with whiteboards filled with key dates, activities, data, etc. The project room naturally brought out teamwork for its members and was a great way to brainstorm, strategize, and make progress towards a common goal. Given the current times, these types of physical project rooms are no longer practical, and we must think of new ways to encourage, develop and nurture teamwork.

When I think of teamwork, a few key elements come to mind. These include accountability, engagement, and outcomes.

Accountability: For our team of 6-year-old baseball players, they need to be individually responsible for the position they are playing. The 1st basemen needs to know they can’t be roaming the outfield pulling grass but instead they are accountable for being at 1st base to catch the ball and get the runner out. In a consulting engagement, each member is accountable for their work product – whether they are accountable for the project planning, the deliverable creation, or obtaining buy-in from the client as the project progresses.

Engagement: Our team of 6-year-olds need to be constantly engaged or you will have your shortstop making small little piles of dirt while the ball is hit to them and go right past them (yes, I’ve been there). Each player needs constant encouragement and focus on the batter when they hit the ball so your team of nine players are ready to play defense. Just like in baseball, all team members on the project have to stay engaged. Each stakeholder needs to know not only their role but how their role is critical to the overall success of the project and in the end to the success of the team.

Outcomes: The outcomes or results are important whether it’s a baseball game or a project. In that 6-year-old baseball game, the score is not important but what the young players are learning is playing as a team, to get three outs in an inning, and so they can come in to hit (we all know baseball players love to hit!). That is the outcome they need to focus on which is their reward for playing defense. In a project, the outcome of the project whether it is a successful product launch or implementation of a key new process or software solution, all the team members need to know what success looks like and how they can directly impact the success of the project.

COVID-19 has made teamwork more challenging. But whether you are a 6-year old playing baseball or a member of a large project team, focusing on being accountable, keeping your team engaged, or knowing the desired outcomes will yield positive results. As author Patrick Lencioni said, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Lake Shore Associates is a management-consulting firm that helps organizations execute their business strategies with thoughtful approaches to project/program management, organizational change management and vendor management.

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