Take Me Out to the Ballgame
It is summertime, and while for some, summertime means basking in the sun at the beach or baking in the sun at swim meets, or, in the case of D.C. this year, getting rained on but still being hot, for others it means baseball…and more baseball. We have a couple of people on staff who-must-not-be-named, but what the heck, I’ll name them anyway – Sharla Artz and Rob Thormeyer – who are obsessed with baseball, and particularly with the Washington Nationals. Having lived in the D.C. area for about 25 years, I vividly remember many years sans Nationals Park when we had to trek up to Baltimore to catch a game, so even though my baseball fandom is comparatively minor vis-à-vis that of Sharla and Rob, I have an inkling. Nats Park is gorgeous, convenient (well, when you aren’t trying to leave it at least), clean and in the middle of a renaissance in the Southeast part of D.C. It also has the Nats team — a decent team (and sometimes better than decent) most of the 13 or so years they have been around.
Last week, we were given the opportunity to use one of the suites at Nats Park for our D.C. staff to attend a game. One of our members kindly offered this up to us earlier in the year and we readily agreed. It was not available while our Board members were in town, alas, so we instead decided to use it as a staff team-building opportunity. Get it? Going to a team game and doing a team-building around it? Okay, pretty obvious, I know, but in retrospect, it actually did afford us time to think about the meaning of team and what it takes to perform at a high level. Before the game, we got all the staff on the phone (a few folks are based outside of D.C.) and did an ice-breaker called “two truths and a lie.” Each person tells the group three things about themselves and the group has to figure out the lie. It was fun, but more importantly, gave us all some insights into each other’s personal histories and perspectives. It highlighted to me that you can’t really perform well as a team if you don’t really know each other. I don’t pretend to believe that everyone has to be best buddies or even friends to have a highly functioning team, but respect and trust are both key – neither of those elements can come into play if team members don’t know each other.
Once we got to the stadium and were watching the actual game, it became clear it would be a good one – the Nats and the Braves were evenly matched (at least on that day!) and both offensive and defensive plays were tight. Baseball is a game that can move very slowly, then incredibly quickly, but this day there was a steady drumbeat of activity – not much of the slower moving side. Having said that, what is so applicable and necessary to teams in the association and business worlds is what is on display in baseball constantly no matter how quick or slow the play – and that is communication. In some cases, the communication is verbal and sometimes nonverbal – the complicated gestures and symbols teams create to communicate are fascinating. You can easily imagine what would happen if the outfielders didn’t talk to each other – they could crash while both going for the same fly ball. If the infielders weren’t talking to the pitcher, more bases would be stolen. In our world, we need to be clear and explicit — so perhaps the nonverbal hand-gestures won’t work – and constant communication is essential.
To apply this concept to me and my UTC staff, there is so much interplay between what we are doing, that we have to loop each other in or else we will duplicate efforts. We also have so much project-based work, that creating clear accountability for project elements is essential. That requires the project manager to communicate at the beginning to get agreement and common understanding of the elements and milestones required to complete the project, then send reminders and hold people accountable in the middle of the project, and “herd the cats” all the way until the end so that the deadline is met and the project is done well. Good communication along the way won’t always prevent someone on the team from performing poorly, but at least it can be a red flag to the project manager if the poor performer is blowing through deadlines or not responding to communications — and steps can be taken to mitigate the issue.
Beyond our staff, we are also challenged to coordinate and communicate well with our members, and also with policy makers, other trade associations, the media and other stakeholders in our space. If we aren’t performing well as a team and communicating well with each other internally, it will be harder for us to undertake these external communications well. Admittedly, we are still working through some of these external communications pathways, but have made a lot of progress over the last couple of years.
The bottom line is, none of us can go it alone in this day and age, much less if we are on a professional sports team or in a professional workplace – so we must call, text, email, tweet, post and yes, even meet in person so our team can win (like the Nats did over the Braves by three on August 9 – take that Atlanta fans). Until we meet again…