Home of the San Francisco Giants, winners of Major League Baseball’s World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014.

Fielding a Championship Team

It’s been just over a year since I joined my company to establish our San Francisco office.

It’s also just a few days before the season opener for Major League Baseball; 30 teams play 162 games during the regular season, and those with the best records advance to post-season play. Ultimately, two teams will compete in a best-of-seven World Series to determine baseball’s reigning champion.

Everyone wants to build a winning team, one that has the potential to “go all the way” and establish an enduring franchise. You know a great team when you see it on the field. Each person plays their part and strives for a team victory, not individual glory.

I’ve built teams at various organizations throughout my career and have had success with these strategies:

  1. Recruit Both Rookies and Veterans.
  2. Groom Specialists at Each Position.
  3. Have Fun Both On and Off the Field.
  4. Know When to Change the Roster.
  5. Swing for the Fences.

It’s the beginning of a new season. If you assemble your team correctly you could be celebrating a championship run.

Recruit Both Rookies and Veterans.

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010; the last time the franchise earned baseball’s highest honor was 56 years earlier, when the team was based in New York. The long drought in championships was ended by a lineup of aging veterans, youthful players, and one rookie.

Here are some players from the 2010 San Francisco Giants roster:

  • Edgar Renteria (14-year veteran, short-stop)
  • Pat Burrell (10-year veteran, left field)
  • Aubrey Huff (10-year veteran, 1st base)
  • Tim Lincecum (4th year in major league, pitcher)
  • Pablo Sandoval (3rd year in major league, 3rd base)
  • Madison Bumgartner (2nd year in major league, pitcher)
  • Buster Posey (1st year in major league, catcher)
Edgar Renteria (SS)

The juxtaposition of experience and youth on the same roster was highlighted by accolades for two of its members: Edgar Renteria was the Most Valuable Player of the World Series, while Buster Posey was named the Rookie of the Year.

There was a wide range in experiences on this championship team. Youthful players learned about the game from their veteran teammates. Veterans drew energy and enthusiasm from their younger counterparts.

Buster Posey (C)

The same is true for a hiring within a company: it’s valuable to have different perspectives on the same team.

Team members with long tenures can draw upon experience to know what has (or hasn’t) worked in the past. Veterans can lead the team by example. Colleagues earlier in their careers will bring new techniques and ways of thinking — they may challenge the status quo. Younger team members gain valuable experience to become the next generation of leaders.

Recruiting both veterans and rookies on your team will provide the right blend of seasoned experience and wide-eyed optimism that can lead to greatness.

Groom Specialists at Each Position.

Baseball is a team sport with nine distinct positions on the field of play. Although everyone on the team is a “professional” ball player, there’s no individual that can play all nine positions equally well.

Most of the action on the field is between the two player combination known as “the battery”: the pitcher and catcher. The pitcher needs to have a tremendous arm that can throw the ball consistently and accurately to the catcher, perhaps 80 times in a single game. The catcher takes a unique stance behind home plate (while wearing protective gear) to catch balls hurled towards him at up to 100 miles-per-hour.

There are seven other specialist roles needed on a baseball team. The San Francisco Giants filled two of them with new team members in 2012.

Gregor Blanco (CF)

The center fielder has to be extremely fast, with the ability to cover vast distances in the outfield. The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series in-part due to the addition of center fielder Gregor Blanco. His contribution to the team was his outstanding defensive play.

Another new addition for the 2012 season was right fielder Hunter Pence. His performance in the outfield was solid, but he was primarily known for his ability as a hitter. Hunter Pence has a unique batting stance and swing; he is notorious for his ability to get hits and score runs. Hunter Pence boosted the team with his skills as an offensive player.

Having individuals with complementary skill sets makes the overall team stronger. It allows each person to focus on his own strength, confident in the knowledge that others will do the same. When assembling a team, look at the entire roster to identify any gaps in skills. Then find the right players to fill those roles.

It may be tempting to search for one person who plays every position. Just remember: athletes excel when they specialize.

Have Fun Both On and Off the Field.

During the 2010 baseball season, the San Francisco Giants were obviously having fun as an organization. One manifestation: as the season progressed, so did the length of several of the players’ beards.

Brian Wilson (P)

The charge was led by the pitching staff with Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo. Brian Wilson publicly stated his intent to not shave his beard until the Giants’ season was over — and even then, only if they did not win the World Series.

Giants’ fans got into the act and quickly coined the phrase “Fear the Beard!” which became a common refrain at games. The Giants souvenir shop began selling foam beards, for those fans who were not inclined (or able) to grow their own.

“Fear the Beard” float at the 2010 World Series Parade. (author at right, with fake beard)

This was silly and fun, and that’s the point. You want a team that is serious about its work and is aligned on a goal. But at the same time, you want your team to have fun — both on and off the field. It creates lasting bonds.

Your team will be more productive if they have compatible personalities, trust one another, and enjoy each other’s company. That includes the ability to blow off steam and share moments of levity.

After all, your team will be spending a lot of time together. If they’re not having fun, it can feel like drudgery — “just a job”.

Know When to Change the Roster.

After more than 5 decades without a championship, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series 3 times in the last 5 years: 2010, 2012, and 2014. With their most recent victory, the San Francisco baseball team is now being called a “Dynasty”.

So it may be surprising to know that the team roster has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. Edgar Renteria, the Most Valuable Player from the 2010 World Series, was not retained for the following year. Other members of that squad were similarly traded to different teams (some to the dismay of the loyal fan base).

Madison Bumgarner (P)

Even players still with the team have had different levels of contribution from year-to-year.

Much can be observed by the changes in the pitching staff: Tim Lincecum was the dominant pitcher in 2010, Matt Cain was virtually unstoppable in 2012, and Madison Bumgarner was at the top of his form in 2014.

All three pitchers are still on the roster, and each had a turn leading the team to glory.

The only constant is change. What worked well for the team in the past will not guarantee success in the future. It’s important to constantly review what is working on a team and make adjustments when needed.

Some team members will lead for awhile, then move to a supporting role. Other team members might leave because they are no longer a fit for the organization. Sometimes, an infusion of new talent may be needed to get a team back into winning form.

It takes courage to make changes to a winning combination, but it’s a necessary part of building a dynasty.

Swing for the Fences.

Assemble a team with veterans you can count on and rookies who are eager to change history. Find amazing talent who are specialists at their roles; surround them with complementary teammates who are equally talented. Build a great culture with camaraderie, energy, and trust at its core. And constantly review the team composition to ensure that everyone knows their role and is compatible with overall team chemistry.

With Journey lead singer Steve Perry at the 2010 World Series Parade

With your team in-place, you’re prepared to set your sights on broader ambitions.

Step up to the plate, wait for your pitch, and try to hit a home run.

You might enjoy a ticker-tape parade when all is done.

Don’t Stop Believin’