What I Learned About Team Cohesion From Little League Baseball
The other day, I learned a valuable lesson about team cohesion watching my son’s Little League baseball team.
They were hoisting their championship trophy up into the air, and here was a team that was never expected to have won a single game — they didn’t have any of the “star” players. Yet here they were, celebrating their undefeated season, their victory, and most of all, their friendship.
But they were celebrating something else, too. Something they might not have understood themselves at that moment.
They were celebrating what it means to be part of a cohesive, effective team.
Watching the success of this underdog team, I realized I could learn something valuable from their moment of victory, and even apply it to my company. After all, that is one of the biggest challenges as a CEO, is it not? It’s not easy to create a team and a work environment that forges a successful, cohesive unit.
So, why did I have such a powerful reaction to this group of teenagers?
For starters, their victory was an underdog victory, all the way. And yes, it was my son’s team, which comes with its own swell of pride and emotions. But that’s not what led me to draw the parallel between baseball and business. It was the way they found success playing as a team — instead of playing as a handful of individuals.
Because as difficult as it may be to get a group of teenagers to work together, I would argue it’s equally difficult to get a room of seasoned professionals, industry veterans, and recent graduates to all work as one.
Here are the lessons I was able to extract:
1. It starts with how the team comes together.
In a league with an age range of 13 to 17, this team of all 13-year olds found a framework for effective teamwork almost immediately.
Contrary to what most people might have considered to be a worthy coach, this team was not pushed by some ego-driven professional, or even a career hobbyist with something to prove. This was a neighbor, a dad, a volunteer. He didn’t set out to create a championship team. He set out to create a team for his son and his son’s friends, allowing them to have the best time possible.
His motivation and goal was for them to have fun.
2. He put DNA before star quality.
Second, this coach didn’t scout out any star players or take on a few older kids so they could have a fighting chance — a perfect recipe for getting clobbered, as the league officials informed the coach. His only requirement was that all of his players were friendly towards each other. He just wanted these kids to have a good time. He didn’t want them to worry about winning or losing, or about competing against each other.
And what happened?
They won. And they won again, and again, and again. In fact, they went undefeated throughout the entire season.
They didn’t play like a field of individuals. They played like a unit, and a team.
What so many leaders forget is that team dynamics shift when stars are in the mix. Yes, a star player on a team can be a huge tool for winning. But if that star, or the treatment of that star, alienates the other players, then the whole team gets brought down.
But on a team where no stars are present, all the players become stars. Everyone is at the same level. So when the team does well, so do all the individuals that make up that team.
3. A team is only successful when it becomes more than the sum of its players.
This was the real takeaway for me. And I realized it could be applied to everything from sports to business.
When a team becomes more than the sum of its players, everyone is motivated to do their best: for themselves, for each other, and for the team. Now, you might not be trying to win a “game” with your sales team, but I’m sure you have goals that you’re all aiming toward.
Those can be accomplished with this same mentality.
Now, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t recruit the best people, or that under-performers are a secret weapon. I simply mean that you should recruit with the idea of putting together the best team, and not necessarily the best individual players.
The other element that made them such a cohesive unit was the attitude and atmosphere of the team. They weren’t there to win. Truthfully, I’m not sure any of them really expected to win. Their only expectations were to have fun. Without the stress of being expected to win, they were able to relax. And when they were relaxed, they were able to perform at their best.
If you keep your eyes open, you’ll find there are lessons all around us — sometimes from as unlikely a source as a Little League Baseball championship.
Which led me to one final lesson that afternoon: to allow myself to be open to finding lessons like these wherever they may pop up. And to put into practice what I learn.