Baseball Strategies for the Workplace

As a fan of college baseball and specifically the Vanderbilt Commodores I find it quite easy to use baseball as a metaphor for life.  On this morning after the final game of the College World Series I feel compelled to write briefly about how the game of baseball mirrors working in teams in most of the organizations I have been a part of.  While you may not  see all of the parallels I see, I hope you find the comparisons to be of interest and value to you.

Baseball has a number of strategic plays that have strong resemblance to what goes on in the world of work.  I’ll describe 3 for you here and draw analogies about how they relate to work.

Sacrifice Bunt or Sacrifice Fly

The sacrifice is a play where the batter intentionally hits the ball in a manner to advance a runner who happens to be on base.  This play, bunt or fly ball, is intended to advance the team and the batter has full recognition that he/she will not personally benefit, but that the team will benefit from his/her action.

Leaders in organizations often have opportunities to make strategic or tactical moves that will advance those who he/she leads or works with.  It is rare to see a leader who is willing to do this on a regular basis unless the culture of the team recognizes and rewards this type of unselfish behavior.  If an organization fully appreciates how one can advance another by putting them in a position to “score”, then the entire organization can adopt a set of tactics that will advance the entire group while not focusing more on individual accomplishment.  It is truly a mature and advanced organizational culture that embraces the sacrificial play.

Backing up the play

When a play is being made and one player throw the ball to another, one of the players closest to the play may back up the throw or may back up the player fielding the ball.  The purposes of backing up a player is to prevent the ball from getting loose and allowing the opposing team to advance if the ball is not fielded cleanly or if the throw is errant.

Organizations and their players need back up in most everything that happens.  When you back up your co-worker the intent should not be to find fault, but to help them be successful.  By providing back up it helps the entire team and also allows those making the play to attempt to make the best play possible.  Without trust that there is someone backing you up, the player making the play may not take the appropriate risk needed to either field the ball cleanly or to make a throw on a timely basis.  Backing one another up in the workplace is fundamental tactic that can be the crucial difference between good cohesion and team success.

Going to the bullpen

In baseball there are times when the manager needs to bring in another pitcher to help keep the opposing team from scoring more runs.  The relief pitcher may come in for just one batter or he/she may be in for the duration; it just depends upon the situation.

Organizations too should have a bullpen where they have players ready to step in when the situation dictates.  One of the challenges that I have seen in organizations I have worked for as well as ones I have worked with is that they don’t have sufficient depth in their bullpen or on their bench.  When this happens there is no one to turn to when times get tough.  In addition, younger or less experienced players either get no relevant experience or get “thrown into the fire” because they have to deal with issues they are not ready for.  Either way is bad for the team.

Baseball is much like life.  Both are full of strategies that lead to tactical decisions that either help or hinder the progress of the team and the organization as a whole.  Understanding the concept of the sacrifice, backing up and the bullpen can mean the difference between success or failure.  I would encourage you to see how you can incorporate each of these into your team and your organization.  The difference will be measurable and long-lasting.