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Winning is better than drugs

'Team chemistry' helping Blue Jays and workplaces

By Ian Hendry

In a previous post, I highlighted the importance of “team chemistry,” citing quotes by several of the Toronto Blue Jay players who described their relevance in the clubhouse. It is remarkable how the collegiality and togetherness of the players rubbed off on all those associated with the team, which in turn grabbed the attention of a city, even a country. 
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the excitement of the Blue Jays led to a discussion on the golf course — was it the healthy clubhouse environment that spurred the level of camaraderie that started to pay dividends on the field with a winning mentality?

Whether it was or was not a key factor in the success of the Blue Jays, there is, as you might expect, some research on organizational health. In fact, McKinsey has decade-long research that shows healthy organizations have total returns to shareholders of nearly twice those in the middle of the pack.

As many of you likely know, SCNetwork has been an affiliate of HR People & Strategy (HRPS) for over 30 years. HRPS, in the past couple of years, has merged to become SHRM’s Executive Network. 

Many CHROs I know find that the HR People & Strategy Journal, which is produced three or four times a year, always provides rich content, and in the summer 2015 issue, Carla Arellano wrote an interesting article about the five power practices that spur organizational health. These practices are not earth-shattering, and are arguably somewhat obvious, but are worth repeating with a Blue Jay twist. The five are:

Role clarity
Every single job comes with clear accountability of results and outcomes. Unreasonable expectations can be disastrous. Wanting a superstar to cover off for another person’s deficiencies should also be avoided. In the Blue Jay baseball setting, there is one player whose primary job is to steal bases. There is one pitcher who is sparingly used to just get one or two batters out. All players are clear about their roles and there is no ambiguity.

Personal ownership: The decades-old story of the NASA janitor helping to put a man on the moon exemplifies the importance of every employee having a stake in the outcome. When everyone’s participation is acknowledged as important and respected, when difficult periods do occur, employees will step up and “go over and above” what is expected in order to support the cause.

On the baseball diamond, note the reaction of Jays’ players when another player makes a mistake. Finger-pointing? Castigation? No. If a run is scored on an error, it is the collective will of the other players in the team to brush past it and win the game. Everyone needs to commit to his role to succeed.

Shared vision: It is certainly easier to create such a vision on things that are shorter-term. Winning a championship during a six-month season has a short timeline, but longer-term goals can be equally effective in creating an organizational focus that can be embraced. What is crucial is the buy-in of every single member of the team. If the team goal does not resonate with everyone, individual commitment may suffer.

Open and trusting: When managers are transparently open and frank, and manage relationships with honesty, they earn respect. There will be occasions when a manager’s decision will negatively impact one individual, yet candor to explain the rationale for the decision need not destroy the relationship. In game four (Texas vs Blue Jays), the manager chose to make a pitching change at a pivotal moment of the game. The pitcher, bitterly disappointed, nonetheless respected the decision.

Risk management: There are 37 other practices measured in McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index and Arellano informs us that risk management packs twice the punch of any of the other practices. In healthy organizations, all employees are encouraged to flag high-risk issues and escalate them, if necessary. 

Effectively, a shared mindset is developed when everyone owns quality, corporate performance, and the customer relationships. Everyone has a voice and because employees develop an emotional attachment to the company’s success, it is normal and expected that employees will speak up when things go awry. Correcting a problem early can also eradicate client concerns quicker and likely use fewer resources in the clean-up.

As senior HR practitioners, these five key practices make eminent sense. A recent SCNetwork learning event that sought to broaden our understanding of the impact of neuroscience on our profession, played out on the streets of Toronto last night when the Jays won the series over Texas. 

What occurred is what is described as “the winner effect.” When a human being wins a contest, there is a large release of testosterone and dopamine into the brain. Fans, far and wide, were experiencing that incredible winning feeling. If this is prolonged, it changes the human brain structure and chemical make-up, making us smarter, more confident and able to take on larger challenges than before.

Cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson explains that “success and failure shapes us more powerfully than genetics and drugs.” In this case, nurture changes nature, and winning can be contagious.  

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Ian Hendry

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