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Imagine at this time of year, as winter drifts slowly into spring, you heard comments such as:
"Sam's banging out big numbers this year. You can tell he's much more focused."
"Susan's presentation has extra zip this year. It's clear she's been practicing more."
"The team seems more together this year. Everyone knows his or her role and is executing well."
Consider for the moment that these observations were heard at an annual off-site meeting where everyone was focused on self-improvement and bettering the team.
In baseball, there is such a tradition; it's called spring training. Major League teams convene either in Arizona or Florida to get in shape for the upcoming season. Management evaluates talent. Players focus on the fundamentals of their positions. And the team integrates new players into the roster.
What emerges from such practices is a team that knows what it does well and what it needs to do to improve, and for that reason organizations far from the world of sports would do well to borrow a few lessons from the training regimen. Here are three suggestions.
Reconnect to team. Players need to know the role the team expects them to play. Leaders can provide a blueprint of how employees' roles contribute to the success of the enterprise. It is also a time to discuss what challenges lie ahead and how the company plans to address them.
Reinforce the fundamentals. Players come to spring training to practice their craft. Employees may find it necessary to learn new skills. Maintaining the status quo skill-wise means you are falling behind. What new things must employees learn to stay current as well as to help themselves advance and their teams succeed?
Reevaluate where you stand. For players, spring is a time to consider how much work they need to do to get back into playing condition. Similarly, employees need to find time to measure their performance against the corporate strategies and tactics. How are their actions helping the team succeed? Managers need to link individual contributions to organizational mission.
The advantage of conducting such activities in an off-site environment is the opportunity to get away from the day to day—as managers, coaches, and players do—to put one's energies into improvement. For organizations, senior leaders need to deliver key messages as well as meet and mingle with employees. Breakout sessions for functional teams are a good way to address issues and raise questions. And unlike training sessions, these meetings will feature no cuts; everyone who attends the conference will keep his or her job. This reaffirms that everybody, at every level, is in this endeavor together.
We must not overlook something else that baseball, coming as it does in the spring, perhaps does best: renew purpose. For players and managers as well as fans, spring training is all about hope. It is a time to focus on the "what might be" scenarios, be it win the division, the pennant, or even the World Series.
This makes a good lesson for management. As important as it is to concentrate on business, it never hurts to connect to potential and possibilities. Leaders need to dispense hope that comes from organizational purpose. Understanding that purpose gives people a sense of mission as well as a direction. For example, if you know your business makes cars and trucks that customers love, it gives you a sense of pride. Or if you know your hospital is a premier place for cardiac patients, you take pride in delivering care that helps patients not only survive but live better.
Coming together to renew purpose is an essential part of the organizational mission, and for that reason any organization would do well to make time to bring people together to focus on the work but also celebrate the possibilities of what you do well.