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Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace
DOES TEAM CHEMISTRY REALLY MATTER?

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President of Discovery Surveys, Inc.

Another Lesson From Red Sox Nation

THE DEBATE

There has been a raging debate in our local sports pages lately about whether team chemistry matters in baseball. The Boston Red Sox were terrible last season, finishing with their worst record since 1965, yet on paper they had one of the most talented rosters in baseball. Many attributed the failure to poor team chemistry.

But others cite many highly successful teams where the players did not get along with each other, did not like the manager, and lacked discipline. They say that team chemistry is overrated and that hitting, pitching, and fielding are really all that matters.

The Red Sox made many changes during the off-season to improve the chemistry of the team. It is early in the season, but at the time of this writing, the turnaround has been significant. The Red Sox lead the major leagues in winning percentage and the players now talk about how the clubhouse is "fun."

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WHAT TO DO

Moving beyond baseball, does chemistry between coworkers really matter if you want to create a high performing organization?

I believe that: Chemistry can trump everything else. Without it your organization will never achieve its full potential, no matter how strong its leaders or talented its staff.

Here are some lessons from the Red Sox on how to improve the chemistry in your organization:

  1. Hire Team Players

    Several of the highest paid players played selfishly and publicly criticized their teammates.

    To remedy this problem, the Red Sox owners jettisoned several of them (e.g., Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez). Also, during the offseason they spared no expense to replace them with several "good clubhouse" players (e.g., Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, and Jonny Gomes), average players but known as upbeat leaders and cheerleaders for their teammates.

    Lesson for Organizations: When hiring new employees, look for evidence that shows they are good team players. For example,

    • Avoid hiring job hoppers who appear to be more interested in furthering their own career than contributing to the organization;

    • Look for evidence that demonstrates they are strong team players;

    • Listen during the interview to see if they give credit to others for contributing to their organizational accomplishments; and

    • Ask their references how well they interacted with their coworkers.

  2. Make Certain Your Managers Work Well Together

    The 2012 Red Sox hired an egotistical manager (Bobby Valentine) and assigned to him coaches to work with him. Valentine ended up not getting along well with the coaches or his players. The 2013 Red Sox replaced Valentine with a well-liked and respected manager (their former pitching coach, John Farrell) and hired all new coaches to work with the manager (handpicked by Farrell).

    Lesson for Organizations: Employees can sense when senior managers do not trust, support, or work well with each other. In organizations with good chemistry:

    • The senior management team works well together;

    • The senior team works well with the managers who report to them;

    • Department heads cooperate with each other; and

    • First-level supervisors work well together.

    If this is not the case in your organization, consider investing in management team-building, replacing disruptive managers, and making certain that senior managers have a major say in who is hired to report to them.

  3. Weed Out Negative Employees

    The 2012 Red Sox had several outspoken complainers on the team who soured their teammates toward the manager (e.g., Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis). Both of these players were traded away in the middle of the season.

    Lesson for Organizations: Gradually, eliminate negative employees. You probably know who they are and how their negatively spreads like weeds on a lawn. Shed employees who:

    • Consistently put themselves above their team;

    • Speak negatively about others behind their backs and about management and the organization; and

    • Do not embrace the organization's mission.

  4. Fertilize With Support

    During the 2012 season, Bobby Valentine often spoke negatively of his players to the media. The new manager, John Farrell, only has positive, supportive things to say about his players.

    The mantra for all managers in your organization should be "supporting employees." Support should be continually provided in the form of tangibles such as compensation and training and intangibles such as recognition, positive reinforcement, and pats on the back.

  5. Continually Monitor Team Chemistry

    In 2012, the owners of the team appeared to have a poor understanding of what was happening in the clubhouse. They did not realize until it was too late that things had gotten out of control and that the team chemistry was so poor.

    Lesson for Organizations: Good team chemistry is fragile. Conduct frequent anonymous employee surveys to closely monitor:

    • Team morale;

    • How much employees understand and embrace the mission;

    • How employees feel about the direction and success of the organization;

    • How employees feel about senior management;

    • How well employees are working together; and

    • The level of support employees provide to each other.

    If the chemistry begins to slip, be quick to make the necessary adjustments.

CONCLUSION

Take a lesson from this year's edition of the Boston Red Sox. Team chemistry is critically important to organizational success. Create strong team chemistry by:

  • Hiring team players;

  • Making certain managers work well together;

  • Weeding out negative employees;

  • Fertilizing with support; and

  • Conducting employee surveys to closely monitor the chemistry.

I will see you at the 2013 Red Sox World Series victory parade.

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