What the Nationals’ World Series Journey Teaches Us About Workplace Culture



Workplace culture.

For an intangible force, culture has a critical impact on every part of your business. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently released a report on the high costs of a toxic workplace. This report revealed that 20 percent of employees have left their job due to the culture of their organization.

Creating and maintaining an outstanding culture is no easy feat. That’s why when businesses authentically discuss the culture they’re working to build, we pay attention.

You may not immediately think of an organization like the Washington Nationals baseball team as a relatable benchmark (not your industry, not your size, not your structure), but your company and the Nats’ dugout might have more in common than you think. We all share:

1. Performance Goals

Professional athletes, like us, have very clear goals and outcomes that are expected of them. They are focused on wins (which are inextricably tied to revenue) just as businesses are. The pressure to show results weighs heavy on the organization.

2. Circumstances Beyond Their Control

Managers and coaches have to field the team that is available. Employees and players move on to other roles and injuries take players out of the line-up, requiring teams to tool and retool our talent allocation and team workloads. Agility is critical to ensure that we have a strong and prepared team come “game day.”  

3. Competition is Fierce

No matter your industry, every organization faces external competition for customers, talent, resources, and more. On the baseball field, it is a zero-sum game and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

4. Team Cohesion Matters

All of the players on the roster have been carefully selected to bring a wide array of individual skills to the team, like our organizations do when we recruit and hire talent with unique abilities, experiences, and perspectives. The players are all superstars on their own, but the sum is greater than the parts.

So what can we learn from the Washington Nationals’ seemingly unthinkable playoff run in particular?

The Nationals started the season 19-31 after trading away one of their best players, Bryce Harper, to a division rival. They were practically left for dead with the fourth-worst record in baseball. Hometown newspapers were reporting that their season was over, that their new manager wasn’t going to have a long history in the city, and that their top players were going to be traded while their value was still high. Since that game in May, they have gone 80-40 and consistently outscored their opponents. What changed? How did they turn around their season?

After they were swept by the New York Mets in May, they met as a team to have an open conversation about what wasn’t working. After that meeting, they made a choice to live by a new motto: “Stay in the Fight.” Staying in the fight meant that every out, every catch, and every hit brought them one step closer to turning their season around. This common “organizational value” or team mantra brought them together and refocused the team.

But a shift in mindset wasn’t enough. The team also took some critical steps that helped get them where they are today.

1. Trusted in the experience of their team

Whether in baseball or the workplace, it is no secret that there is a lot of focus on younger generations right now. How to recruit and retain Millennials and Gen Z or attract the next young phenom. But the Nationals proved that experience matters. They are the oldest team in baseball with an average age of 31. Time and again their make or break moments came from their most seasoned players: Howie Kendrick (36), Max Scherzer (35), and Ryan Zimmerman (35). It’s a powerful reminder of the value and critical skills and experience that older employees bring to organizations.

2. Supported the team on and off the field

Daniel Hudson, a closing pitcher, celebrated one of the biggest moments of his life – the birth of his daughter – during Game 1 of the second round of playoffs. Even though no player in Major League Baseball had ever used paternity leave during the postseason, no one in the clubhouse questioned his commitment to the team when he chose to be with his wife. The result? They won that game and celebrated his return. General Manager Mike Rizzo summed it up best, “These decisions are easy, a happy player is a performing player. We’ve got to take care of our people.”

3. Celebrated the wins

When the Nationals were at their lowest in May 2019, they signed on a veteran outfielder named Gerardo Parra, citing his “infectious energy” and positive attitude. At one point, Parra was called upon by manager Dave Martinez to do one primary task – help bring joy to the team. He stepped up to the task by leading the dancing in the dugout after home runs, celebrating hits with “Baby Shark” (and getting entire stadiums to do the same). Parra brought joy back into the work at hand. Indeed, joy can be the critical factor in inspiring your teams to run toward challenges and adversity with purpose, conviction, and confidence–rather than give up in the face of the same.

As the Nationals continue their incredible World Series run against the Houston Astros, they know that the culture, foundation, and the team they built will take them further than one star player ever could.

“We’re going to get tested like we’ve never been tested during the regular season. But I love what this team has together. I love our chemistry. I love what we have. That’s what it takes to win in the postseason.” – Max Scherzer, Nationals pitcher.

Learn from their success. Look at your climate survey data and Glassdoor reviews, listen to everyday conversations, and consider feedback with an open mind. Take the steps to build the culture you need for success. Without it, you likely won’t make it to your World Series.

Originally posted on EVERFI blog.




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