I have been fortunate to encounter high performing teams in my career in healthcare administration. As a leader, I have overseen outstanding teams, both in an executive capacity where I provided organizational support to groups and as a team leader myself. It is rewarding to see a team succeed. It is even more fulfilling to lead a highly productive team, personally. From the outside looking in, a well-run team appears to do its work almost effortlessly. Conversely, it is miserable to have to disband an unsuccessful team or to replace an ineffective team leader.
No team I have led or staffed has been as high performing as my first all-star baseball team. My small childhood hometown was very proud of its youth baseball league. I started playing late in childhood compared to most of my friends as I was 11, and I had never competed before. I was initially drafted onto a weak team that lost most of its games in the regular season. We finished our regular season, and I learned that some players got to continue into an all-star tournament after our regular season. That year as was custom, the coaches drafted a team of 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds with the best regular-season record. The night of the all-star selection, I did not receive a call, and so I headed to bed thinking my season was over, a little disappointed, but mostly satisfied. When I awoke the next morning, my father informed me that late that night, a coach called to invite me to play on his second or “B” team. We were all solid players, but the best players in our league and all my friends had all been chosen on the “A” team to ensure that we put our best team on the field to represent our league.
Our all-star coach was the model of a team leader. He was positive, and he quickly showed a personal interest in each one of us as he began to help each of us improve our skills. We had frequent, structured practices, and our coach created a very positive and supportive environment. For the first time that year, I had fun all the time playing baseball. Expectations of us were clear - that we play hard and support our teammates. Our system of rewards was transparent - effort and good play were rewarded with more playing time. Regardless of our specific skills, we each knew our role and felt valued. We won our first tournament by beating a team much larger, more athletic, and more skilled than us. We just would not quit because our coach would not let us give up. He was positive and encouraging the entire time, but he also expected much of us, and he settled for nothing less than our best effort (Levi and Slim, 1995). That summer, we won our second tournament, and we beat our friends on the city’s “A” team to progress to a third tournament. We were quickly disposed of as the competition became very tough. Our team disbanded in what was a sad adjourning or mourning stage (Watson, 2011). We ended up the best team in our region with a roster full of “second string” players. That summer, my coach taught me lessons that I still put to use as a leader today.
A few years ago I went to Coach Wisdom’s funeral after his passing in an accident at far too young an age. More than thirty years after that summer, several of my teammates and I gathered to give our respects. Most of us had not seen each other since that memorable summer. Half of the slides playing at Coach’s funeral contained pictures of our baseball team. We made as significant an impact on his life as he had ours.
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Levi, D., & Slem, C. (1995). Teamwork in research and development organizations: The characteristics of successful teams. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 16, 29–42.
Watson, Laura (2011). How a Group Becomes a Team? The Stages of Team Development. BC Coach's Perspective, 6-8.