Relationships are Critical to Team Success

As a father of a youth baseball player, summer can be a time of fun and drudgery. Yes, it is always fun to see your children compete and learn life lessons about hard work, practice and repetition but it also means hot sweaty days at the ballpark and what is often not very entertaining sport.The 2016 baseball season didn't go well for my son, Peter. He was mired in the outfield (the last place you want to be in youth baseball), didn't hit the ball well and wasn't having fun.

There were drives to the ballpark where he would openly question why we were still doing this and ask that it be his last year with baseball. In an attempt to teach a valuable life lesson I would emphasize that finishing things that we start is important and that we had made a commitment to the team regardless of how little he felt he was contributing to the team. I would satisfy him by saying we would re-evaluate at the end of the year.

After a quick exit in the playoffs we had that conversation about whether he wanted to continue with the sport or focus on swimming or football. He indicated that he would only play the next year if he could play with the team his neighborhood friends were on.

Image of young boy in a catchers outfit

A few weeks later the coach sent out a message about wanting to move the team into a more competitive section of the league and I used the opportunity to ask for the move to the other team. Everything worked itself out and suddenly my son was re-energized for the following baseball season.

Fast forward to the spring of 2017 and it’s time for practice. Suddenly he had a blank slate to be tried at various positions and he got to play with his buddies from school. His entire outlook changed. He got to play a few innings each game as catcher and his love for baseball began to blossom.  Soon his hitting came around, he became one of the more reliable hitters on the team - even hitting one of the only home runs of the season.

Why do I give you all this detail about a young kids youth sports experience? Because it holds some valuable lessons for teamwork that we seem to have forgotten in almost all areas of our lives. Great teams love and care for each other and the relationships forged among teammates are one of the biggest determinants of team success.

My experience with Peter was one of many experiences where his level of engagement in a task has largely been shaped by the fun and enjoyment he has had with the people he has performed those activities with. His experience with every sport has seen varying levels of success from year to year, often not because of his abilities or the win / loss record but more often than not based on the strength of the relationships he has forged with his teammates. I have seen the same thing with his academics based on his table assignments and teachers. People matter to him and his willingness to participate and the outcomes associated with those activities are directly correlated to his relationships.

We, as workers, are not so different. Look back on the teams you have been a part of at work and the outcomes that you feel proudest of. They were likely accompanied with experiences with other people that were likely the highlights of that period of your life.

A similar experience to my son's was recently documented at the major league baseball level. The Houston Astros, which is having recording breaking success for that team held a mock funeral for a player's glove. Carlos Beltran because of age and better defensive options has been moved to DH, a position that doesn't require play in the field.

Image of a baseball team holding a mock funeral for a baseball glove

This is precisely the type of funny and ridiculous activity that teams that are having fun and building special bonds do.... and typically go on to extraordinary success on the field.

These are the types of things that a manager can't orchestrate, but managers can create an environment for this type of teamwork and cohesion to flourish. Part of that begins with taking a different mindset to team building. The idea that the combination of people that you put together could gel in extraordinary ways that lead to exceptional performance.

At Cloverleaf, we help managers quantify this environment. We give leaders insights into five key areas of team that are critical to exceptional performance. This includes personality, strengths, skill, culture and role. The right mix in each of these areas are largely contextual but with the right mix you get outcomes and experiences that last forever. Get a free trial for your team today at

(For another reflection on Peter, check out the blog post titled, You Make Me Brave)