Lessons in Teamwork from the SF Giants

I have been so excited and inspired by this year’s baseball post-season and the big World Series victory by the San Francisco Giants.  As a Bay Area native, a lifelong baseball fan, and someone who has been fortunate enough to have the Giants as a client this year, of course I was rooting for them with passion.

The fact that the Giants had not won a World Series since moving from New York to San Francisco (in 1958) and that we haven’t had a major sport championship here in the Bay Area since the 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1994, made it that much more exciting and meaningful.

But, the biggest reason I’ve so excited and inspired this year is because of this incredible San Francisco Giants TEAM.  I’ve probably followed this season and this team as closely as any other sports team or season in my entire life – and, for me, that’s saying a lot.  With their great young pitching staff, cast of interesting and unique characters, and lack of huge superstars and egos, I liked them a lot, right from the start of the season – and began to fall in love with them as the season went on.  It wasn’t simply because they won games, which they did (although not excessively or even impressively at times); it was how they won their games and, more important, how they played the game and worked as a team that impressed me most.

This team is an inspiration, not just to baseball fans, young kids who play the game, or people who are into sports in general – but for any and all of us who have to work with others (which most of do) to get things done in our work, our family, our community, and our life. No one expected this team to win the World Series – they didn’t have the talent, experience, or make-up to become champions, said the “experts.” But, they did it anyway and took all of us who followed them this year on the ride of our baseball lives watching them do so.

As someone who is passionate about teamwork, loves working with teams myself, and gets hired to speak about and train people to effectively team up with each other, I believe this year’s San Francisco Giants put on a clinic all season long (and especially these past few weeks) in what teamwork should look like.

Here are a few lessons about teamwork we can all learn from the magic of the 2010 San Francisco Giants:

1)  Be Who You Are

Authenticity is essential in life and in building successful teams.  It’s okay and often important to be a little different, to do things your own way, and to give people on your team the space to be themselves.  This year’s San Francisco Giants were made of a somewhat strange array of characters – from Brian Wilson, to Aubrey Huff, to Tim Lincecum, to Juan Uribe, and on down the line.  They didn’t always look like champions and often did and said some pretty odd and quirky things, but it all worked, kept them loose, and helped them bond with each other and the city of San Francisco.  For us to create a strong team around us we have to remember to be ourselves and allow the team to take on its own unique personality.

2)  It’s More About Heart Than Talent

The Giants were a team that didn’t always look good on paper, which is why they were often counted out by the so called “experts.”  Even with their great young pitching staff, their lineup didn’t include any superstars or big sluggers.  They called themselves “misfits and castoffs” – as many of them had been let go by other teams and had been given up on in the process.  They beat many teams during the regular season and definitely in the post-season who had much more talent than they did.  However, they exemplified the importance of heart in the way they played and won games – doing whatever it took to get it done.  Guys like Cody Ross, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, and others showed us how to play with heart and like a champion, even if the guys on the other team had more talent than they did.

3)  Play For Each Other

Larry Baer, the President of the San Francisco Giants (someone I’ve had the honor of getting to know a bit this year), said something important about this team in an interview he did after they won the National League Pennant. He said, “These guys do more than play with each other, they play for each other.” Larry was right and that is such an important and unique quality for a team to have. Playing with each other is essential to success. But, becoming a truly great team requires us to play for one another. Playing for others means we have each other’s backs, we’re there for our teammates, and we want to succeed for the people around us (in addition to ourselves) in a way that inspires greatness and excellence in all of us.

4)  Don’t Listen to the Naysayers

In life, business, and, of course, baseball there are always naysayers – people who don’t think you and those around you can do it. The Giants had many naysayers, in fact they didn’t usually even get mentioned as real contenders for much of the season and were written off many times, even during the World Series, which they won handily. It’s a good thing (for them and all of their fans) that they didn’t listen to those naysayers. As Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently said, “No one has the power to make me feel inferior without my permission.” While it can be important and helpful to get feedback from others, especially critical feedback, listening to critics and naysayers who don’t believe in your and your team will never benefit you and those around you.

5)  Be Creative and Flexible

The San Francisco Giants had to be quite creative and flexible throughout the entire season and all through the post season in order to win. They brought in new players, adjusted their lineup (even in the World Series), and did whatever they had to do to get the job done. Change can be challenging and stressful for a team, but in most cases it’s essential for success. We can’t get fixed into thinking things can only be done a certain way or that everyone has to maintain their same role throughout the entire process – that’s not how life, business, or baseball truly works. Our ability to be flexible and creative is often directly related to our ability to create success and fulfillment for ourselves and our team. As an example of this, both Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria (who were each named the MVP of the NLCS and World Series respectively), didn’t even play that much down the stretch, but stepped up when called upon and delivered.

6)  Have Fun and Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

For us to have success on an individual and group level, we have to have some fun.  The San Francisco Giants had fun all year long, especially in the post season.  They knew the importance of what they were doing, but never lost their sense of humor and didn’t take themselves too seriously in the process.  Whether it was Aubrey Huff’s “rally thong,” Brian Wilson’s black dyed beard and crazy interviews, or Tim Lincecum’s hair and language – these guys always seemed to have a good time, which kept them loose and made it that much more fun to root for them.  The more fun we have, the more relaxed we are…and the better we perform and bond with those around us.

7)  Appreciate Each Other

One of, if not the, most important aspects of being a true championship team (in my humble opinion), is the ability to appreciate those around you. Understanding and exercising the power of appreciation makes everyone around you feel good, know they’re valued, and helps bring out the best in each person. If you listened to their post-game interviews throughout the year, in the playoffs, and especially after the final game of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants understood and embodied appreciation for one another. They praised each other, gave credit to one another, and pumped each other up – in an authentic way. It’s one thing to pay lip service to appreciation and it’s another thing altogether to do it genuinely. They truly put their egos aside in so many ways, did what they had to do to win, and appreciated each other along the way. Given the nature of their team, the shortcomings they had, and the adversity they almost always seemed to find themselves in – they had to count on each other and appreciate each other’s talent, because without that synergy and support, they never would have become World Series Champions.

I’m grateful to the San Francisco Giants for not only playing so well this year, but for playing the way they did.  It was an inspiration to watch and they are (and will always remain) a beautiful and powerful example of what can happen when a group of individuals come together and truly play as a team.  Not only did they win a championship and inspire a city, they taught us all a great deal about the art of teamwork and for that I salute them as the true champions they are!

© 2010 – 2015, Mike Robbins. All rights reserved.

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