During the summer, I spend a lot of time watching minor-league baseball. I enjoy the close proximity to the game, watching players develop their skills, and the interactions with players, the (usually) friendly staff, and other fans. I also think about parallels between what I am seeing and the regular workplace.
This came to mind last week when I was watching a game in Charleston, SC. They were playing Columbia, SC, a team I had also seen in Charleston three weeks earlier. The first game had a sellout crowd with an exciting atmosphere, hundreds of people lining up for autographs before the game, and great crowd involvement. At the second game, the attendance dropped over 44%, 3 people were looking for autographs on the visitors’ side, and the fan involvement was very different.
What caused this change? At the first game, fans came to see Columbia Left Fielder/Designated Hitter/Ex-Quarterback Tim Tebow. The former Heisman Trophy winner had packed people into the stands throughout the league. His presence created an exciting atmosphere. I’d call it “Tebowing”, but that term has already been used.
By the second game, Tebow was gone, having been promoted to a higher-level team. Leaving with him were the bigger crowds and the resulting excitement.
What does this have to do with businesses? We have seen a number of examples where labor-management cooperation and teamwork have been the goal of one or two people within the organization. They create an atmosphere that fosters cooperation, and the group performs well.
Eventually, those championing the movement leave. They may retire, get promoted, be voted out of office, or move on. Whatever the reason, when it happens the cooperative process can grind to a halt.
When we rely on the leadership of one or two people, their absence can destroy the process and permanently damage the relationship between the parties. We’ve seen it in businesses, public sector agencies, schools, and a variety of settings. It doesn’t have to happen
The more people involved in any cooperative process, the more sustainable that process can be. There need to be champions from throughout the organization, from both management and employees, who fully support the change process and help drive and sustain it. The higher the level of involvement and real opportunities for employee engagement, the more engrained the process will be in the culture of the organization. Future leaders will be expected to support cooperation and will be held accountable for its success.
When Tim Tebow left Columbia the good thing they had going (at least financially) immediately faded away. Do not depend on a single leader or a small group to drive the process in your organization. By making cooperation and involvement part of the culture of your organization the process will become self-sustaining.