“The chemistry on this team is amazing. That reflects on a leader. And it matters.’’
– Lorenzo Cain (KC’s centerfielder)
Well, thankfully the KC Royals continue to help my cause by advancing to the World Series! Game 2 against the Mets starts tonight and even the mainstream media have taken notice that there is something special about this Royals team, citing the significance of team chemistry to the success of the organization.
So far in baseball and organizational health we’ve talked about the intentionality of the Royal’s owners in defining the kind of organization they wanted and in selecting the right leader. We’ve talked about the leader’s role in identifying and building a cohesive leadership team and creating a framework for a healthy organization. The patience and leadership will of the KC organization now comes to the surface in the results we see on the field.
The Royals are the second smallest “market” in MLB – which means they don’t have the (even more ridiculously) big budgets of teams in New York, Chicago or California. So acquiring a big time player with a high price tag can’t be a part of their strategy. Even if that was an option, General Manager, Dayton Moore, and Manager, Ned Yost have put a greater premium on team chemistry.
“Without a doubt,” Yost says, “You’ve got to have talent first, but if you have talent and chemistry, then you have something special. The chemistry in our clubhouse is very, very important to us. It’s a very close group of guys now, and that was the plan. That’s not by accident.” The Royals clubhouse is an incredibly diverse group of guys, with almost half of the 25 man roster coming from 5 different Latin American countries. So how do you cultivate that kind of clubhouse chemistry?
Here comes that word again – intentionality. It started with the Royals defining what kind of players they wanted, creating a process to vet potential acquisitions or draft picks, and then staying disciplined to that process. Moore says he has “oftentimes decided against bringing in a player because of the sense of poor fit for one reason or another.” Yost says he learned this lesson the hard way while managing in Milwaukee by ignoring warnings that a player wasn’t a good fit because he filled a need. And that’s the temptation for every leader – you have a need or you see the talent, so you downplay the tangible yet immeasurable factor of organizational fit.
Dayton and his managers, coaches and scouts were specific in describing organizational fit. Does the player align with their philosophy in how to play and win games? Is the player an energy-giver or an energy-taker? Are they a “me-first” or “team-first” player? (are they willing to take an out in order to advance a runner, or do they only care about their own stats?) Do they make other players around them better? Are they a good self-evaluator of their performance? Do they have the positive attitude necessary to overcome a slump or an injury? Are they someone you want your kids hanging around?
The Royals have even brought in players past their prime because they enhanced the team chemistry by providing key leadership in the clubhouse. They worked hard to acquire Ben Zobrist this season before they even knew where they would play him. Like author Jim Collins says, “first get the right people on the bus, and then decide which seat to put them in.”