Baseball is my favorite sport to watch. Growing up, I loved learning about the great legends of the game and would stare wide-eyed at future Hall of Famers when I would attend games throughout the 80s and 90s. Now, many of the players I watched are actually in the Hall of Fame, and these days, I find it hard to name even 25 current players.

But there is something about baseball that will continue to intrigue me.

Strip away all the sweetness of the fresh cut grass, the unique sounds that emanate from a stadium full of fans and the delicious bite into a perfectly grilled hot dog (actually let’s keep that) and what remains is a beautifully played game.

The slow pace of the game, which on average takes around three hours from start to finish, is often one of its most criticized elements. But that pace is why it’s so great. The game is strategic and therefore takes time.

As in life and business, on the baseball field, there are many decisions to be made. There are also many people involved in making those decisions.

On a Successful Team Adaptation is Key

Like a well-run business, team or group, there is a constant need to adapt. This is what is happening in a baseball game. There is one leader, the team manager. His efforts to adapt during a game, and how he adapts to lead a team to victory, can be emulated in various aspects of our personal and professional lives.

Adaptation is Cooperation

A leader who is rarely known to change course will intimidate those that have alternate ideas.

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One of the best assets of a leader is to be adaptive. An adaptive leader, and one who is very clear about that up front, will always be better than one who does not adapt. A member of a team with an adaptive leader will not be shy to speak up when he feels like he has something that could be changed for the better. Consequently, a leader that is rarely known to change course will only intimidate those that have alternate ideas.

This type of adaptation only works, however, if everyone is adaptive. As part of the team, you have to be open to your leader’s suggestions, even if they may not work the best for you.

This is something that occurs regularly in baseball, especially late in a close game. A pitcher may have a particular type of pitch he likes to throw. But on a particular day when it’s not working well, especially against the opposing team’s best hitter, his manager will suggest going with an alternate pitch to adapt to the hitter.

The pitcher could be stubborn and risk a poor result, or be a cooperative teammate and adapt for the good of the whole team.

Adaptation Based on Experience

adaptation in baseball and business

Nearly all of our decisions are based on our past experience. Using those experiences, we alter a current approach to something new. We learn from our past, good and bad, and use that information to make decisions.

One common baseball strategy is when a manager calls for an intentional walk. This is done by pitching four balls out of the strike zone, so the batter has no chance of getting a hit and thus giving him a free pass to first base. The idea is the batter could do more damage given the chance to hit the ball vs. just putting him on first base via a walk.

In 2001, Barry Bonds set the single-season home run record, smacking 73 pitches into the deep seats. In the following three seasons he was intentionally walked, respectively, 68, 61 and 120 times; a total of 249 times! In comparison and to show how feared a swing from Bonds’ bat was, the most intentional walks by any other player in a season was 45 times.

It was pretty clear that managers were adapting to the past experiences others had with Barry Bonds.

Adaptation Through Delegation

It’s always been said that great leaders delegate; they don’t keep all the work to themselves. Great teams are built by deploying experts to the areas they exceed in. The leader is likely never the expert in everything … except leading.

At the professional level, sports teams have more than one coach. On a baseball team, the lead is the manager. But he has coaches that specialize in other aspects of the game. This includes coaches for hitting, pitching, running, an opposing team scout, etc. Collectively they are all part of the on-field, decision-making process.

The pitching coach knows the strengths and weaknesses of his pitcher and the scout knows the strengths and weaknesses of the hitter he is facing. Together they can decide on the best way to pitch to the batter. This information is relayed to the manager, who signals to an on-field coach, who signals to the catcher, who finally signals through a series of hand gestures to the pitcher exactly what to throw.

Finally, after all of that, one pitch is thrown … and the process repeats all over again.

If any one person in that chain is not adaptive, it undermines all the people and the steps that came before him. But through adaptation and trust, good things happen. Even when the result is negative, at least they participated together.

Baseball is more than just a bat swinging for a ball. And our lives and jobs are more than just what is on the surface. As in baseball, life is a series of hits and misses. But it’s how we react, and more importantly, adapt, to ensure we can always come out on top.

Featured Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash
Photo by Jordan Andrews on Unsplash

 

In business and in baseball there is a constant need for adaptation. How a major league baseball manager adapts to lead a team to victory, can be emulated in various aspects of our personal and professional lives.

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