Teamwork and Leadership Lessons from the Little League World Series

This year, 2022, is the 75th Anniversary of the Little League World Series.  After a COVID cancellation in 2020 and the United States only competition in 2021, a full roster of 10 U.S. and 10 International Teams are competing this year.  In late August, the Little League World Series presents outstanding examples of athletic competition, drama, the exceptional talent of 11 and 12-year-old players from around the world, and sportsmanship at the highest level.  Interestingly, there are some fascinating lessons for teams and team leaders in addition to the on-the-field performances.  There’s even a good message for job seekers on effectively presenting their team accomplishments on their resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and during interviews.

One insightful perspective comes from a source that is a little surprising:  the rules of Little League Baseball.  In most organizations, the “rules” are often the constraints that irritate employees – and lead to “discipline” if they’re broken.  Human Resources may love rules, but they frequently don’t even understand the difference between policies – which can be “broken” – and rules – which should never be broken.  Is there an employee or customer anywhere that hasn’t run into the dreadful “it’s just policy?”

Yet, for most people there’s an environment where rules are not only tolerated, they’re recognized as critical to success.  In the world of games, there are rules that define the very nature of the game and its success:

  • “Go Directly to Jail – Do Not Collect $200” in Monopoly
  • Queen of Spades in “Hearts”
  • “No Trump” in Bridge

In Little League Baseball, there are several unique rules.  They are not part of baseball at other organized or professional levels.  They include:

  • Starters can re-enter.
  • Playing multiple positions
  • A player may pitch a maximum of 6 innings per week.
  • Designated runner (Once per inning/Once per player)
  • Everybody must play – everybody must bat.

The pitching rules are even more constraining with maximum pitch counts and prescribed days of rest.

Thoughts for Leaders and Managers

I have challenged managers in predominantly customer service settings to consider the implications of their scheduling where associates are working long daily hours and days without breaks.  There is much written about stress in the workplace.  I’ve known scores of employees who enjoyed their “customer contact” jobs in small doses but felt stressed when it was either constant or extended over long shifts.  I revert back to thoughts about baseball where teams switch from offense to defense during every single inning.  It’s no wonder that “gamification” is becoming more and more popular in business applications.

Employees performing multiple “roles” is nothing new.  Many jobs have multiple roles  But it’s still fairly common to keep people assigned, locked-in, to a particular job or department.  In baseball, however, at all levels, the value of the “utility player” is recognized.  In Bridge, the “no-trump” hand is considered the most challenging game to win – and therefore offers the most points.  A classic organizational management technique, seldom used outside of initial training, is “job rotation.”  Today’s complex organizations should prompt them to consider revitalizing this process.  It would benefit both the organization and the individuals selected.

Does the “designated runner” rule key any possibilities?  Why not recognize that in certain situations, you should call on a “specialist” to perform in a specific situation?  It’s not in any way demeaning to the person (who by the way just got a hit) and it doesn’t remove the player from the game.  It’s an outstanding example of teamwork.

The Little League rule of “Everyone must play – everyone must bat” has an interesting connection to hiring.  The Little League teams that play in their World Series attract the best players in their region, in their countries.  The coaches identify and select young talent, talent that’s capable of playing multiple positions well, talent that excels in at least one, perhaps two or more positions.  There are star performers based on their season performance.  At the same time, other players often have the opportunity to “star” in a game – and they often do.  The rules of the game give everyone the opportunity to excel.

The Ultimate Value of Teamwork

It’s not mentioned in the “rules”, but the teams in the Little League World Series display the ultimate in competitiveness and sportsmanship.  In a regional game the week before this year’s World Series started, a batter hit by the opposing pitcher approaches him on the mound, with a hug and “you’re doing great!”  Teams rally around any player hurt, on their own team or not.

The players definitely celebrate their individual and team successes for individual at-bats and games.  But they also acknowledge the achievements of their opponents.  Teams from Asia bow to the opposing teams, their fans and their families after a game.  Unique to Asian participants, NO!  This is the same gratitude expressed by the bows of Broadway casts and hundreds of performers in appreciation for attending and applauding a performance.  While it’s commonplace to be thanked for placing an order, e.g., in a restaurant, and it’s even common to be thanked upon payment by the server, I’m always impressed by the business that also thanks me when I’m leaving the building.  I’m currently shopping at a relatively new grocery store and enjoying a favorite restaurant in my neighborhood.  In both cases, I often lose track of the number of times I’m greeted or thanked.  On the other hand, I’m unimpressed when I walk out of a theater or a store, and it feels like no one knows I was even there.

And for Job Seekers

While the messages from Little League Baseball are primarily for leaders and managers, there is a message for job seekers.  Job seekers should express gratitude to potential employers – even if they don’t get the job or even the second interview.  More importantly, the Little League nature of teamwork is something job seekers should consider.  Emphasize the multiple roles played on a team in your resume or during an interview.  Ask for opportunities to take on additional roles in your current position.

Leaders, managers, and job seekers can learn a lot about outstanding performance from the exceptional performance of these 11 and 12-year-old Little Leaguers.

About the author

Jim Schreier is a leadership/career coach and a management consultant with a focus on management and leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at www.212-Careers.com

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