The annual ritual of Major League baseball’s spring training has begun. And every major league baseball team starts spring training with the same goal: winning the World Series. Yet only two of the 30 teams will make it to the title series -- and only one will win.
But at spring training, each team starts fresh. New faces appear on the roster. There may be new faces on the coaching and training staff, too. All this means that the strategies that made sense last year may not be appropriate this year. That's the value of spring training: It allows coaches to evaluate each player’s skills and character anew, as they look for fast runners, strong fielding skills and consistent hitting.
Other on- and off-field team skills that coaches look for from the players include communication, teamwork, cooperation and leadership. It's not just about what any one player does when the ball comes to him; it's about how he "backs up" each play, to be in the right position should someone else's throw or catch go awry.
Only when the right players with the right skills and character come together as an effective team can consistent success and satisfaction happen.
Small businesses are different. Typically, they don’t have the luxury of an “off season.” Yet, your staff team would still benefit from "spring training," in the form of an annual “state-of-the-business” summit.
The first benefit to hosting your summit will be your opportunity to clarify about what you stand for, what your values are, what your strategies are and what your goals are. Shared values and common values are a vital foundation for any business.
Here’s how to tell if your business purpose, values, strategies and goals -- elements of your organizational constitution -- are clear in the hearts and minds of your team leaders and team members: Ask them. You’ll likely get responses that vary widely and aren't aligned or “in tune” with your desired direction.
The second benefit from spring training is the chance to ensure that everyone understands the best practices of individual contribution and citizenship and team contribution and citizenship. You’ve probably got some new players and coaches operating in your business. Veteran coaches and players, meanwhile, may have picked up some bad habits over the years.
You need to identify those vital few “best practices” for individual contribution, share them, practice them and ensure alignment to them. Everyone may have different job responsibilities and skill sets -- but you will need some “liberating rules” for how information is shared, how responsive you want people to be and so forth.
One retail client we knew created a valued behavior he described this way: “I enthusiastically greet everyone that comes within 10 feet of me at work.” This rule applied to peers, customers and strangers -- everyone who came into the store.
Another client created a “responsiveness rule” that stated that customer questions needed a personal response within eight hours. At this business, "customers" are external folks as well as internal peers. The result? Responsiveness improved within weeks.
Another consideration for spring training is that you also need to identify the “best practices” for team behaviors and share them, practice them and ensure alignment to them. When is the last time you held a fire drill in your company? Do people know where to go, how to get there, what to do -- immediately? What are the best practices for opening or closing your business? Do all employees know their roles and responsbilities?
You can see that there is a lot to cover at an annual spring training summit. If you try to cover it all in one day, you’ll probably need eight hours. Will you have to close the business for a day? Probably. Will you have to pay people to attend? Absolutely. But you’ll make up that investment within weeks due to better efficiency, higher employee engagement and better customer service.
Could you do quarterly two-to-three-hour mini-summits and have to close only for a portion of those days? That could definitely work.
You’ll “practice perfection” with individual and team skills throughout the year, while your formal summit will set the context for those vital few skills everyone must master.
So, don’t leave your team’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals to chance. Be intentional, with a "spring training" summit for your team.