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A True Story About Teams and Life

Aug 29, 2022


Many years ago, I played in competitive softball leagues. I loved the sport. But this story is not about me. Our team was playing in a tournament and had reached the championship game. We only had enough people to field a team. Then it happened. One of our players was hurt and had to leave the game to seek medical attention. We played a person down for a few innings. Then my oldest son, Nick, showed up at the field. He came to watch me but quickly found himself on the field playing since he was an official part of the team roster. Now Nick was not what I would call the most athletic person. He was a large person and not really into sports that did not have a game controller involved. We were 2 runs down going into the last inning. It was our final chance at bat. We already had 1 out when I got a base hit. Then the batter behind me in the line up was walked and that put 2 of us on base. And as things worked out, it was Nick's turn at bat. As a father and someone who loves his kids, I was worried how this would play out. Would Nick make the final outs to lose the game? How would that make him feel? Would the team be disappointed or discouraged after a season of hard work?

But then something WONDERFUL happened!

The team captain called a timeout and had all of us gather around Nick. Everyone was smiling and encouraging him. They told him that no matter what happened, they were excited that he was the one at bat. Nick's whole expression changed. Instead of fearful he became confident. Instead of anxious he became excited. The team had given him the freedom to give his best effort, no matter the outcome. I saw a very different person approach the plate after that time out. Determined is the best word I can use to describe his changed demeanor. The other team was doing their best to rattle him, to make him feel the pressure, to get him to doubt himself. Then it happened. The next pitch approached the plate and Nick took a mighty swing at the ball...and CONNECTED! In all my years of playing competitive softball, I have never seen a ball hit the way Nick hit that ball. It was a line drive that just kept rising. Up and up it went without reaching the apex. It cleared the center field fence by at least 15 feet and it was still rising! We won the game and the championship in the most unlikely manner. The least athletic team member, the one with the least experience, had hit a walk off home run. What a day!

I have learned many lessons from that day:

  • We are all capable of more than we think.
  • Showing up matters.
  • We are better as a team when we act like a team.
  • The emotional environment we create has a huge impact on our success.
  • Enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. Nick passed away a few years ago unexpectedly...and I miss him. 


Why did I share this story with you? For the past 6 weeks, we have focused on the 6 trends of high performing teams. If you look closely, you will see many of these elements in the story I shared. Just for a quick review, here they are:

Most of this data comes out of a 15 year study by Six Seconds.

Emotions in the Workplace

The blog preceding this focused on the increased emotional complexity in the workplace. Many people misunderstand the role of emotions in the workplace. I am right there with you in not wanting huge amounts of drama, but that is only one facet of how emotions impact people at work.

If you look closely at what is at the heart of the 6 trends of high performing teams, it is clear that emotions play a large role in each of these. Trying to remove emotions from our work efforts actually diminishes the effectiveness of the effort while reducing engagement. Engagement...the emotional commitment that someone has to the team and to the effort.

At the most basic level, emotional drivers are what makes the difference between a high performing team and an average performing team.

Feel free to disagree with that...but please keep an open mind to what I am going to share with you. Does the team need the right skill sets, sure. Does the team need the right resources, absolutely. However, all things being equal, the difference between a high performing team and other teams is the emotional environment they live in.

In high performing teams, the emotional environment includes:

  • A sense of belonging and safety (psychological safety)
  • Excitement about the work
  • Consistent satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment
  • Enjoyment of the team and the effort
  • High levels of trust
  • Recognition and feelings of reward
  • A sense of self and team worth

Every one of these is an emotion or a group of emotions.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you or someone you know performed way above their normal capabilities? That is the story of my son, Nick. It may very well be your story as well. We all have many things to overcome. Challenges face us every day. The difference between likely success or failure resides in how we approach those challenges. This is not some false positive thinking mantra, it is a genuine understanding of what mental and emotional preparation means to outcomes.

The Intentional Team

High performing teams do not get that way by luck. It is an intentional process of focusing on the right things, preparing for what is ahead, and then everyone on the team understanding expectations and putting in the effort. High performing teams are high accountability teams. What can you do to empower your team to be a high performing team?

  • Create and sustain the right emotional environment.
  • Build a framework and practices of accountability.
  • Reflect and celebrate wins.
  • Be a learning and growing team.
  • Find ways to bring joy into the team environment.
  • ALWAYS be building trust.

For more on team health and vitality, check out:

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