These days, you seldom hear a star discuss the importance of teamwork. Typically, the “celebrity” drones on and on about his greatness without a mention of how others helped his organization’s success.

I presumed this would be the case with Baltimore Orioles’ Baseball Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who was chosen to deliver the keynote address at a trucking industry event that I attended. Was I ever wrong. Robinson’s overall message was, “Winning comes from teamwork; from working together toward the same clear goals — the team’s goals.”

Imagine the results if more organizations took that message to heart and incorporated it into their culture.

A most accomplished baseball player, Robinson knows a lot about what it takes to win. He played in 18 consecutive All-Star games, holds numerous Major League Baseball (MLB) records and honors, and was elected to the league’s All Century Team.

Robinson has an abundance of knowledge about teamwork. He played with the Orioles from his MLB debut in 1955 until he retired as a player in 1977. During that time, the Orioles had the best record in all of baseball.

In his presentation, Robinson noted that in business, as in sports, there are many benefits to be had from teamwork. By members of a team contributing their individual knowledge and skills, the collective whole becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts.

“A team may have a number of superstars, but if they don’t work together toward a common vision, they will not be as successful as if all members of the team worked together,” he said.


Team spirit

Robinson said that as he visits organizations across the nation, he “can see the difference a team spirit makes. You can tell rather quickly when company people are not cooperating with one another, or if there is tension or bad feelings.

“This is not as good situation,” he continued. “Poor teamwork can prevent effective final performance and prevent team members from gaining satisfaction in being a member of a team and the organization, keeping this cycle going. On the other hand, in those organizations where everyone is getting along and working well together and toward a common vision, things run smoothly and efficiently, with commendable productivity and results.”

According to Robinson, some key elements help to create a winning team. Obviously, he said, team members have to be carefully selected for the jobs they are going to perform. Then, team members must do the following: have a clear understanding of what is to be accomplished; have a solid knowledge of their various duties and responsibilities for making this happen; and be dedicated and committed to achieving the team vision.

What’s more, Robinson said, team members need to receive coaching and must be made to feel that they are an integral part of the team.

Companies that have developed a teamwork culture get rid of the “us versus them” environment, which is not conducive to business success, Robinson noted. A cohesive team of people who constantly work together continue to improve at what they do, he said.

With increased employee involvement and commitment come reduced conflict and absenteeism; greater creativity and innovation; increased efficiency and productivity; fewer errors; and an organization with better adaptability and flexibility. He said all of this contributes to an improved bottom line.

When a team works well together, there is more collaboration, Robinson pointed out. For the sake of the team, people willingly invest themselves in the team effort and help each other to perform better.


Analyze defeats

“Regardless of how well a team works together, you can’t win every day,” Robinson said. “You have to know how to bounce back and persevere. You have to have confidence in your ability, and you have to maintain a winning attitude.”

Whenever a loss is sustained, it should be analyzed to see what went wrong, he said. “Learn from your experiences so you know how to avoid the same situation the next time,” Robinson said. “Keep in mind that no defeat is permanent.”

Robinson concluded that in sports, as in business, success comes from hard work and a lot of practice. “Winning is doing better today than you did yesterday,” he noted.

In speaking with Robinson on his way out (and getting his autograph), I asked him if he could identify certain traits or abilities that made him such a standout baseball player and team member. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “I had a passion for the game to the point of obsession.”

That brought to mind something I had heard him say in an interview some time ago, which I wrote down and have posted in my office: “If you’re not practicing, somebody else is, somewhere, and he’ll be ready to take your job.” BI

Are you a manager or a leader?

A big difference exists between being a manager and being a leader. A manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. A leader’s job is to inspire and motivate. No organization can rise above the quality of its leadership.

Traits that made for a successful leader was the topic of an industry address by Donald R. Knauss, chairman and chief executive officer of the Clorox Co. During his career, he has established himself as a change agent, bringing entire organizations with him.

Leadership is about rallying people to a better future, he said. He outlined five key traits of successful leaders, which are as follows: integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion and humility.

Focus on those five traits and you “can truly inspire people and organizations” to be productive and valuable, Knauss said.

He brought his address to a close by mentioning baseball great Jackie Robinson — the first African American athlete to play major league baseball. Knauss noted that the epitaph on Robinson’s tombstone had nothing to do with baseball. It reads: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

“That is what leadership is all about at the end of the day,” Knauss concluded. BI