Why Great Teams Matter, or How Workplace Culture Carries the Day

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Oct 21, 2014

The San Francisco Giants are going to baseball’s World Series for the third time in five years. And a big reason why is the team’s workplace culture — a culture that organizations beyond baseball can learn from.

The Giants are a “teamy” team, one with heaps of solidarity, ego-sacrifice and brotherly love. That workplace climate, sometimes called “chemistry,” has helped make the Giants a talent magnet, prepared them to overcome major adversity, and propelled them to their sport’s biggest stage again.

“We’ve just got a bunch of guys who have come together,” Giants third base coach Tim Flannery said after the team won their National League pennant series over the St. Louis Cardinals. “And there’s something magic that happens in this clubhouse.”

Magic, or just great workplace chemistry?

Yes, it does seem magical. (And full disclosure: the Giants are my home team.) But observers around the country agree there is something uncanny about this team.

They were the underdog in their matchups against the Washington Nationals and then the Cardinals. And they won in unconventional, seemingly lucky ways. Like two bad plays in one inning by the Cardinals’ first baseman. Like a modest bunt — rather than a soaring home run — sealing the win in another game against the Cardinals.

But that “magic” is less mysterious than it seems. It is a combination of experience, collective purpose and confidence that has allowed the individual Giants to keep calm and carry on as opponents cracked under playoff pressure. It is the feeling of being part of something bigger that has always fueled high performance by human beings.

Crucial to the chemistry is Giants Manager Bruce Bochy. He’s even keeled and savvy. But not just that. He takes pains not to overwork his players.

The players themselves construct the culture as well. Right fielder Hunter Pence famously exhorted his teammates in 2012 to “play for each other.” And that intensity came with playfulness, as the Giants would pogo around together in the dugout and shower each other with sunflower seeds.

Clearly, culture is an important weapon

“There’s a reason we’re all here, and it’s a culture that gets created,” Giants’ CEO Larry Baer said after the Cardinals series. “Everybody cares about each other in this organization.”

That culture helped this year’s Giants overcome the loss of two of their best players, pitcher Matt Cain and center fielder Angel Pagan. It also has drawn key talent to the Giants organization. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson turned heads by joining the Giants when other teams were considered better bets to win the World Series this year. Michael Morse, another key veteran, also was thrilled to throw in his lot with the Giants and their chemistry.

At this point, it should be clear what a weapon culture is. The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs have arguably been the most successful professional sports team over the past 15 years. A cohesive, team-first culture where the best players like Tim Duncan humbly cheer on their teammates is central to their five championships during this stretch.

But it’s not just sports teams that win with the right culture. The evidence keeps piling up that culture, rather than just star talent, is the secret to sustained success.

Working as a team really foes pay off

For instance, consider the Great Rated! People’s Picks: 20 Great Workplaces in Technology. In our recent study of 127 technology firms, the leading companies stood out from the pack for having higher employee survey scores on statements such as “There is a ‘family’ or ‘team’ feeling here,” “We’re all in this together,” and “You can count on people to cooperate.”

Among our list winners are the world-beating tech firms Google and Twitter. The highest-scoring company on the list of large tech workplaces, business software firm Workday, saw revenue jump 74 percent in its most recent quarter to $186.8 million. And its stock has outperformed the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indices during the past two years.

In other words, teamy-ness pays off — on the baseball diamond and in the business world.

The San Francisco Giants, headed once again to the World Series, have a motto that puts the culture-success equation in simple terms: Together We’re Giant.