Intention, Interaction, Influence: Teamwork's Most Valuable Players

December 1, 2017 | Holly Pennebaker | HCI
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The Houston Astros became 2017 World Series Champions on Nov. 1, 2017

Last time I checked, it takes a defense of nine players, a solid offense, a rowdy dugout and one remarkable manager to win a baseball game.

And when the Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series on Nov. 1, it was those factors – plus teamwork -- that helped the Astros capture their first championship in a 56-year franchise history.

If you’re wondering why this story leads with the World Series because it happened weeks ago, hold tight. We’re about to talk about winning teams, which is never old news.

A strong start to Game 7, the Astros scored two runs in the first inning, the first earned with George Springer’s double to lead off and then scoring on a throwing error to first by Cody Bellinger. Houston added a second run on second baseman Jose Altuve’s groundout.


In the second inning, shortstop Marwin Gonzales doubled by finding a hole in right center, sending the ball to the wall. McCann advanced to third.

Pitcher Lance McCullers bypassed a bunt to send a groundout to second, which drove in catcher Brian McCann and made it an early 3-0.

In the top of the second, Springer shot a two-out, two-run homer over the left-center wall to make Houston’s lead 5-0.

Everything went right for the Astros and they held the lead through nine, with the Dodgers’ single earned run in the sixth.

As a team, the Astros absolutely went to work doing their jobs - to win baseball games. 

So what can us office athletes learn from these victorious, professional athletes? Collectively, we also want everything to go right and to feel like champions. Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no crying in the office, either.

If your organization wants its employees to be effective, each team has to put in work and follow through with performance expectations.

No player -- not even the MVP -- can win a baseball game, let alone a World Series championship, single handedly. A team has to cover the bases, the outfield, the plate and the mound, and do so in a strategic way that’s designed to optimize collaboration and output.

Companies have their fair share of bases to cover, too.

So how does a team become a championship team?

According to HCI research, teams designed with winning in mind exercise three key values: intention, interaction and influence.

READ MORE: Moving Teams Forward with Clarity, Leadership and Empathy

HCI found that companies with the highest-performing workgroups that achieve optimal outcomes have strong intention, interaction and influence, and they’ve hit some pretty impressive homeruns along the way. 

First things first, let’s set our intention.

Let’s make sure our team is designed to win – we’re diverse in our skills and capabilities, we complement each other as colleagues and together, we’re stronger than we would be on our own.

What did we show up to do?

“When I got here no one talked about winning,” A.J. Hinch said in his ALCS Game 7 postgame interview before heading into the final series.

That was only two seasons ago.

“2017 we’re going to the world series.”'

Hinch said the Astros organization had to establish new standards, put in some serious hard work and create synergy among not only the ball players, but also among the office staff, clubhouse and ownership.

“We really are connected because we all have a common goal, and that’s to win,” he said. “And I don’t care whether you’re old school, new school, analytical, traditional, it’s about winning at this level.”

Designing a winning baseball team may have happened in two years under Hinch’s management, but all leaders must make sure they have a clear, specific purpose in mind along with the right mix of skills – the right prep to avoid a big pitfall.

In HCI’s Talent Pulse research, we found a big loss can happen when leaders don’t see a strong connection between the work being done, what’s happening as a result of that effort and how it reflects the team’s strategy.

Leaders must break through barriers like unclear expectations of team members, useless delegation of tasks and wasted time among others.

Once the carefully-designed team takes the field, they put a special set of skills to work: interaction – training that ensures positive team dynamics and productivity.

It’s not about one player highly performing in their role. It’s about the training and ‘team mindset’ that motivates every player to perform to the best of their ability in order to support the organization’s goals as a whole.

Let’s revisit the top of the second in Game 7. Springer’s homerun came after Josh Reddick’s out, which happened with two runners in scoring position. As Springer approached the plate he knew he could carry his guys home – or - add another out for his team. He hit a homer on a full count, and brought the Astros to 5-0 after just three hits. Springer was named MVP of the World Series.

Photo courtesy AP Sports on Twitter

To have five players score was a result of pure teamwork -- each man working the diamond and advancing only when their teammates helped them to do so.

A.J. Hinch credits the chemistry in the clubhouse.

“It’s the players’ job to develop the chemistry,” he said. “We’ve got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that’s to be your best every day.”

If you’re a part of a winning workforce, then I’d say you’ve got a good thing going, too. You feel like what you do matters and that your colleagues can and will depend on you. Team effectiveness is a priority for senior leaders, and so you’ve scored buy-in from senior leaders that’s helped management organize teams, and provided resources to manage conflict and reward teamwork.

In fact, HCI research found that in companies where employees define their work by their individual role rather than the relationship to the team, productivity and team outcomes are sacrificed. Plus, less than 25 percent of HCI’s survey respondents said that individual performance is valued over team performance; 68 percent said effective team leadership is an important part of business success.

Teams must do a good job of interacting and use many different tools to do so. It doesn’t matter what your team’s task might be, but it’s the approach and strategy that leaders and teammates have to get right.

Now that you’ve celebrated a win (or seven), remember the importance of effective leadership that helped guide your team into the championship spotlight.

In his two-year tenure, Hinch quite literally managed to lead the Astros to their first playoff appearance since 2005, and in 2017, to a club record of 50 wins in 74 games, the first division title in 16 years and the first-ever World Series victory.

Through wins and losses (like in 2016 when the Astros’ 84-78 record didn’t make the playoffs), Hinch had to model effective communication, maintain accountability and guide group process.

“There’s some guys in the clubhouse that were here during the build and then obviously we’ve gotten close along the way with the 2015 playoffs,” he said, “and then feeling good about our team last year, falling short.”

The ability to bounce back is key for highly-effective leadership, as Hinch didn’t let the 2016 downfall keep his team from celebrating the most positive outcome of all in 2017.

“I have a great appreciation for what it takes to run this journey … but it’s not easy,” he said. “This is a grind and getting through so many ups and downs regardless of how the season goes is awesome when you get rewarded with the chance to win a championship.”

Take a moment to reflect upon how the year has gone for your company, and what role leaders played in guiding you through wins and losses. Were leaders resilient, and were they able to impact growth and success? HCI survey participants who perceive their team leaders as highly effective are more likely to see positive outcomes for their organizations. 

HCI found that measuring those outcomes is best done by informing continuous improvement with teams, but also through feedback, and reviews and discussions that come after various projects are complete – all which show a leader how to most effectively influence team behaviors.

Organizations that report the most solid talent and organizational outcomes and positive business results, according to HCI research, put all three ‘I’s’ in their effective teams: intention, interaction and influence.

Without which, the organization could end up way out in left field. 

Photo courtesy Houston Astros on Twitter

Intention, interaction and influence take the field with winning teams that load the bases, slide into home and then pass around the ultimate, 30-pound trophy.

And c’mon, who doesn’t love a little confetti flying through the air?