Photo Courtesy of Adobe StockMy son Phil and I were enjoying our first-ever experience with Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. We flew out to Phoenix to catch our favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks and then the Chicago White Sox. It was a lot of fun. Everything and everyone was super relaxed. And why shouldn’t it be that way. The sun is shining. It’s 80 or 90 degrees (dry heat). The stands are full of happy, relaxed fans. And every day is a great day at the old ballpark. Oh, and more importantly, none of this counts. It’s all practice. If you strike out, no one remembers. If you make a mistake running the bases, you’ll get another chance tomorrow. If you give up a home run, you can laugh it off. And, everybody wants your autograph. As I sat by the pool early on Friday after a morning swim, it hit me. Those of us in leadership (and parenting) should be creating our own mini spring training’s whenever we can. As we seek to develop new leaders and allow people room for growth, we need to be intentional about creating safe places for people to fail (and succeed). We need to be intentional about creating places and opportunities for them to hone their skills and spread their wings without risking the farm or sinking the ship. All the major sports have a pre-season that works the same way. But one of the keys is that they are in a live environment, with a real opponent and real umpires. For some of the games there’s even real ESPN televising the game to real people all over the real world – like the one we were at on Thursday. Let’s take a look at three quick reasons why creating your own version of Spring Training will serve you and your customers very well.
Ways to Stretch1. It’s a chance to hone important skills. When we were at the game on Thursday we were talking with some of the folks around us. They mentioned that earlier that week Cub’s ace pitcher, Jake Arrieta, had walked a batter on purpose, just so he could work on pitching out of the stretch position. I could imagine a pitcher doing the same thing to work on his pick-off move to first base. You can’t do that during the regular season. Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t look very kindly on such a move, especially if that runner scored later in the inning. But, this was Spring Training. It’s the perfect time to do something like that. Because even if the guy does score, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any bearing on the team’s success. Spring Training is a time for base runners to work on stealing bases or figuring out whose arm they can challenge on trying to get an extra base. It’s a time for players to hone their hand-eye coordination and work on their judgment and decision-making. In a business setting you and I need to be looking for ways to do the same thing. We need to be intentional about creating situations where we, or other team members, can practice and hone our skills in areas where we already have a level of competence. Role playing is one good way to begin this process. But, eventually, you have to get people into a live environment or you will fall short of the full benefits. They need to get in front of real prospects or customers where the risks are real, but relatively low. 2. It’s a chance to try and develop new skills. Spring Training is the time for pitchers to work on new pitches they would like to add to their repertoire. It’s a time for batters to try out new or different aspects of their stance or their swing. It’s a perfect opportunity to play someone at a position they’ve never played before, just to see how they do. My son Phil is still pretty new to the world of social media. But, I am giving him a lot of opportunities to try new things. We talk through strategies, and often review his plans together, but I have given him the lead on this for our business because it is a relatively safe place for him to learn and try new things. The other thing we’ll be doing is creating opportunities for him to do Myers-Briggs training. This is one of the things he’s most excited about. Before, I send him out to work with our clients, we’ll be doing some dry runs with family members and people in our local community, where the risk of making mistakes is much lower. 3. It’s a chance to give the young kids a taste of the “big time.” All the big name players from the clubs have their usual number and name on the back of their jerseys. In baseball most of those numbers range from #1 to #59. But we saw a lot of younger guys wearing numbers like 83 and 98, and with no name at all on their backs. These are the newbies. Most of them will not make the big club, at least this year, but play for one of the team’s minor league affiliates. But the coaches think they have some promise or they wouldn’t be here at all. This is their chance to play on a major league field with and against major league caliber players. Many of them will get a chance to bat against an all-star or even an hall-of-fame-bound pitcher. By the same token, some of these young pitchers will get to face some of the best hitters in the game. They will spend time in the locker room, at the practice field, and even out on the town with some of guys they would call their heroes. It’s a chance to give them a taste of the real-deal, without all the pressure. In the same way we need to be taking some of our newbies and allowing them to work on projects with some of our veterans. You will likely need to make some sacrifices to do that. It’s going to cost you, but the investment is well worth it. I had a manager (client) recently who tried to put a younger worker with a seasoned foreman so the foreman could teach him some important skills. He got a lot of pushback from the Project Manager because of the extra time that would be charged to his job. In situations like that I think companies need to find a way not to penalize job costs (and related commissions) for training investments.
Your team members need safe places to fail – or succeed – in order to reach their full potential.