The Tampa Rays can teach us a few valuable business lessons.

How about those Tampa Rays? Yes, I know they didn’t win the World Series, but as American League Champions, it’s still a remarkable move from worst to first!

Just so you know, I root for the Yankees. I root for the Diamondbacks. But this year, I wound up rooting for the Rays because it’s a wonderful story.

Why would I ask for your valuable reading time to talk about sports? Because this is not about sports, it’s about the business lessons to be learned. To me, the Rays accomplishment embodies a focus on three key things:
  • Creating a positive team vision.
  • Creating a positive team culture.
  • Creating a positive team motto.
The Rays needed a new vision and that vision would need to change the dynamic of losing to a dynamic of winning. And that takes positive thinking. I notice from all the interviews I’ve seen of the Rays’ coach that he embodies positive thinking.

Then the Rays took a bold step over the last few years and got rid of some very talented players. They got rid of them because these players were talented but also troublesome. They brought skills, but they also brought disruption and kept the culture of losing in place.

The Rays set about to create a positive team culture because they realized that team culture brings success or failure. And the culture is either getting better or it’s getting worse. It never stays the same!

To crystallize the new team vision and team culture, the Rays created a motto to head them in this new direction. The phrase “9=8” is brilliant! The point was that nine players, playing smart and hard every nine innings, would make the Rays one of eight teams in the 2008 playoffs.

Joe Maddon, the manager, broke it down to something simple that everyone could buy into. Now the goal was clear, and how to get there was clear.

Your Team Vision

You’ll want a team vision that inspires people to win, but in a way that benefits the customer, the company and themselves. Have an ambitious goal that engages everyone. But think about this: If you’ve experienced nothing more than failure in business after awhile, you learn to accept it as, “What can I do about it?” or “I’ve tried and it’s not my fault.”

The hard truth is that a negative outcome is a direct result of ongoing and never-ending negative thinking, beliefs and actions (or inaction), just as a positive outcome is highly related to ongoing and never-ending positive thinking, beliefs and actions.

The easy part is getting to choose which outcome you want. The hard part is making sure you’re always leading and managing people by setting the right example of choosing the positive road to improvement and putting in the effort. It’s so easy to dwell on all that is negative in the world today that you can’t see a positive team vision that will take you and your team to your goals. It’s especially hard in these times when you’re constantly bombarded by what’s going on in the stock market, and hearing and reading about all the doom and gloom everywhere.

Your Team Culture

Like the Rays of the past, there is a losing culture or the wrong culture. And that’s why an unsuccessful contractor needs to change the team culture. Contractors all too often hire talented people with bad attitudes. But unlike the Rays, they’re not willing to start over with new people with good attitudes, and provide them the skills and coaching they need to be successful.

Sometimes you need to shake things up. Even a name change can be necessary! Hey, the Rays dropped the name “Devil.” So what are you willing to change to shake things up? The lesson to be learned is when you tolerate bad behavior from aging veterans or any prima donnas on your staff, it sends the wrong message to the rest of the team and the culture of success as a team is unattainable.

Being unwilling to correct poor conduct and poor performance of some players breeds a bad culture. And playing favorites only makes a bad situation worse because business runs like a team.

Growing up, I hated cutting the grass. I would have hated it even more if it was my job exclusively while my brothers were, say, playing baseball. Bad things happen when there isn’t strong leadership from the top of the family because it empowers the kids to run wild, with disastrous results for everyone. Our kids are our staff, and I say that in the most positive way.

Creating a great team culture can be your one and only true competitive advantage. The harsh reality is that any of your competitors can get an office like yours, trucks like yours, marketing like yours and pretty much do whatever else you do. But they can’t copy your great team culture.

The fact is, most contractors I speak to have a team culture that epitomizes “It’s us vs. them.” It’s like a war is going on. Both management and staff are busy fighting with each other and no one is happy. You need to create a culture of teamwork and the first step is to end the war. Learn to love your staff; train them, coach them, help them be successful and let those who don’t want to be part of a team go somewhere else.

Your Team Motto

Your team motto is what will galvanize in everyone’s mind a simple but clear idea and direction toward your team vision. Make it short so everyone can remember it. Put it everywhere. And repeat it as often as you can.

A positive team vision, team culture and team motto can overcome all obstacles. I know this to be true because I have clients right now who are taking a lousy economy where people want us to work for peanuts, but they still want crackerjack results. These owners are turning this lemon economy into lemonade.

And with a great team vision, culture and motto, you also can go from worst to first. And if you’re already good, you can become great.