Is Your Agency Playing Football or Baseball?

Not All Teams Are Created Equal

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Tom Martin
Tom Martin
At Zehnder as in most companies, we talk a lot about working as teams. Of late, that conversation has been a very popular topic of the Zehnder management team. So I thought it might be interesting to consider what it really means to be a "team."

I think we'd all classify football and baseball as team sports. However, if you break them down, you see that while technically true, baseball is a far less of team sport than football.

In football the players run plays and must work in concert, coordinating their efforts, movements and in many cases timing in order to create success. For instance in football, all 11 players have specific assignments each and every time the ball is snapped. If each person does his job, the play works and yardage is gained or maybe even points scored. But if even one person misses an assignment or fails to accomplish his task at the appointed time (think pulling guards leading a sweep), the whole play can fall apart even if the other 10 players performed perfectly. Even more important, though, in football players can sense when a play is falling apart and improvise (often in a predesigned manner) to try and help the player who is in trouble. The best example of this is when a quarterback is scrambling and you see a receiver break off a route and come back to his quarterback in an effort to get open. While we'd like to think that teams with low sack counts have great offensive lines, often times it's just that they have smart receivers and a mobile quarterback.

I think when we in the corporate world speak of working in teams, it is this highly coordinated, integrated actions process that we seek to create. We want folks working together according to a plan but also stepping in to help each other when that plan encounters a problem or two -- even if that means doing something outside the assignment on that play.

And that is where baseball is very different from football. In baseball, there isn't any coordination. Instead, there is a series of individual actions or performances that are independent of one another. As the pitcher releases the pitch there is nothing the left fielder can do to alter the upcoming outcome (ball, strike or hit). He can only stand ready to do his job if and when he's called upon to do so. Likewise, should the batter hit the ball, there is little the poor catcher, pitcher or any other player can do but watch and hope that the left fielder catches it. Now, as a team, each player's individual actions do roll up to create a total team result. And individual performances can carry or kill a team's chances for victory (just like in advertising), but there just isn't the same coordinated set of actions that I think most of us think of when we utter the word team.

Which got me to thinking about what kind of team we're fielding at Zehnder and what kinds of teams we're competing against. Are we playing baseball, where each player on our team does his or her job in isolation? Do the account folks write the brief and then hand it off to the creative team? Are our creative teams creating the work and simply giving it back to the account team?

Or are we playing football where each and every player has a role, but they're working in concert to execute a play designed to achieve an outcome. And where, more importantly, if something goes wrong during the execution or the plan, the members of the team can adjust what they're doing mid-play to help the player in danger of failing to execute his assignment and maybe turn what could be a disaster into what could be a big score.

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Tom Martin is president of Zehnder Communications, with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He can be reached at Tom.Martin@z-comm.com. Or follow him at @TomMartin.

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