The Nationals baseball team from Washington DC recently made history when they beat the Houston Astros to win the World Series. This is a team who had never progressed beyond the divisional series and were said to “lack true fans.” Despite having some of the best players in the game, the Nats had never lived up to expectations. In fact just six months before the World Series, they lost their best player and yet they are now World Champions.
Like many workplaces, a team is greater than the sum of its parts. Each team member must bring their own skills to the table, and actively contribute to create a greater whole. For the Nats, the way they worked together as a team and allowed their fans to really get behind them is one of the major reasons they won the World Series.
Here are a few of their key ingredients:
Gerardo Parra – “the culture changer”.
Gerrardo Parra chose the Baby Shark song as his walk out tune because his young children loved it. The Baby Shark song and dance grew legs (literally – think grown men and women in baby shark costumes) and completely took off. It was adopted by fans and team mates alike. So often, aspects of professional sport are contrived, but the Baby Shark movement evolved organically, and became like a secret language for the team and their fans. In the dugout, teammates would do baby shark actions as a way to communicate, show their support and rally together.
Barack Obama recognised the importance of team spirit in the Nats’ success. This was a team that enjoyed their work, had fun while doing it and gave their best every day.
Baseball writer Nick Stellini saw the Nats’ opposition, the Astros, as an uptight, purely results focused team. He summed the two sides up like this:
ASTROS: We have assembled the most terrifying pitching staff since the 90’s Braves. Our defense is stifling. Our offense is relentless.
NATS: Our entire stadium does the Baby Shark clap. We do Riverdance when we hit homers. Brian Dozier knows all the words to Calma.
In terms of employer brand – the Nats have won that one hands down.
See strength in difference
The 2019 Nats were the oldest team in the Majors but embraced it with “los viejos” which loosely translates as “the old geezers”. They combined this with some of the brightest young starts of the game (wunderkind Juan Soto – “The Chosen Juan” – turned 21 during the tournament.) It’s not about how old or young you are, it’s about embracing difference and bringing a team of complementary talents together to produce something special.
From 2006 to 2010, the nationals lost 91, 89, 102, 103 and 93 games respectively. Winning did not seem like a possibility. But a breakthrough came in 2012 which injected fresh optimism into the team. Through difficult games they kept their cool (during an especially tense game, one player – Anthony Rendon – was seen yawning in the batter’s box) and they were confident. As player Davey Martinez says of his team “these guys are confident… they don’t lose that confidence or that focus regardless of the situation”.
The Washington Post puts the Nats’ win down to “patience and belief, faith and fortitude.” An amazing journey of hope, teamwork and true grit led this team to become World Champions.