Yet Another Management Lesson from Red Sox Nation

Jan 24, 2019

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D.

During last season’s spring training, many pundits predicted the 2011 Boston Red Sox would win at least 100 games, be the best team in baseball, and win the World Series. Buoyed by the second highest payroll in all of baseball ($161 million), they had a strong roster (including 15 All-Stars), well-respected ownership, and a seasoned manager (Terry Francona) who had previously brought the team to two World Series victories. The team also had a terrific starting pitching rotation and had acquired two superstars in the offseason (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzales) to join their already strong lineup.

Surprisingly, the team began the season with a horrendous start, losing 10 of their first 12 games. But eventually they settled in, and over the next several months they led the league in hitting and possessed one of the best records in baseball.

After beating the Texas Rangers late in the season on September 3rd, the Sox were 8454. Although half a game behind the Yankees in the American League East, they had a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the wild card spot.

But then, inexplicably they went into a major tailspin. They won only six out of the remaining 24 games, one of the worst collapses in baseball history. On the final night of the 162-game season, they lost to the Baltimore Orioles, while Tampa Bay beat the Yankees, eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs. Francona was history two days later.

What happened?
Only after the terrible collapse did the truth slowly come out. There was:

  • A Lack of respect—Terry Francona, known as a “players manager,” was not respected by the players and had lost control of the team. For example, many players were out of shape and the starting pitchers drank beer and ate fried chicken in the clubhouse instead of watching the game from the dugout to cheer on their teammates.
  • A Lack of teamwork—Instead of supporting their teammates, the starting pitchers scowled at them on the mound if they failed to make a play in the field. The pitchers and position players had formed cliques that did not communicate with each other. Teammates rarely socialized with each other on off days.

In short, the Red Sox players were not a cohesive team. Was it due to their huge, guaranteed, long-term multi-million dollar contracts, the protection they received from their strong labor union, or their overconfidence in the strength of their roster? Probably all of these factors contributed to the problem. However, it is now clear that they played as individuals who lacked respect for both their manager and their teammates and did not work well together as a team.

The Problem
Many organizations today suffer from the same problems the Red Sox experienced last season:

  • Lack of teamwork—Employees form cliques of friends and coworkers that do not communicate well with others in the organization. Instead, they focus on their own self-interests (e.g., department goals, personal careers, or individual compensation) rather than the success of their coworkers and the organization.
  • Lack of respect—Employees do not show respect for their supervisors or for their coworkers.

What to Do
Here are eight things management can do to avoid these problems:

1. Set a good example. It starts at the top. If teamwork is to be strong within an organization, its senior management team must work well together. But unfortunately, our surveys of more than 60,000 employees show that only one out of two employees believes their senior team works well together. These negative working relationships among senior managers often mirror their way down throughout the organization. (The dysfunction seems to be continuing. After firing Terry Francona, it took more than 2 months for the Red Sox senior management team to replace him, while three other major league teams made the decision in less than two weeks after the season ended.)

2. Assess the level of teamwork in your organization. Most organizations do not have an accurate sense of whether teamwork is strong or weak, which groups are working well together, and which are not. (In the Red Sox’s case everyone was blind to the problem. Even the supposedly assertive in-your-face Boston media did not have a clue about what was going on in the Red Sox clubhouse, as confessed to me in e-mail exchanges I had with Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan, two well-respected sports writers for the Boston Globe.)

Conduct an anonymous employee survey to find out:
• Do employees feel respected by their coworkers (teammates)?
• Do employees feel others pitch in to help when needed?
• Are employees satisfied with the level of cooperation they receive from their coworkers (teammates)?
• Do employees feel excluded from cliques in the organization?
• Do employees respect their supervisor?

Armed with this survey information, management can take the appropriate corrective actions.

3. Provide feedback to the players about how well they are working with others.
Conduct an internal customer satisfaction survey. Ask employees to rate the level of service thet are receiving from each workgroup in the organization. Senior management can then use this information to identify workgroups that need to improve the service they provide to others. (This type of study in the Red Sox clubhouse probably would have clearly identified the estrangement between pitchers and position players.)

4. Promote a “what-can-I-do attitude.” When there are problems within organizations, employees typically point fingers and say they need more support from others. However, it is far easier for them to change their own behavior than to change the behavior of others. Employees need to focus on what they can do to improve relationships instead of blaming others. (Red Sox players needed to put the team first instead of their own individual statistics.)

5. Hire team players. When interviewing job applicants, ask for examples of how they have collaborated with others. Ask the same question to their references as well. (Had the Red Sox done this, they might never have signed Josh Beckett, John Lackey, or Daisuke Matsuzaka to long-term contracts.)

6. Actively encourage teamwork. Make certain that the lack of teamwork is not the elephant in the room that does not get discussed. Raise the level of awareness about teamwork in your organization by continually talking about it. Recognize and reinforce employees and work groups for good teamwork. (Terry Francona rarely held any team meetings, with the result that many things were avoided that should have been openly discussed.)

7. Evaluate employees on their team performance. Employees should be rated on how well they are meeting team goals and, most importantly, how well they are cooperating with others. (Instead of just rewarding wins, losses, ERA, and batting average, the Red Sox should base some of a player's compensation on his good teamwork with fellow players.)

8. End each meeting with reflections about teamwork. Some organizations begin or end each meeting by talking about safety or continuous improvement. This helps to focus everyone on what is important to the organization. Why not end each team meeting in your organization with some words and reflection about teamwork? Talk about how well the team worked together during the meeting, how well work groups are cooperating, and what can be improved. (Had Terry Francona done this, he might still be managing the Red Sox.)

An organization can have the best management team in place, the most talented players, plenty of money, and still fail. In order to succeed, people must work together as a team rather than as individuals and they must respect each other and management. Here's hoping the Red Sox, with the help of their new manager Bobby Valentine, can figure this out when the new season begins in April.

About the Author(s)

Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. is an industrial/organizational psychologist and founder and president of Discovery Surveys, Inc. ( and the Center for Independent Consulting ( He is the author of 30 Reasons Employees Hate their Managers (AMACOM) and, most recently, An Insider's Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice (AMACOM, 2010).