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Tommy Lasorda and Cultural Momentum

Although it is politically correct to talk about teams and group efforts with gusto, if you take that rhetoric to the extreme, you end up denying individuals some of their basic needs at work. So, you need to make sure that you are giving individual group members some individual responsibility, which will enable each person to define their role, to tie their work to the broader agenda, and allow each individual to realize, and have some degree of control over, their successes and failures. Talk of teamwork is nice but it is by no means the only key to leading a successful group over the long-term.

Remember Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (1976-1996). Lasorda is famous for saying, “My heart bleeds Dodger blue.” Put in a more academic context, Tommy Lasorda’s identity was intertwined with the Dodger organization. He didn’t simply identify with being a major league baseball manager. He was the manager of the L.A. Dodgers. Lasorda tried to create a community where the Dodger players also “bled Dodger blue.” It was that sense of community, in part, that pundits pointed to as a key to the Dodgers’ highly successful string of world championships and World Series appearances between 1976 and 1996. Lasorda was able to keep the players on his side by reinforcing their common affiliation with the organization.

Lasorda understood that free agency was flourishing in major league baseball in the 1970s and 1980s. New players would arrive each year and some well-liked and valuable players might leave. Lasorda didn’t try to create a collective in the sense that each person grew inextricably close to one another to the point that specific players might not be able to play well without each other. That would have been a disaster for the organization and for Lasorda’s ability to effectively lead the group over the long-term. Instead, Lasorda focused on the Dodger brand (uniform) as the unifying source of affiliation, where being part of the organization was, in effect, being a valuable part of the community and leaving the organization was unfortunate, but not crippling to the team’s sense of community. 

When establishing cultural momentum your best bet is to recognize the individual within the group.  Think of a jazz band. There is a pretty set protocol on stage.  The group gets up there and they play the melody or the “head” of any given tune. Then, in turn, each does their solo, first the bass, then the saxophone, then the piano, then the drums.  Then they come back together and play the head again.  There is something in this image that is a lesson in sustaining momentum.  The individual gets credit but the group doesn’t lose its identity. Within the parameter of the collective, there is opportunity for creative rejuvenation and breathing room.

In managing the organizational culture for momentum, you may want to pump up the collective. Talk about “we.”  Keep on heralding, “Together, we’re moving forward.”  The collective will spur them on and give them strength and courage. The collective is where momentum lives in its most mystical sense:  the sports team, the political party, the cutting-edge R & D group.  That sense of collective demands loyalty and adherence to norms and expected behaviors. Because of the danger of taking the group too seriously, the fear of criticism, and the inertia of groupthink, the collective may be the very place where momentum dies.  They won’t be on your side because it all became too much about the “we.”  In sustaining momentum, a managerially competent leader pumps up the collective but never forgets the individual.

(excerpt from my 2006 book KEEP THEM ON YOUR SIDE: Leading And Managing for Momentum)

 DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley


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