Conflict is a challenge everywhere, in every business. But rarely is it this public.
A recent headline in the St. Petersburg Times blared, "Effort issues incite angst." Our hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, this year's "Cinderella club" in Major League baseball, has a problem. It's a problem not unlike one of the most common issues faced in workplaces across the country and around the world. One of the key players on the team appears, no check that, is demonstrating, a lack of commitment to the team.
In short, rising star centerfielder B.J. Upton has been guilty of one of the cardinal sins in any level of sports: a lack of hustle. He failed to run hard to first base in a recent game. After the game, Ray's manager Joe Maddon met with Upton, discussed the situation, and gained assurances that this would never happen again. About a week later, Upton again failed to run full speed after hitting a ground ball that turned into an inning-ending double play. Maddon pulled Upton from the game, met with him again, and did not allow Upton to play in the next game. Once again, all parties, including Upton, agreed this type of effort was unacceptable. Several games later, Upton hit a line drive off the left field wall. As Upton jogged toward second base, the throw from the outfielder reached the first baseman who tagged Upton from behind for the out. The crowd booed. Upton walked off the field in embarrassment while Maddon and the Rays wondered how they could continue to count on him.
The conflict here is not just between Upton and his boss. Upton's behavior has had an impact on the entire team. The climate has been damaged and emotions are running high. What makes this situation so interesting is that the offending behavior was addressed immediately. And not just by the manager. Recent reports from the Rays indicate that several teammates have discussed the situation at length with Upton. And the team met as a whole with Upton apologizing and committing to be there for them as the Rays make their stretch run.
We're typically cautious about using too many sports examples and analogies. In this case, however, I believe there is a great lesson to be learned. When conflict arises because of the unsatisfactory work habits of a teammate, the behavior must be addressed swiftly. The integrity of team norms and climate is critical to the motivation of team members and ultimately the performance of the team itself. Handled well, events like this can be a galvanizing force for any team. Handled poorly or ignored, even the best of teams will suffer. Here's hoping the clear, quick steps taken by the Rays will pay off with a championship season.