Sports, at the end of the day, should be fun--even in the professional ranks. After all, they do play “games” every night, don’t they? The difference is their games often come within a high pressure environment where winning is the primary goal. There’s not one blueprint for how to win.
However, there are creative ways to win and inspire along the way. Like repurposing a children’s song as a rallying cry, for example. So, how exactly did “Baby Shark” change the “company culture” of the Washington Nationals?
The Nats started the 2019 season with a 19-31 record. They had a 3% chance of making the playoffs at that point. Their franchise player, Bryce Harper, had left via free agency before the season and the team was still trying to carve out a new identity around the up-and-coming players on the roster. There was little to be optimistic about given their early season performance.
Enter “Baby Shark.”
Gerardo Parra, who was signed by the Nationals in May after he was cut by the San Francisco Giants, was in a major slump. After cycling through reggaeton, merengue, and hip-hop hits, he decided to switch things up with a new walk-up song on June 19. He decided on “Baby Shark” because his 2-year-old daughter loves the song.
Parra went on to have a great game, the Nats pulled out a victory against Harper’s Phillies, and the team proceeded to go on an unthinkable run to not only make the playoffs but win the franchise’s first championship since moving to Washington, D.C.
What makes the run more remarkable is how the “Baby Shark” craze and this affable backup outfielder changed the Nat’s culture. Parra’s positive attitude and sense of humor inspired teammates and fans alike. His antics reminded his teammates about the importance of finding joy in your job.
The team went on to use “Baby Shark” gestures to signal hits, something fans took to quickly and mimicked. They hosted dugout dance parties for each other after home runs, were vocal in their praise of one another, and picked each other up in the face of adversity. And now, the Nationals won the World Series after years of disappointing early exits from the playoffs.
So what can we learn from the Nats and Baby Shark for your company culture?
Incorporate play into your workplace
All work and no play...well, you get the point. It’s important to break up the work day with something that will energize the team. Whether it’s an impromptu discussion about the latest Netflix hit series, a weekly office happy hour, or something as simple as starting your meeting off with a silly, thought-provoking question like "what's your spirit animal," giving an opportunity to spark joy in the office is crucial for team morale.
Promote outlets for creativity
The Nats did it with their walk-up songs and dugout celebrations. To be honest, I’d love to have a song queued up I start a meeting--mine would be “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits, in case you were wondering. How can your company do the same and channel that positive energy? At ZogCulture and ZogSports, we incorporate creativity via idea jam sessions to discover new solutions to old problems and unique connection activities like Grati-Tuesdays and Inspired by Thursdays that let us into each other's lives.
Make time to celebrate the wins with the team
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the sauce of lofty annual goals. In order to reach those goals, you must chip away with smaller objectives. The Nationals’ manager, Dave Martinez, would call this going “1-0” every day, as in you must focus on the day-to-day victories to eventually reach the ultimate prize. Highlight and broadcast those daily victories to the company and watch that employee appreciation turn into increased engagement and communication.
What does your company do to promote playful company culture? What does your favorite sports squad do that you'd like your team to adopt? Let us know in the comments below!