The Chicago Cubs: A Case Study in Aligning Strategy, Structure and Culture

The Chicago Cubs: A Case Study in Aligning Strategy, Structure and Culture

No one is more excited about baseball’s 2017 Opening Day than the people of Chicago. After ending a 108-year-long championship drought and staging one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, the once “loveable-loser” Cubs are entering the new season as a championship team.

To many, it may seem like the stars had magically aligned during last year’s World Series game 7. But it wasn’t the rain delay alone in the tenth inning that propelled Chicago to win the series. A thoughtful approach to aligning strategy, structure and culture enabled the Cubs organization to successfully transform its business and position itself for the win.

As I rooted for the Cubs during a spring training game this year, I realized that this championship team is a case study in what it takes to build a winning organization—both on and off the field. It demonstrates how the highest levels of performance, teamwork and success can result when your strategy, structure and culture are firing in sync.

Defining company strategy is the first step toward achieving culture change. A strong leader has a clear vision of what success looks like, an informed strategy for achieving it and great communication skills to bring the organization along for the journey. For Theo Epstein—the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, who joined the team a few years back—that strategy involved developing a foundation of young talent while also acquiring more seasoned talent from elsewhere.

But a great strategy alone can’t support business transformation. Infrastructure is needed for additional support. Much like the “Cubs Way,” as the team called it, organizations undergoing change must standardize their philosophy, policies and procedures to attain impactful and lasting results. Using a customized communications strategy, businesses can achieve buy-in from employees at every level of the company, moving the team in unison to achieve common goals.

As the Cubs understood, success cannot be achieved just through defining the right strategy and creating a solid structure. The most critical part of transformation is cultivating a winning culture. But that won’t happen through employee management or workplace decisions alone.

True leaders know that to unlock the full potential of every team member, they must establish a culture of shared values, cultural philosophy, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Most importantly, they can’t simply communicate the values with words alone—they must model the behavior themselves.

Veteran baseball manager Joe Maddon did just this with the Cubs, contributing a lot more than lineup cards and coaching decisions. As manager, he was integral in building a culture of empowerment, trust, fun and teamwork, and his actions reflected those values. He created the right mindset for the Cubs with his many “Maddonisms”: “Embrace the target,” “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure,” “Do simple better,” “Try not to suck.” He knew how to lighten up a tense atmosphere so his team could play at peak performance levels.

So as the championship Cubs take the field for the first of the 2017 season’s 162 games, I am confident they will continue to capture the magic of last fall—especially if their strategy, structure, and culture continue to be aligned. Let’s play ball!

Learn how Gagen MacDonald can help your organization with a business transformation.