Extraordinary Team Blog

Moneyball Lessons in Teamwork

Posted by Kristin Arnold on September 25, 2011

Moneyball just hit the movie theaters this weekend, so I had to go see it. It’s not because the lead character, Billy Beane is played by Brad Pitt – although Brad is looking more and more like Robert Redford as he ages.  Which, in my humble opinion, is not a bad thing – but I digress.

I saw Moneyball because it is a movie about a baseball TEAM based on the 2003 bestseller by Michael Lewis.  The story revolves around Billy Beane as the General Manager (GM) of the Oakland A’s ball club.  The team just lost three of their “stars” to other teams and he needs to draft their replacements.  Or so his talent scouts seem to think.

Early on in the movie, there is a marvelous scene in a meeting room where the scouts are jockeying for their favorite draft choices.  Tired of the discussion, Billy says something like:  “I think we’re looking at this all wrong.  Let’s first agree on what the problem is.”  He then asks the room, “What’s the problem?”

The scouts stammer, “We know what the problem is.  We need to replace three players.”

Over the next few scenes, Billy realizes that the problem is not about replacing three all-stars; it is about selecting a team of individuals with individual talents who can collectively “win”.  You might be thinking, there’s no real surprise there – but in baseball, ball clubs pay exorbitant amounts to all-stars.  And the Oakland A’s didn’t have a huge bankroll to recruit heavy hitters – so they had to think about the “problem” differently.

Rather than focus on the problem of replacing personalities, Billy focused on what it would take to “win” – and some whiz kid from Yale calculated the “win” to be a few hard numbers such as on-base percentage.  The selection process was then focused on players who could get on base and bring in the numbers.  Players who individually were scorned by the talent scouts, but collectively were able to do great things.

While the GM selects a team of perceived misfits, he doesn’t bring the team manager onboard with his plan early on.  The manager, brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, does what he can as a traditional manager – without seeing the bigger picture.  He does what he always does, and doesn’t leverage the talent the way the GM envisioned.  Unfortunately, it took about ten games before we started to see some traction – conversations about what was most important, and what they expected from each and every team member.

I kept thinking, “This team could have been so much better if they did all these things at the beginning, bringing them ALL into the conversation.

There are many other team lessons to be learned from this movie – and I’d love to hear what you learned from Moneyball too!