The Truth About “Team Wins”

Posted on: June 12th, 2019 by Jen Mueller

High performing teams need separation and silos – in moderation.

Here’s the thing about team wins – they’re a result of different people and different groups of people executing their expertise. Maybe it’s the offense delivering five home runs to back a great pitching performance. It could be the defense coming up with a big stop after the offense rallied to score late. Then there’s the 18 points scored by the reserve off the bench after the starter got hurt in the first half.

In sports we recognize there are different positions, skill sets and expertise. In business we’re quick to call them silos and even quicker to try and eliminate them.

Here are few reasons silos form in locker rooms:

Function/purpose. Your role determines the people you talk to most. For example: Position groups in football versus the departments in your office. If you work in payroll you spend more time talking to people in payroll by function of your job and the purpose you serve. If you’re a linebacker you spend more time talking to linebackers because it’s your job.

Schedules/meetings. Your schedule dictates who you spend time with during the day. For example: Pitchers follow an entirely different schedule from position players in baseball. They have a different workout routine and different meetings. In your office, the marketing team operate on a schedule that’s independent from IT.

Opportunity to connect. You connect with people who speak the same language. For example: In football, offense and defense use an entirely different set of terminology. The same is true for the jargon used in accounting versus the conversation taking place in product development.

Side note: This also leads to cliques or siloes based on age, (rookies vs. veterans) language (Spanish-speaking vs. English-speaking) tenue, (an athlete who’s been with one team for an entire career vs. the new off-season acquisition.) Often, we self-select into these groups because of comfort level. Eliminating these groups are about as likely as eliminating the larger silos in an organization, but when you apply the strategies below you’ll see improved communication.

As a business communications expert I get asked to deliver strategies that overcome or break through silos in an organization. As a sports broadcaster I see the benefits of silos because it’s how sports teams work. In fact, you can make a case that’s the only way high performing teams function.

Eliminating these groupings or cliques requires everyone to be doing the same thing, going to the same meetings and keeping the same schedule which is a waste of time and resources. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson does not need to sit in on every defensive meeting to prepare for an opponent any more than you need to sit in with the folks in payroll to watch them send out paychecks every two weeks. The Mariners starting pitchers do not to need to outfield drills to be ready to take the mound any more than you need to learn how to update every computer system in the office like the I.T. department.

The issue isn’t how talent is grouped. It’s making sure you have the tools to communicate effectively both within a group and with colleagues from other parts of the organization.

One of the most effective ways to do that is by borrowing examples from the pre- and post-game interviews I conduct during baseball season. Here are three ways I help teammates break through those silos for the benefit of the audience and each other.

1.Force teammates into the same conversation. Force might be a little strong, but essentially you want a scenario in which teammates have to engage in the same conversation in real time – like in a post-game interview when I have a starting pitcher and a position player standing together talking about the game. Those conversations can also take place in a locker room or clubhouse when I walk up to teammates in close proximity to each other and strike up a conversation. Setting a scenario in which they have to talk to me and another teammate opens the lines of communication.

2.Put ‘em on the spot. It’s not often that I ask teammates to participate in the same post-game interview, but when I do I like to put them on the spot by asking a question about the other person. For example, I might ask a pitcher, “Considering the roll you were on in shutting down the opposing hitters what do you appreciate most about the way the offense performed?” The answer not only informs the audience but also conveys appreciation for the teammate who played a big role in scoring runs.

Recognizing a teammate’s individual contributions to a larger audience is one of the ways you can make colleagues feel valued.

3. Create a shared experience. I don’t have to be in the same room to get teammates talking, but I do have to give them something to talk about. In my role as an interviewer and content producer that means identifying an interesting question and asking multiple players the same question. For example, “What’s the thing your parents did that embarrassed the heck out of you as a kid?” Those answers are compiled into features the players will often see on the video board before games or on TV in the clubhouse. The answers prompt further conversations among teammates and open the lines of communication outside of their work conversations.

If you’re a sports broadcaster feel free to use these strategies with the teams you cover. If not and you’re trying to figure out how these ideas apply to you, let’s boil it down to these next steps.

  • Make it a point to talk to people in other groups at the same time.
  • Facilitate a conversation that “forces” them to talk to each other and to you.
  • Be thoughtful in your questions so that the conversation doesn’t end with you, but continues when someone says, “Jen got me thinking…” or “I’ve been thinking about this question…” or “What did you say when she asked this question…”

High performing teams need specialization. Cliques, silos and groups are a natural result. Don’t waste your efforts trying to eliminate them, communicate better within and across them.

Develop 5 Conversation Skills Great Leaders Master and join Jen for a 3-part webinar June 24-26.


Jen Mueller is a badass at business communication. Her techniques are based on nearly 20 years in sports locker rooms. Jen currently serves as the Seattle Seahawks sideline radio reporter and is a member of the Seattle Mariners television broadcast team on ROOT Sports. Jen is the founder of Talk Sporty to Me and the author of three books that utilize sports fandom to improve business communication. Hire Jen for your next training, video series or keynote.


Practicing Leadership: Coachability, Delegating and Time Management

Posted on: June 4th, 2019 by Jen Mueller

As a sports broadcaster I work with and talk to coaches every day.

So do you.

They might not be called coaches, but you work with people who coach you up, give you feedback, provide instruction and hold you accountable. Instead of calling them coach, you probably call them boss, manager, supervisor, team leads, or in some cases colleagues. What you call them doesn’t matter. Your response to them does.

Coachability is a skill that gets you to the next level of your career.

You see it all the time in athletes. What got an athlete like Mariners centerfielder Mallex Smith to the big leagues won’t keep him in the big leagues. He’s had to make adjustments and be coachable.

No one likes a know-it-all or someone who doesn’t believe they have any room for improvement. There’s always something you can learn and do better. The skills that helped you land a job won’t be enough for you to keep the job. You need to add to it, develop, learn and take coaching with grace and tenacity as an elite athlete.

This is What Leadership Looks Like…

Learning how to delegate – truly delegate and not delegating with conditions and strings attached.

It’s not going to be easy, particularly for Type A personalities but it’s critical for leaders to manage people effectively.

Your time should be spent making the greatest impact. That’s a tough standard to reach if you’re burning bridges in process. Serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Karen Phelps Moyer joined me for a Learn from a Leader leadership development session last week and shared three mistakes she’s made as a leader as a result of not learned to delegate early in her career.

“Unintentionally hurting somebody’s feelings because I wanted it done my way and not thinking that somebody had a better way, or a way that would work just fine.” If it has to be done your way, you’re not being a leader, you’re being a dictator.

“Wanting things done sooner than later.” Forcing a timeline on staff or employees that isn’t doable simply to control the situation won’t improve productivity (or your likability.) Leaders know starting a project tomorrow doesn’t mean it lacks a sense of urgency. It does allow people to catch their breath and move at a sustainable pace.

“Getting ahead of myself.” Many leaders are visionaries because they have to be, but moving too quickly without a strategy won’t allow you to sustain a new idea or maintain what you’ve already built. You need to delegate and trust others to come alongside the execution of your ideas.

A huge thank you to Karen for joining me in May. Look for big announcements about the Learn from a Leader series in the coming weeks.

Being in control all the time is a waste of your time because you do not need to be involved in every. single. little. thing.

Practicing Leadership (with a sports twist)
Chris Woodward is the first-year manager for the Texas Rangers. Chris played and coached in the big leagues but said one of the experiences that prepared him most for his current role was taking college classes as a player because it helped develop the time management skills he needs as a manager. On the surface his college classes didn’t have anything to do with baseball but they did make him a better leader.

The leadership lesson 
Your current activies are preparing you for future roles. Are you taking them seriously? Do you see the correlation? Are you being strategic in how you approach your daily routine? 
Here’s one thing you can do right now to improve your leadership skills, sign up to receive my Practicing Leadership email every month. You’ll get tips like these and a new way to think about how you can develop leadership skills right where you are in your career. Just leave your name in the box marked “Let’s Do This!”

Don’t Make This Mistake in a Business Conversation – Keeping Expectations to Yourself

Posted on: May 30th, 2019 by Jen Mueller

Committing to better business communication improves the flow of information. But that’s not all.

Effective communicators can get more done in less time by communicating their objectives, time frames and next steps in addition to their actual message.

Reading that sentence (or hearing me describe it in the video) probably makes sense.

So why don’t you do it?

I hate to be the one to tell you, but a lot of your frustrations with colleagues (spouses and kids, for that matter) are because you’re withholding information. You’re not verbalizing details that allow them to take the appropriate action, the best next steps, or the right decision.

NOTE** Don’t think you do this? Consider the last time you asked your spouse to empty the dishwasher or fold clothes. How frustrated did you get when the chore wasn’t completed on your timeline? Did you actually communicate your prefered timeline, as in, did you say, “Could you empty the dishwasher before I get back from the grocery store?” If not, you’re the cause of the frustration you feel.

Leaving key pieces of information unsaid causes frustration, adds to your stress level and isn’t an effective use of time.

Get more out of each conversation and get more done period by verbalizing an E.T.A. in every conversation. Watch the video for more on E.T.A. in conversations.


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