On Culture and Chemistry

I heard an interesting interview with Mariners Manager Scott Servais last week. He discussed some of the differences between this year’s team and last year’s, especially when it came to how the players acted in the dugout and clubhouse.

Servais brought up a distinction I hadn’t thought about before, the difference between Culture and Chemistry. I’m going to paraphrase some of his comments, because they make sense to bring into a corporate or start-up environment.

To summarize, “Culture” is the foundation of the organization. It’s embodies the mission your organization is on, the processes and programs you implement and the latitude people have as individuals inside the system. “Chemistry” is how everyone gets along with one another – peer to peer, manager to employee, employee to manager.

So with those definitions in mind, here are some insights he brought forward.

1) Not everyone has to get along, but they all need to be bought in: A culture can’t just be dropped into place from above. It’s going to be started by someone, adopted, and expanded. The Mariners culture isn’t as simplified as, “We always want to win.” From an in-game perspective, it’s focused on, “We’re going to own the strike zone, on offense and defense.” Every member of that team knows that the team philosophy is about owning the strike zone. A guy from Korea and one from Venezuela don’t have to have anything else in common. But as long as they know the process that the organization has designed, and they both contribute to the process, then the culture will be strong. If you don’t believe in the process, then you are a bad cultural fit, and it’s better for both parties to have you move on.

2) You can have great Chemistry and deliver a lousy product: Having everyone love each other is great. But if your team enjoys 2 hour lunches with each other and 4pm happy hours, your culture of laziness and good times isn’t going to net you much success.

3) You can generally define a good Culture in few words: In the case of the Seahawks, the culture is simple – “Always Compete.” You know that whether you are Russel Wilson or a walk-on free agent, you are there to battle for a roster spot, bigger salary, and field time. There’s no gray area for interpretation. If you are going to be a Seahawk, you have a mindset that you will have to win anything you get. You know the guy behind you on the depth chart is trying to take your job. You are only going to continue being a contributing member of the organization for as long as you can outperform everyone else at the job you do. There are no bonus points for tenure. Experience just means you should be able to do the job better, faster and thus be able to do more.

I think you can find the interview on the 710Sports.com web page. Would love to know if you took away any other insights.

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