The Disco Team chat with Andrew Ferlo of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy on how promoting a culture of recognition and celebration makes a difference for their staff and teen participants.
Andrew Ferlo of National Youth Baseball (NYB) knows how to think on his feet. On a recent late-winter afternoon, a student at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, where Ferlo is the Development Associate, took a joking swipe at his friend, hitting him harder than intended. Ferlo went into full conflict-management mode, doing a lot more than sending the pugilists to timeout. Instead, he talked to the two about the importance of communicating, establishing there was no ill-intent, smoothing things over. The two friends hugged it out.
So, that’s what a Development Associate does?
Well, team members at the YBA frequently don various hats. Officially, Ferlo’s role is to write funding proposals, maintain relationships with partners, donors, and agencies, and contribute to the YBA’s organizational learning efforts. The latter entails collecting and analyzing data to improve the way the Academy attacks various initiatives.
But everyone goes beyond their stated role as needed, filling in, assisting, partnering, maybe doing a shift as the “high-five greeter” at the front door, and sometimes even getting friends to hug it out.
Perhaps the versatility built into the YBA’s culture comes from the fact that the organization itself wears many hats. Yes, it is a baseball academy. But the organization, which serves third through eighth graders from D.C., has grown exponentially since its 2012 inception. It has now forged many deep connections throughout many D.C. and surrounding areas, and it does a lot more than baseball.
The Academy’s scholar-athletes can also get food education through gardening fruits and vegetables; the YBA’s many other education programs include the Science of Baseball, which has students apply math, physics, and engineering to baseball. Other areas are reading and writing, communication, and team-building skills.
The academy’s culture of willingness to fill in whenever needed springs from its “four core values”: be excellent, be healthy, be a leader, and always be learning. Ferlo says both scholar-athletes and employees are encouraged to exemplify these values. In some ways, the last three can all be said to feed into the first, be excellent.
The Academy allows Ferlo and his colleagues plenty of opportunities to always be learning through continued-education opportunities and professional development sessions. But subbing for a classroom teacher or similar fire-fighting missions may be the best education.
To maintain physical health, the staff put on comfortable shoes for a Fitbit challenge that asked them to walk 10,000 steps per day. Ferlo says he noticed a lot of meetings taking place outside on—and around—the track. Ferlo observes that the challenge helped maintain the kind of camaraderie that fuels such a highly-collaborative workplace.
A couple of months ago, Ferlo demonstrated leadership and excellence as an impromptu tour guide. His supervisor, who was slated to facilitate the tour--for a group that contributed some funding to the YBA-- was called away at the last minute. Ferlo jumped into the role of running the tour, introducing group members to some of his colleagues and to the scholar-athletes. Afterward, he met with the group to discuss their needs and the partnership between the two entities.
This earned him a “shout out” at the next staff meeting. The culture of the YBA entails full-throated appreciation of team members, and bi-weekly meetings are a venue for highlighting extra miles gone by any staffer.
Yet, when recognition can’t wait until the meeting, the YBA uses a digital shoutout system fueled by Disco, which spreads the word to the whole company when someone works extra hours, takes initiative, or shows passion.
The Youth Baseball Academy creates a culture in which staff members know that while they’re expected to strive for excellence, it’s understood that they’re always learning. This flexibility, along with appreciation shown for effort, creates a culture of willingness to dive into unfamiliar tasks, where passionate employees never say, “that’s not my job.”