Little League rules and learnings for family business

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

As the Little League World Series recently wrapped up, there’s much we can learn from these terrific players and coaches. Important ideas like sportsmanship, respect, effort, accepting defeat with grace, and fun immediately come to mind. Also, if you believe that Little League baseball is simply about winning, treat yourself to this video of the post-game speech by the coach of a Rhode Island team that had just been eliminated from the tournament:

Little League Speech

There’s also a specific lesson from Little League that is directly applicable to family businesses: The 24-Hour Rule.

I recently attended a local Little League game and learned about an interesting policy that this particular league calls “The 24 Hour Rule.” There’s no documentation of the rule for my local Little League, but the Middletown (NJ) Little League has a similar policy that they articulate beautifully on their website:

If an issue should arise that requires communication with the coaches, please wait 24 hours. During this time we ask you think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. The cooling off period prevents matters from getting out of hand when they shouldn’t. Never approach the coaching staff on the field or at practice.

I’ve worked with many different family businesses, and occasionally the issues that they address are significant and emotionally-charged. In these instances, tempers can easily become inflamed, leading the conversation to become destructive instead of constructive. In those cases, the best remedy I’ve found is a simple “timeout” – stop talking for a few minutes and let the group disperse with no interaction at all until everyone has “cooled off.” In my experience, participants regain their bearings within 30 minutes or so – rarely does it take as long as a full 24 hours.

Everyone is different, though, and every situation is different… so, that 30 minute guideline is just a rule of thumb. But, however long it takes you and your family to cool off, once you do return to the conversation, you all will do so with clearer heads. That timeout may seem like a setback or even a “loss” in the moment, but it will actually get you closer to progress long term. Just like that Little League team from Rhode Island, what seems like a loss will actually be a win.

What other tips would you recommend for dealing with “explosions” within a family business?

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