Positive Team* Culture
*Although the topic of this post is intended to be about athletic teams, many comparisons can be drawn with workplace teams.
Have you ever watched a team that, on paper, shouldn’t be great but finds a way to succeed? What about the opposite: stacked teams who underperform? When asked, teams of either type often point to the team’s ability or inability to gel. For some teams, this ability comes naturally and for other it is built over time. Certain groups of people are able to achieve cohesiveness in an organic fashion; whereas, others build it through coaching or leadership. I believe this ability to gel is a result of a positive team culture.
What is team culture?
Team culture is a shared set of values, goals and attitudes that permeates the entire team including both the athletes and the coaching staff. The values of a team might include hard work, humility, respect and teamwork. Additionally, teams may value process over outcome. The goals of the team might be to focus on development, to be prepared, to take chances when presented to them, and to consistently seek joy. Finally, team attitudes might be compassion, competitiveness, and reliability.
When values, goals and attitudes are in harmony and there is a high level of buy-in from the entire team, there is a unifying effect. The culture then informs the decisions made about the team and for it. Culture surrounds a team and when reinforced, it seeps into all areas. It is the atmosphere or environment the team trains and performs in.
An example of positive team culture
There are many examples of teams who have cultivated a positive team culture to their benefit. I think the best example is how Steve Kerr (head coach), fostered a culture within the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Success can be measured in many ways but a 2017 NBA championship is a good indicator. They also seem to be one of the happiest teams in their league. The players exude joy. I am unsure as to what their values, goals and attitudes are but I would venture to take a stab at a few. Joy, as I previously mentioned, may be one. I also think that humility would be another. There are reports of Kevin Durrant and Steph Curry (two megastars), personally thanking ball boys/girls and shaking hands with stadium staff for their work. The Golden State Warrior organization didn’t create a culture out of thin air. It was a process committed to by everyone where they worked to hold one another accountable.
Do all teams have a team culture?
I believe they do. I think culture is created based off what is normative, accepted and rewarded. There are teams with like-minded individuals who will naturally produce a positive team atmosphere and culture. There are others who work toward positivity. However, there are still others where no intentional effort is made to cultivate any type of culture, let alone a positive one. The results, then, can be based off fear, drama and selfishness. If these characteristics are accepted or believed to be the norm, a culture of toxicity may persist. By making no decision about team culture implies it's not important. This may unintentional as some organizations are not aware of the role culture plays. There are other well intentioned coaches who make decisions for the team that are solely top down and struggle to get buy-in from all members. You see this with coaches who dictate what the culture is.
Why is culture important?
I think there are a number reasons but I will highlight three here:
1. From a production point of view, if you are able to get the most out of each member of the team, one could assume you are likely to have more success.
2. It’s easier to make progress when everyone is going in the same direction. Having common goals and a shared focus steers the participants down the same path.
3. There is more joy. Who doesn’t want happier people? A happy team and a happy coaching staff with everyone doing what they love sounds amazing to me.
A culture takes time to build and effort to maintain. Fortunately, those are the two key criteria that anyone can use. It can be a tougher process to change a team culture. Sometimes additional, outside, assistance is required to facilitate the process or provide objective observations and support. If you are a member of a team, remember, it has a culture! Work towards making it one you want to be a part of.