What is Your Culture?

I was lucky enough to be in the room a few years ago for a conversation with a very successful and prominent coach. There were about 12 coaches there to hear him speak.

The coach asked a question, “What do you center your team around.” Not all responded, but most said, “our culture.”  All around the room.

His response, “I don’t know what that means.”

He went on,

“For me, I center everything around one simple question, What’s best for the team. Every decision. The players do the same.”

He explained a bit more and answered more questions, but this one response has stayed with me.

Don’t talk about “culture”–talk  very specifically about your team.  The word culture is like the word technology–overly broad with too many different interpretations.

What is your team culture?  Do your players know? Can we see it from the outside?

When you have a very clearly defined culture, a set of values, shared language, a plan, principles that you believe in, and accountability, all your decisions get easier.

This does not mean executing them is always easy, but making the decision to act gets easier.

So, what’s your culture?

Recently I was in Utah to help lead a retreat for a very high-end, high-quality sporting goods store.  They sell great stuff that’s way out of my price range, but super valuable for people who spend their lives on the slopes or outdoors and need quality.

The owners were in the room, as were the leaders of each of their divisions and all of their stores. It was a funny, bright engaged group.

The view out the window was stunning.  Fortunately I was facing the window, and the group  was not, or we would never have held their attention.

Here’s a photo from my morning hike!

What is your culture?

 

Basically the retreat was a positive experience on many levels.

The company asked us to center the retreat around the book The Culture Club by Daniel Coyle, which they were reading in a company wide book club.

The Culture Club seeks to answer the question: why do some groups excel while others fail?

He says culture.

But more importantly he tells us his three keys to setting up this culture.

First Key: Make it Safe. Foster Belonging.

Each member of the team must feel comfortable speaking his or her mind. Strong groups foster a sense of belonging and understand how to develop this through common language and “signals of belonging.” 

These signals must be consistent and used often in order to foster this.

You can’t toss it out every now and again and think it will have an effect.

The Second Key: Be willing to Share Vulnerability

 Of course these two (safety and vulnerability) are linked, but he makes  a very interesting point that we often wait until we are certain that it’s safe–until we trust a situation–before we show who we are:

“Normally we think about trust and vulnerability the way we think about standing on solid ground and leaping into the unknown: first we build trust, then we leap. But science is showing us we’ve got it backward. Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust–it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”

The Third Key: Have a Sense of Purpose. Tell Your Story Well.

This third point circles me back to that prominent coach I started this post with: What do you center your team around? What are the defining values everybody is aware of?  What’s the story you tell internally and externally?

In The Culture Code Coyle gives some great examples of this including touching briefly on the All Blacks, the New Zealand Men’s Rugby Team.

He does not mention the book Legacy , but it is one of the best examples of a clear culture I have ever read.

They know how to tell their story. How to create a sense of belonging.  And, how to be willing to take a step back, be vulnerable, and let others shine.

James Kerr, Legacy’s author, writing for The Telegraph reminds us of 5 of the values they focus on:

Sweep the Sheds— literally everyone cleans up after themselves as a reminder of their value of personal humility

Follow the Spearhead–all three points as one; they don’t tolerate anything else

Champions do Extra–Speaks for itself, but the focus is on incremental gains

Blue Head–Maintain their calm and demeanor, but read the book to see the contrast to the “red head”

Leave the Jersey in a Better Place–Again, speaks for itself, but a clear picture of legacy.

Common language creates a sense of belonging. Values that remind us to be vulnerable to one another. And, most importantly a common sense of purpose and story.

I highly recommend Legacy when you get a chance. It’s a blueprint for building the team you really want.

In the meantime–stop speaking about “culture” and start speaking about the specific culture you are creating and why it matters.

 

 

Bosses Matter (And, Coaches too)

Over on Slate Mathew Yglesias has an interesting article up about a new study out of Stanford University and The University of Utah about the importance of a good boss. The study is called “The Value of Bosses” and you can read about it here.

The researchers conducted their study at an undisclosed major technology-based service company.

They looked at the effectiveness of front-line supervisors, not the CEOs. These supervisors are very similar to the role of coaches.

Some of their findings:

Good Bosses Boost Productivity in their employees and their teams:

The first finding is not particularly shocking: a good manager boosts productivity significantly in her team especially compared to a team managed by one of the lowest ranked bosses.  The improvement in the better bosses teams surpassed the productivity that would be created by adding an additional average employee to the team.  Additionally in fact, a good manager boosts productivity by 1.75 times that of the average worker according to the study.

Good Bosses are Teachers

Another finding, however, is a bit more surprising. The key to the success of these bosses is not just that they can motivate or supervise, but that they can teach. And, the effects of this ability to teach lasts after the boss or employee has moved on to another job. When I look back at my own coaches, bosses and mentors I recognize that the best were great teachers, but I rarely hear this mentioned as a critical success factor.

coaches matter

And, They Have Greater Impact on Best Employees

The study also found that great bosses have a greater impact on the high quality employees.

Or, as Ygelsias quotes,

“Maximizing the value of bosses requires that the better bosses be assigned to the better workers,” and then he goes on to assert “because workers increase their input so much when working with star supervisors.”

This surprises Yglesias, but it does not surprise me at all.

Really high quality employees know what to do with the information being taught. So, why not provide them with the best information and let them excel?

A coach can actually make greater gains by improving a star than by trying to bring up her poor performers. I think of the athletes and coaches I have worked with in my career and this really resonates.

The final finding of the study was not surprising. Unproductive bosses rarely keep their jobs. The authors did not say whether they were fired or simply decided to change paths themselves.

The article reminds me of how much coaches matter.

So often we ascribe the success and failure of a team simply to the amount of talent. We act as if coaches are incidental when the team is talented; how often have you heard, “anybody could win with that group.”

This study reminds us is that quality talent needs a high quality coach.  An individual can, of course, excel all on her own due to initiative, effort and talent, but what this study points to is that it is more effective to pair the great boss with great employee, the coach with the talented star or team and that a teacher can make a big difference in the life of a talented student.

In other words, coaches matter.