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!
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.