Football season is a lot more than a series of exciting games—it’s a testament to the power of culture. But it’s not just about touchdowns and rivalries; it’s about the strategies, teamwork, and leadership that define the success of these teams. And as I listen to pre-season coach interviews and pundits dissecting which teams will thrive, I can’t help but draw parallels between successful sports teams, like those in the SEC, and thriving companies. At the heart of both lies a robust culture.
Kickoff: The Importance of Culture
Ask most coaches and they’ll tell you being a successful sports team starts with having a successful culture. That culture centers around creating a positive experience for your team members based on trust and respect.
What is culture? It’s the behaviors and attitudes and organization or team promotes and accepts. It’s the way things get done inside an organization. It’s not about what you think; it’s what you do.
Building a Winning Culture Playbook
Like coaches have game plans for each week’s opponent, you need a game plan for creating a culture that aligns with organizational goals that sets you up to recruit and retain your 5-star players. It gets everyone on the same page. It makes sure everyone’s behaviors are in line with the strategies and goals you are working to achieve.
That game plan starts with identifying your organizations values. What qualities in your people do you value? How are you going to create positive experiences for your customers or clients? What do you want your leaders to emulate? Does everyone do what they say? Are you offering the opportunity for everyone to grow and develop?
In fact, there’s been a lot of research done on what strong, high-performing cultures include. High performance cultures mean we can achieve our performance goals while having a great experience that fulfills our employees, or team members, need to feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated.
Look at what SupportingLines, an organization who developed the High-Performance Index (HPI) Team Culture Assessment Score, has determined are the key components of a successful culture:
- Growth – having the opportunity to grow and develop.
- Clarity – clear on expectations and receive support and communication.
- Psychological Safety – environment where I can think, feel, and perform effectively.
- Respect – Feel respected by team leaders and teammates.
- Meaning – Meaningful role on the team
- Enjoyment – Positive relationships and enjoy being at the organization.
- Accountability – held accountable for commitments and work ethics.
- Feedback & Recognition – receive regular feedback and recognition.
- Teamwork – teammates work well together and live our values.
Just as a football team’s coach plays a pivotal role in guiding and inspiring the players, leaders in your organization are the driving force behind shaping your company’s culture. As the leader, or coach, culture starts with you. To be effective you need to look inside before you start working on the team. What is your coaching philosophy?
Are you living up to the standards you expect from your people? In football, players are accountable for their performance on the field. In the workplace, accountability is essential to maintaining a strong culture. If not, that trust will begin to erode, and you’ll never develop a strong organization wide culture.
Make a point to call team members by name. It shows you care enough to know who they are. It’s about creating a feeling of belonging. Take time to review “film” with the team members. As culture builders, you need to talk about what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Get input from the players (your employees) so that together you can figure out a way to make positive changes that align with your goals. Ask questions like:
- What can we do to make this feel like a place you are safe to speak openly?
- How do we foster camaraderie?
- How can we have fun and make this a place where work gets done and people enjoy coming here and want to be here?
If you want a successful company or organization, you can’t wait until the season is over to have those conversations. Start the conversation before you notice your retention numbers dropping or your recruitment efforts taking a hit.
Leadership: From Coach to Captain
As a coach, you become the motivator, mentor, and supporter. That means some days it’s about tough love and others it’s about recognizing accomplishments and encouragement. It’s like the physical conditioning program athletes take part in. Each exercise develops and enhances different activities and skills needed on the field. As a coach in the workplace, it’s the same thought process when we are helping employees meet both personal or professional and organizational goals. It requires a tailored approach that recognizes each team member is different and bring their own unique skills and life experiences to the table.
You need a performance framework (structured approach) that allows team members to live their values while pursuing goals and doing work. That results in improved performance and an overall better human experience.
For most people, those values include:
- Inclusivity – an environment where people feel welcomed and respected.
- Accountability – people are responsible for their actions and honor commitments.
- People-centered – coaching is on an individual approach and includes empathy and compassion.
- Collaboration – engaging and working with others, in and outside of our organizations.
- Determined – passionate about what we do and don’t shy away from challenges and can deal with setbacks without it derailing the drive to succeed.
Much like a well-coordinated football team, employees need to work together seamlessly, passing the ball (or tasks) efficiently to achieve common goals. Find ways to encourage your teammates to get to know each other. The number one thing people want is to feel like they belong. From cross training to team building to multi-department committees and projects, putting people together who don’t normally work together is good for culture growth.
Winning the Season: Achieving Long-Term Success
Just like our favorite football team needs a strong bench to compete for the whole season, so do our workplaces. Building culture and focusing on strengthening our leaders means we can have a deeper pool of talent to build on as we face retirements and challenges in recruiting. Looking at how teammates are living organizational values can be a better determination as to their importance for your company’s future success. You are risking not only culture, but productivity and profitability, if you are promoting people who do not live your values.
The Championship Culture
Great teams don’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes showing up for practice (work) everyday putting in the work needed so that on game day, we’re prepared for what the opponent (life or our competition) throws our way. Culture is more than a buzz word. It is a critical factor in the success of any organized group or organization.
In the game of building a strong culture, you, as the leader, are the coach. Your team members are your players. And just as football teams train rigorously to prepare for the season, organizations must invest in their culture year-round. When you have a strong culture, it’s like having a championship-winning team on your side, ready to tackle any challenge that comes your way.
P.S. Speaking of championship culture …….. ROLL TIDE!
If you want more secrets to building a successful career brand, you can:
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