Blog 18.4

As a new academic year is upon us, we are quickly preparing and participating in a brand-new season of athletics as well. Each new season brings together a new team, and the opportunity to create and build on a team’s culture. Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, studied what makes a team or organization successful over time. Interestingly, skills and talent were not the most important factors in sustaining success. Instead, safety, vulnerability, and purpose were the foundation of a successful group. The last three blogs of this series focused on building a safety zone for members of the group to be able to freely share ideas and opinions, being willing to be vulnerable with one another within that safe space, and finally establishing and consistently communicating the groups purpose. Our final blog of this series brings all the pieces together to identify how to build a successful team culture.

While safety and vulnerability are often communicated subtly by cues, purpose is driven home over and over with loud and clear messages. To build a culture of success, a combination of subtle and direct messages linked to safety, belonging, vulnerability, and purpose must be communicated. The high performance groups Coyle studied are all about “sending not so much one big signal as a handful of steady, ultra-clear signals that are aligned with a shared goal. They are less about being inspiring than about being consistent. They are found not within big speeches so much as within everyday moments when people can sense the message: This is why we work: this is what we are aiming for.” So how do we create a high performing culture? According to Coyle, “creating engagement around a clear, simple set of priorities can function as a lighthouse, orienting behavior and providing a path toward a goal.” Priorities are set, behaviors that support the priorities identified, and then verbally and visually communicating the same messages over and over are the keys to creating culture. The rules followed are called heuristics – and those rules drive behavior. For example, the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich, sends belonging cues to his players by chatting individually and casually with each one after a tough loss.  Then, he opens up about how the loss felt for him, creating a space to be vulnerable together.  Finally, the mission and goals of the team are seen and heard constantly around the program. “Pound the rock” is the team’s motto and you will see the words, a hammer and piece of stone in a glass case, and constantly hear the coaches and players saying, “pound the rock.”

Coyle continues by stating, “Many leaders of high-proficiency groups focus on creating priorities, naming keystone behaviors, and flooding the environment with heuristics that link the two.” For example, the New Zealand All Blacks surround themselves with key sayings that create the roadmap for the team’s success. “Leave the jersey in a better place,” “Better people make better All-Blacks”, or even some tactical sayings like, “TQB – total quality ball,” or “KBA – keep the ball alive.” Players never have to guess what it means to be an All-Black – their culture is on display in the language they communicate on a daily basis. For any team, there are priorities, behaviors, and the rules that guide those behaviors, even if they are not communicated directly. We each have the opportunity to be a part of communicating safety, vulnerability, and purpose to create the team culture we are proud to be part of.


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