Put a group of people together for a period of time and a set of predominant behaviours, particular to that group, will inevitably emerge. That, in a nutshell, is your team culture. If the group happens to be a sports team (or a business for that matter), you better hope those behaviours contribute to the team performing better. If they don’t, you’re all in trouble.
Accepted ways of behaving exist in every group of people, whatever we choose to call it. It’s the natural thing.
The things that influence culture and the nuances that surround it will be a theme we return to multiple times. This article is about getting things rolling. Which is why I better address the word ‘culture’. A lot of people in sport use the word: some as a holy grail for team performance, others (a growing number), in a curmudgeonly, harrumphing, eyebrow raised way. I’m not quite sure how the concept of ‘culture’ became so uplifted or derided. Accepted ways of behaving exist in every group of people, whatever we choose to call it. It’s the natural thing. The point is to create something that supports and enhances performance, rather than undermines it. Perhaps that’s why, when working to support teams and sports organisations we prefer to adopt the phrase “performance environment”: culture being one of the elements that sits within.
To the question. How can a group of people can get the most out of themselves and each other when working for a common goal?
Here’s a short piece that I hope will help. Let’s start with one of my favourite anecdotes:
Two American tourists are lost deep in rural Ireland. Spying a farmer resting his arms on a five-barred gate, they pull over their car and the driver winds down the window,
‘Excuse me sir? Do you know how to get to Dublin?”
The farmer eyes the couple and looks up the crooked lane with its potholes and hedgerows brimming over with wild flowers, before he responds,
“Well”, he says, drawing a ponderous breath, “I wouldn’t be starting from here”.
Point is. We don’t get to choose where we start from. To be more precise, all the choices we’ve made, individually and collectively, up until now define the start point. So, you’ve already got your start point – you just can’t change it.
Irrespective of where you are at, the very first step to create the right performance environment for your group is to conduct an honest appraisal of where you are at, whilst identifying what you actually want to be all about. From this exercise will come the means of capturing what it is you choose to stand for; your values, your behaviours and the way that you will be known.
We’ve used a very simple model for over a decade that has never failed to provide a catalyst for the necessary conversations required to bring about positive changes in individuals, team cultures and performance environments. We call it the ‘Three Ways of Seeing™’*, inspired by the works Alfred Adler. A note of caution: when working with coaches, managers and teams these questions can take days, weeks or even months to explore fully.
The answer to building a performance environment that enables everyone it to thrive (or leave if they don’t want to buy in), lies in in three perspectives:
First, how you see yourself. You know, the real you. The voice inside that whispers to your inner ear, the feelings you recognize but often don’t share. The thoughts that race behind your smiling eyes as you nod to the media. The you, you take to bed every night and wake up with every morning. The you that you only see in the mirror if you look long enough. The shape shifting, simmering sense of self that’s elusive but ever present.
Think about this in the context of the team or group as a whole. How are you with in training? Driven? Challenging? Unfocused?
How are you in competition? Supportive? Committed? Lacking in effort?
It’s an uncomfortable exercise but the more you’re prepared to be honest with yourselves and each other, the stronger your foundation.
Secondly, how do others see you? Are they seeing the gibbering wrecks that threw up voluminously before running onto the field or are they seeing a composed, contained unit? Are they seeing discipline and finely honed ability or do they identify talent without work rate? Dependent on your position you may be able to solicit answers from third parties or go on what you’ve heard. The former is better but not always possible or practical.
Either way, be as accurate as possible.
Finally and this is the clincher, how you want to be seen? I’m fairly confident that you can immediately recognize this aspect of yourself and your team. When you run onto the pitch or track, address a camera or are preparing to compete, you probably have a very strong desire to be seen a particular way. But how does that apply to the team as a whole? What’s the reputation that you want to carry into competition? The best prepared? Unrelenting? Always working for each other?
It’s not unusual for people to talk ‘greatness’ very quickly. But words come easy. Commitment to values and behaviours is tough.
If you choose to try this exercise take care here. It’s not unusual for people to talk ‘greatness’ very quickly. But words come easy. Commitment to values and behaviours is tough. Before you resolve how you want to be seen you need to establish what it’s going to take to achieve that and how realistic it is for you and your group to do so. More on this another time.
For now, you have you ‘Three Ways of Seeing’™ . Using the model is simple.
The more gaps there are between the ‘three perspectives’, the more obvious the work that requires doing. The less gaps, the less to do – unless, of course, your self-assessment is lousy in every area! Either way you will have a better understanding of; who you are and what you want for each other and the group as a whole.
The next step is to figure out what changes you need to make (and that is where the real fun starts), but critically you have your starting point. You may not like it all that much but it’s the only sensible place to start from. And it’s the best place to help you get where you want to be.
© Dair Ltd 2017 This article is an extract from a book scheduled for publication in 2019.
*Three Ways of Seeing has been used to support clients that include; the British & Irish Lions, England Squash and the England & Wales Cricket Board.