Changing the Culture of a Team

The word culture comes up a lot when you’re talking about a team. It comes up even more when said team isn’t doing so hot. In reality, the coaches and leaders of the team want a culture of winning. That is why you don’t hear too much about the negative culture of a team if they are winning.

A lot can be said though about winning the right way. In sports, there are constant setbacks and struggles, so a positive team culture that holds itself accountable can get through them quicker. Usually this means the team has more success.

But how do you change the culture of a struggling team? Start with the leaders. What I do is I get with the leaders on the team set out my plan for change. They have to be on the same page with me or the culture won’t change. Once you have the coaches and team leaders on the same page, then you can get to work. The team leaders will have to hold the team accountable for their mistakes. If they really are the leaders, the guys on the team will follow. We call this sharing hard truths. This is hard to do because you have to call your teammates out, and they don’t always want to hear it.

How do you lessen the pushback when you start “sharing hard truths”? You talk about it before it happens. You let you team know that the coaches and leaders want things done a certain way to change the culture and start winning. They should agree, because at the end of the day we all want to win. Then you just have to do it.

Another way you can change the culture is having little talks post practice. I don’t mean a formal meeting, but a post practice talk where you can share expectations in a relaxed forum. I feel like these conversations are the most “real”. Both people can share their thoughts in a non-rehearsed setting. Sometimes in meetings, an athlete can give you “coach talk” – which is essentially telling me what I want to hear.

A final way to clean up the culture is making hard decisions and letting people go. Of course, this is not hard when the athlete is of no help to the team, but will you cut a guy who is a starter? What about in recruiting when you know the athlete could be a star, but they will also hurt the culture? These are the tough decisions you have to make to be an effective leader.

If you can do these things and have good people around you with common goals, a team’s culture can be changed.

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