Hoping for a more positive team culture?

written by Erica Quam

Hope is not the best plan for building a positive team culture. It definitely takes a lot of work!

Creating a positive team culture takes three things 1) structure from the coaching staff 2) engagement from your team 3) and accountability for both coaches and athletes.

A positive team culture begins with the coach - as the designated leader of the team. If the coach doesn't initiate this positive team culture, it'll be really hard for a team to create it for themselves. 

1. The structure for building a positive team culture are the rules, roles, and expectations.

Everyone on the team needs to know what the rules are...and the consequences if they don't follow them. These things have to be both clearly communicated and consistently enforced. Otherwise, your team culture will suffer.

Get the right people in the right seat. People on your team play different roles. Do they know what they are? Be intentional about defining them. If you have the right people in the wrong seat, figure out what needs to change and where they need to go. Sometimes you just have the wrong people...that's a whole different issue!

Everyone on the team needs to know what's expected of them. This happens at three levels: 1. What do coaches expect of the team? 2. What does the team expect of the coaches? 3. What does the team expect of one another? Expectations need to be communicated and clarified early and often. Too many times athletes expect something from the coaches that isn't going to happen or isn't realistic. Find out what that is early in the season. Talk to your team about what you're willing to do, what you're not willing to do, and why. Don't go through a whole season with your athletes expecting something from you that you'll never be able to give. 

2. Get your team engaged in creating this positive culture for themselves

While the structure comes from you, the engagement comes from your team. They ultimately have to buy in and take some ownership.

Invest time into having a discussion about the culture of your team - preferably when your athletes can be relaxed enough to be honest and real with each other...like at a team retreat.

[I like to draw a big circle on a sheet of paper and write the behaviors you want as part of your team culture in the circle and the behaviors you don't want outside of the circle.]

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How can we create an environment where everyone on the team can learn, grow, and be at their best this year?
  • What if someone is struggling?
  • How will we respond to challenges when they come up?
  • What kind of behaviors do we reward?
  • Where have we struggled in the past? What needs to change?
  • How will we know when we're getting off track? What will we do to get back on track?
  • Is everyone willing to commit to creating this culture on our team?

Give your team some time to think about these questions before you start talking about it. Let them write down some ideas. Then, facilitate a discussion by offering examples, getting clarification when something's unclear, and challenging them when they start to say things they think you want to hear. Make sure you're hearing from everyone on the team - especially the less vocal people. Encourage the athletes who are more quiet to speak up and the athletes who are more vocal to do a little more listening.

At the end of the discussion you can ask what they think. Ask if they're willing to commit to making it happen. If yes, have them sign it. If not, keep on talking. This is a simple and powerful conversation.

3. You've got to hold one another accountable to the standards you've set

As you move through the season, you'll have to consistently re-visit, re-emphasize, and re-clarify the structure you've set up. It's never a one and done conversation. It's human nature for people to push the limits and check to see if you're serious about the boundaries you've set. It's easy for coaches and athletes to veer off track and let things slide.

Your team needs you to lead them. Help them re-commit to the positive team culture they envisioned at the beginning of the season. If behaviors are showing up that aren't part of that culture...ask them if they want to change their agreement or change their behavior. They have a choice!

How do you help your team create a positive culture? Are there certain activities you do or things you emphasize? I'd love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments below.