With football season coming to an end and the NFL and NCAA football coaching carousels in full swing, it’s the time of year that we hear a lot about culture.
Culture is a very meaningful and important idea in sports. A team or organization with a strong, deeply-rooted culture is typically a perennial contender -- think the Pittsburgh Steelers or New England Patriots -- while teams on the opposite end of the spectrum are usually mired in mediocrity and dysfunction -- like the Oakland Raiders or New York Jets. That’s why, at nearly every press conference introducing a team’s new coach or GM, someone mentions that the team is in need of a “culture change.”
Of course, that’s much easier said than done. Changing a collective culture is always difficult. Culture is like a habit; it’s a way of being, a way of doing things, a way of life that becomes completely ingrained in every member of the team/organization/program/school. It literally defines everything. That’s a really great thing when you have a good culture of hard work, winning, sportsmanship or any other positive qualities.
But what happens when you’re ingrained in a bad culture? What happens when your culture is so dysfunctional that it brings down even the most positive people? The “doomed to fail” feeling is a trend that is all too easy to fall into and one that is hard to break.
If your team/organization/program/school is in desperate need of a culture change, what steps do you need to take to spark that change?
1. Drop the bad eggs
Your first act should be to take a page out of Chip Kelly’s book and cut your DeSean Jackson. In other words, remove those individuals who help perpetuate a negative culture from your team.
Unfortunately, this is not always the easiest task. Just look at what cutting Jackson did to the Philadelphia Eagles, as losing their most dynamic weapon stunted the rest of their offense. But Chip Kelly set out to change the culture of the organization by removing a “me-first” guy for team players, star power be damned.
Whether they’re a star or a third-stringer, cutting the negative players loose sends a strong message to everyone else.
2. Pick up a supporting cast
Once you’ve removed the detractors from your team, you must identify the players who embody the culture you desire and get them in prominent positions to lead your team.
As a coach, you’re only around the team so much and you can’t change an entire culture by yourself. You need to have players who follow your lead and advocate for your culture, in order for the rest of your team to move in the right direction on its own.
That means team leaders must understand the basic tenets of the culture you want to install and comprehend the plan you have in place. Empowering athletes goes a long way to changing a culture.
3. Don’t hide
There is no need to “secretly” change a culture. In fact, you should wear that culture change like a badge of honor.
Bring the poor culture that has developed to light and claim that you’re ready to put it away. Changing an ingrained culture requires a strong leader; no one is going to do it willingly, you must show them the way and be the focal point of the change.
4. Don’t falter
If you want your athletes to buy-in to your culture change, you must first buy-in to your own plan.
Stick to your guns and don’t give in to playing athletes with negative attitudes or those who refuse to get on board. If you’re going to be the hardnosed coach who plays an old-school, grind-it-out style, then be the hardnosed coach who plays an old-school, grind-it-out style. If you’re going to be a rah-rah, Pete Carroll-type player’s coach, then be a rah-rah, Pete Carroll-type player’s coach. There are no half-measures.
Make adjustments as necessary, but do not give up on the overall direction and goal of your plan.
Is your team in need of a culture change? Becoming a winning team starts with a winning culture, and a winning culture starts with you, coach.