By Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian, 3x Olympic Medalist and Director of Athlete Assessments

Hockey contestCulture is being discussed in sporting circles now more than ever. Why? Because it is a significant performance factor. If you have the “right” culture, your team is more likely to achieve sustainable success – not always winning, but always being in the hunt. If you have the “wrong” culture, your chances of any success, even fleeting success are almost zero. So how do you create the right sports team culture? In this article we discuss 10 Factors that Define Successful Sports Team Cultures.

What is culture? In its simplest and most useful description culture is the “way we behave on this team”. Behavior is a reflection of values. Recruiting and developing a common set of values helps create success.

So how do teams end up with the “wrong” culture. There are several Australian teams which have had issues with their culture prominently displayed in the media including the 2012 Australian Olympic Swimming Team, the Australian Cricket team, the Australian Davis Cup team, and (in previous years) the Australian Rugby Union Team -the Wallabies. In this article we will not be going into great depth as to what went wrong with these specific teams, but will be looking to discuss 10 factors that Defining Successful Cultures and reflecting on the culture challenge.

In my role at Athlete Assessments, I have had the opportunity to work with more than 700 different teams over a 15 year period. In working with this many teams, I have had the privilege of seeing a lot of different cultures – successful and unsuccessful. In terms of successful cultures, there are certainly patterns of behavior that have become clear to me that signal a successful culture.

10 Factors Defining Successful Cultures:

1. The Coaches have been deliberate about creating the culture they want. They have never let it just happen or emerge.

2. Coaches have used a process such as the GRIP Model to develop their culture.

3. Coaches have defined their values and behaviors and these match the goal the team wants to achieve.

4. These teams have effective team captains who, above all else, role model the desired culture.

5. These teams typically use words to describe themselves such as accountable, honest, resilient, team focused and they always reward effort before results.

6. Coaches want and give their athletes appropriate ownership over the team’s direction and they are collaborative in their approach to being the best they can be. The Coach is ultimately the leader of the team.

7. Poor behavior (which happens even on the best teams) is dealt with immediately and there are significant consequences. Appropriate behavior is recognized immediately and rewarded in a meaningful way, usually this is not about receiving material things.

8. Recurring poor behavior (behavior which is not in line with the team’s core values) is not tolerated no matter who behaves this way. There is no allowance made simply because you are the “best” player on the team. Coaches who protect their team culture are able to make the decision to cut those players who do not consistently live the team’s values.

9. Performance standards and effort are never compromised. No excuses, no matter what.

10. Every aspect of what matters most in a successful team’s culture is reinforced through the team’s symbols and symbolic acts. Every single person who comes from outside the team to watch the team practice or compete is able to define their culture quickly and easily due to the clarity and consistency of the messages delivered and spoken about by the Coaches and team members.

Take a look at your culture and try to define what it is by observing what the people involved in the team actually do. Then use this above check list and see if you do these things. I hope you are able to create a sustainable culture and one which delivers for you in the long term.

In this article I only gave a brief summary of 10 Factors that Define a Successful Culture but we have previously written extensively on the topic of sports teams’ cultures. You may also enjoy these other free resources and articles on:

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