A Lesson About Team Culture

Posted On: September 27

636103432294773262-0925-kcsp-utfl-068-asbThis is not a sports story, but it does revolve around a story about sports. I live in Gainesville, Florida which means it is mandatory for me to be a Florida Gators football fan. Last weekend we played the Tennessee Volunteers, they have not beat us in 11 years, the smartphone did not exist the last time Tennessee actually beat the Gators! However, this weekend they beat us… no, they crushed us. The final score of Tennessee 38 – Florida 28 does not come close to representing the thrashing our team took. The funny thing is, we were winning 28-3 at halftime, then Tennessee scored 35 unanswered points. By the middle of the third quarter the Gators had completely given up, they were walking with their heads down or sitting on the bench. There was an opportunity for us to come back and win in the fourth quarter, but the Gators had already decided they were going to lose. On the other side of the field, the Volunteers, even though they came into the second half needing at least five touchdowns to win, were motivated, focused and playing like a real team.

The big lesson for me came at the end of the game when Tennessee broke their decade-long losing streak and won a huge game for their school. The players had every right to dance around the field and celebrate, pumping their fists and mugging for the cameras, but instead they ran over to jump in the stands and celebrate with the other students. The head coach ran over to the sideline, climbed up on a ladder next to the conductor of the school band, and led the musicians in playing the Tennessee fight song. The attitude and conduct of the two teams during the second half of the game, and after the game, highlighted a big lesson about organizational and team culture and how, in a very large way, the leader sets the tone. One team quits halfway through the game and mopes off the field humiliated, the other team stays optimistic, cohesive, determined and then celebrates the win for everyone in the school, not just themselves.

So the question I have for you: How does the team at your company play?


*** If you are interested in learning more about how to build and sustain a winning culture, I have written a short and very focused e-book that outlines my very best ideas and tools. Here is a link so you can take a look: Winning Culture eBook


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  1. Thanks John. Those of us in the Vol nation are still celebrating, not just because it we beat the Gators, but because the team overcame adversity when their backs were against the wall and ripped off 5 touchdowns. The other lesson perhaps is that Florida probably became a bit overconfident after the success of the first half and let down giving the Vols a chance to gain the momentum which they never relinquished.

    I should have made a bet with you that if the Vols won you would wear a Go Vols t-shirt at the keynote in Daytona Beach, and vice versa.

    All the best.

  2. John love the perspective you offer and the consistency in your desire to help others look broadly and bring that focus internally to perform a check and balance and learn. Positive attitude puts us in position to be our best.

  3. John, Here in the UK, the NFL holds three games with the Jaguars the most frequent visitor. What we see is great team commitment and a desire to work together unlike their soccer equivalents who are more focused on their own image. Your story of the Gators defeat highlights a loss of what collaboration is all about. No I in team. Hope the Gators learn from their defeat and turn things around and equally so the Volunteers remember what can be achieved by being as one.

  4. Great blog and interesting observations. The Gators are my adopted College team. This is a leadership issue….. the coach, coaches and player leaders. As a New Zealander, leadership coach and All Black fanatic I spend a lot of time looking at this stuff. The ability of a team to pivot under pressure and change what they are doing thereby influencing a different outcome is about leadership. Leading the team to train under pressure, keep a clear head, make good clear decisions and inspire confidence are all part of a planned and well trained team culture. That takes good leaders to make it a focus. Here’s hoping they are humble, learn from the experience and step up to the challenge.

  5. So often it goes the other way. The game is actually over when one or more of the players on the team gives up, regardless of how much time is left on the clock. Leaders must listen for the telltale signs. I just left a conference call, and a leader on the call said, “We’re probably not going to win this one with all the things that went wrong. We certainly have had a lot of bad luck.” That leader gave his team permission to lose and excused poor performance as bad luck. Another email earlier forwarded a prospects email, in which they decided not to go with our company. They were too busy with their end year close on Sept 30, and decided to stay with their existing vendor. The customer went on to explain their existing vendor spent years investing to win, and there was no opportunity for us in the foreseeable future. The team was walking away when I reminded them that Oct 1 is the start of the customers new fiscal year, and probably the quietest time to perform the required testing to certify our products. The challenges of year end are gone, and it’s time to win a marathon. Leadership matters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AANukKd64X0&list=PL4140D08DD012CB73&index=58

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