Hello and welcome to a year that will have the Olympics in Tokyo and almost 150,000 hours of sports for you to watch on TV!
Many of those hours will include close-ups on the coaches as they react to the play of their teams. In some cases the narrative of the coach is now longer and more compelling than the endless line of players who make it on the court of field.
Who doesn't like a good Jon Gruden Smirk or Mike Krzyzewski squirm? It's similar to what we are doing as fans.
In this edition of SIWT we take a quick look at the challenge the coaches face each season on the topic of gaining player buy-in and the unique choices a coach has between using their power or influence.
When Loss Aversion Loses Its Effects
As a coach you have a series of common motivators that you can use, we have often pictured these motivators like spices on a rack that go into your coaching soup. You, the coach, have in your soup stock the normal base ingredients of effort, fitness, and strategies. The practices and the games then require you to pull from the spice rack the contexts and dynamics that help you deal with nailing the moment.
All teams start as groups, and during the course of a season the teams can revert to group status in an instant for reasons that range from having a grandparent in the stands, to having a losing record, to having little on the line at the end of the season. The notion of caring about the ball and each other before caring for oneself is counter-intuitive to most. It's this hard notion that attracts so many to coaching. Team can be special and coaching a winning team can be life changing.
Most of the spices are used to sharpen the focus of the players, to help them take the risk that comes from giving a full effort. Coaches know that the players will struggle to trust themselves, each other, and the coaches on how much better they can get. The standard the coach can see as their potential has risks. The tension between what a coach sees and what a player thinks is a normal part of that relationship and typically there are more players than coaches so the dynamic can get tense.
Some spices are slow to take effect and can have long lasting positive impacts, we have written about these in our Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams white papers. Vulnerability, following, humility, and commitment are spices that really change the dynamic of the team. However, they take time to develop and they also require a large amount of trust to have been developed between the players and the coaches.
Trust is seldom built from a power-based system and this is why so many of the spices that are on the coach rack work quickly but leave a bad aftertaste. A coach controls playing time, this is where their power has the most impact. A coach can use a loud voice and get players to move quickly out of fear. Some coaches don’t use a loud voice but prefer to undermine their players with passive-aggressive comments that allow them to still be in control but with a lower profile than the vocal coach.
One of the standard power-based motivators is loss aversion. “Are we really going to lose to this team?” “Is this the group of seniors who are going to break the streak of making the playoffs?” Sociology research has proven that loss aversion has a higher impact than goal obtainment. One of the best examples is putts for par vs birdie on the PGA Tour.
But eventually loss aversion loses its impact as does yelling, as does being passive aggressive. In fact, the dynamic that is really key for coaches to realize is that power has to be policed, where influence crosses borders without a passport.
The coach will always have the authority and the responsibility for the safety of the team. The coach will manage the game strategy and tactics and select who plays. The coach picks when practice starts and ends and what the team will work on in practice. The players agree to adhere to the rules outlined by the coaches. Power and authority work well in setting this up, much like the pilot and flight attendants enforce the rules on an airplane.
How the team behaves within that framework has everything to do with the influence the coach has earned. For the coach that only works from a position of power, and this will require a never ending amount of policing that can only be masked by winning. Winning creates buy-in from most constituents, and like perfumes can mask a lot of inconvenient smells. Influence is given by the player to the coach and is a precious offering. The player and the coach are both taking the risk of failure in front of others with the players taking most of the risk. Just picture the high school basketball player who bites on the cross over dribble and falls down in the 4th quarter of a road game against a cross town rival. The cascade of verbal assaults and embarrassment rain down on that player.
The coach and the player should be entering into a state of consensual interdependence where both are seeking to use their time together to improve and grow together. Each has a role to play, each is sacrificing. The fully developed coach understands that it takes time to build influence with the players that goes beyond winning a game. The fully developed coach is aware of the effects of the motivators they use and are careful which spices they use during the season. Loss aversion being one that they know will work, but only for short periods and that other longer lasting motivators must be present in the team soup for real team fulfillment.
Interested in other posts on similar topics? Check out our blog.
Help Us Help Coaches - We Need Your FeedbackSara and I have supported coach development through a non-profit we formed 16 years ago, recently that non-profit was hired by a high school to work with over 100 coaches on building out a team why and an individual WHY for their season and helping tie the two apparently opposed agendas together.
In preparation we are seeking answers from people to the following question:
In high school, how should the academic and athletic classrooms be the same and how should they be different?
We are seeking as many answers to this question as we can so please give it some thought and respond with your perspective here.
Back in February of this year we highlighted a book by Sam Walker by the name of The Captain Class that identified the captain as a key element to long term team success.
While digging deeper on the topic for our clients we noticed that the correlation of Walker’s captains with Glenn Parker’s work on team player styles and the most volatile team player style, “the challenger.”
Parker's work was mostly inside large corporations in the 70’s through early 90’s but his book Team Players and Teamwork is still relevant today. His research lays out four traits for how people will behave when working with others: Contributor, Communicator, Collaborator and Challenger. Everyone exhibits all four traits when interacting with others, however, it’s the order they prioritize them that impacts the group. The group that prioritizes being a challenger is the smallest, and his perspective about how to work with and advise this group has been of prescient.
Why you want Challengers on your team:
“Challengers push the team to talk openly about problems and things getting in their way of success.”
How others can react to a Challenger:
“Ironically, many Challengers are accused of not being team players because they raise objections to team decisions.”
What a coach needs to share with their Challenger:
“The real mark of an effective Challenger is their knowing when to stop pushing.”
Sports teams can be great places for challengers, the rules and boundaries allow them to flourish as they can focus their drive to excel and not be distracted by some of the constant changes of life. In work or family settings the challenger can be a bit exhausting to those with contribution or collaboration as dominant traits.
Our key learning when combining Walker’s and Parker’s work is to empower the challengers to call the team higher while making sure they realize others will have different needs. If one of your highest performers is also a challenger consider having the team take the Parker Team Player survey so the rest of the members will have a better understanding of these traits. This can lead to mutual respect being maintained over the course of a season or year when tensions rise due to losses or setbacks in goal obtainment.
As a leader or coach, establishing a common language for your team in some key areas is a big part of defining who is “on” the team. How people naturally want to act when with others is something you can leverage to help the group become a team. We hope Walker’s and Parker’s efforts will allow you to effectively identify your team’s traits so you can manage and lead them to challenge each other to find their best collective self.
Interested in other posts on similar topics? Check out our blog.
The Banyan Book
We are excited to announce coming in the first quarter of 2020 will be the Banyan Book, a compilation of our best practices, writings, and tools in a handbook for business owners and managers. As always, we welcome the chance to speak with you.
Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams (SIWT)
The shorter duration of sports teams seasons allow for more efficient research and we also find they correlate well with companies, non-profits, and families.
Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams (SIWT) is leading to the creation of a management process for coaches and businesses to implement.
SIWT is for coaches and owners who believe the best teams are made when both the individual's and the team's needs are met. This dual goal takes leadership and management to a higher level, it's not for the lazy coach or boss.
Our first edition focused on Vulnerability. This edition we turn our focus to Following.
Secret Ingredient: Following
If the leader is an intermediary to a vision, then a follower in a team context is someone who agrees with that vision, and subjects themselves to the needs of others in order to reach the agreed upon target. This sounds easy, yet a series of subtle forces are at work undermining group success. Individuals are efficient at calculating their own cost benefit analysis of their time, level of engagement, and compensation needs as they seek to optimize their return on effort.
The act of following while still thinking is a critical component that turns a group of people into a team. Today’s group efforts demand a fully engaged collective body where every person is thinking while they are following. Gone are the days of being able to blindly follow, now at a moment’s notice any member of the team may be called upon to lead. If they don’t have the vision in their mind, the outcomes will suffer.
Great Following Trait #1: Stay close and Observe
Google may have replaced mentors as the best source of knowledge in general, but on a team the subtle needs and tricks to great performance are still passed on human to human. The closer you can stay to your immediate leader, the more they will pass along in either word or deed. First year cadets at West Point are taught to observe and adapt as they start the tightly manicured 4-year matriculation. There will be distractions everywhere at work, from coworkers, to trade shows, to all-hands meetings. Navigate all these with discretion and observe how your boss behaves and mirror it.
Great Following Trait #2: Anticipate
Some of the best teams in the world come in pairs, and seldom is that pair splitting each task 50/50. They often deploy a divide and conquer strategy with each one owning a series of duties and relying on the other to deliver on their stack. As the team builds beyond a pair, a collaborate-to-innovate strategy can start to evolve. It is at this point that the ability to anticipate the needs of others plays a key role in how great followers enable successful teams. At the root of anticipation is empathy. Empathy requires setting aside your thoughts and seeing the world through the eyes of another. New members of work teams who seek to serve the needs of the group first will not stay at the bottom of the totem pole for long.
Great Following Trait #3: Be Comfortable with Conflict
Universities may talk a tough game when it comes to deadlines, but ultimately the student is paying for the knowledge. In recent decades the school administrators have a consistent record of caving to student and parent demands. The workplace is a different story, the customer is a fickle and petulant king, and this can turn even the nicest boss into a frustrated time-constrained leader with very challenging demands.
“Stop what you’re doing and get this done today! It has to get done now!”
What happened to: “How are you, is everything OK in your world? When you get a minute could you step in my office to discuss our latest cool project that you will love?”
Anyone who has worked for even six months knows tension and conflict arrive via phone, email, and text at a moment’s notice. Having a series of communication tools to work with others during times of duress is a game changer. Being able to work with conflict when you are in a low power situation starts with being able to frame what you are hearing, and then nailing what you can offer to the solution. When people disagree on the solution it is key for the good follower to grab the similarities that exist amid the differences, and then look for a good moment to share your findings. Master this trait as a follower, and your leaders will take note and your responsibilities will increase.
A View into Our Future
Tomorrow’s leaders will be challenged to get a population of individuals to buy into the need to follow as we have defined it. Those that can sell the benefits of supplanting the self for the group and create outcomes that feed the entire team will find that word of mouth among the members will keep a steady stream of applicants at their door. Very few enterprises scale without more people, and people having a good time while winning is contagious. We all want to be on that team. The question being asked is are you willing to follow long enough to get there?
The New Employee
We would like to highlight a specific moment when the individual is new to a team or company. One's ability to assimilate quickly appears to have a strong correlation with later success.
Here is a quick guide for you or a friend to use when they are new:
Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams
Six years ago Sara and I started Banyan Tree Strategies to help people build re-mark-able businesses and we are thankful for its success. In the midst of our work we started to notice a correlation between what we were doing for companies and our past experiences as professional athletes and more recently as youth sports coaches.
What was our big revelation?
Everyone wants to be on a winning team and nobody wants to be tagged as not being a team player.
OK. We get it, big deal, everyone knows that already.
Then why is it so hard to repeat as a winner, and why do most teams fail?
We took what we are learning from CEO’s and are applying it ranging from college coaches, to people coming out of college looking to grow their networks, to 6th grade lacrosse coaches. Four times a year we will share our insights called “The Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams,” a topic we have touched on at various moments in our Banyan Tree Branches & Roots Newsletter.
We hope our research can help you in your efforts to build winning teams in all facets of your life.
These are the themes we are currently following:
• The coach’s pursuit of collective excellence
• How small societies impact performance
• The evolving role of the captain
There are many noble pursuits for a coach at the beginning of the season and we hardly ever bump into one who is volunteering their time in the hopes of causing a kid to quit the sport. However, if we were to vote on one of the hardest goals to obtain, we would put achieving collective excellence above going undefeated and winning the all-city title.
Our definition of collective excellence has its roots in the work of John Wooden and those who also seek to build a personal relationship with each player in the joint pursuit of the team’s goals. The ability of the coach to build trust with the player, to such an extent that the player can agree to the role the coach has constructed for that season is crucial. It's part sales pitch and part plea for support and trust.
Each season is as an opportunity for the coach to have a scouting report done on themselves, a book as it were. It answers the question, how do we beat this coach? Scouting reports are common on players: what is the book on that guy?
A coach should also want to know what “the book” is on them at this point in their career, and then work the next season to improve. So what is the book on you right now?
The coach who trusts his or her team enough to be vulnerable with them should be well on their way to existing in a state of consensual interdependence with the rest of the coaching staff and the players. We wrote about this in one of our Thought Leadership Series pieces shown here.
The pursuit of collective excellence begins with the coaching staff and then continues through to the players. If you can think of a team you were on that achieved this, please share with us as we continue to build out stories on this topic.
How Small Societies Impact Performance
We first heard this term small societies from UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance in a talk he gave at the What Drives Winning Conference in 2015.
It was a scant reference at the beginning of the talk (minute 1:15), but for geeks like us, it was cause for research. Dorrance is a coach in pursuit of collective excellence. He is building a cumulative chest of wisdom on the topic of human collaboration in the pursuit of putting a ball in a net and caring about each other in the process. His research led him to discover Cesar Luis Menotti of Argentina who had the high pressure job of being that country's national soccer team coach.
It was Menotti who started talking about the teams within the teams, calling them small societies when describing the relationships between the goalie and the fullbacks, the right midfielder with the center forward. It is similar to Metcalf’s law of networks and how intertwined our relationships can get.
Our current learning is this:
Consider looking at your team the same way you would look at this square. You know you are going to be asked, how many squares can you see? If a square is a small society that could exist on your team, how many can you see? Make a list of small societies for your team and then if you feel like it, share it with us. As the coach, you can’t advise and mentor what you can’t observe.
We have reached out to Dorrance with no success to date. If you have a link to him, please let us know as we would love 15 minutes to have a conversation on his current thoughts.
Oh Captain, My Captain
No topic has captured our attention in the area of teams more in the past six months than the role of the Captain. Both Sara and I were captains of our high school and college teams. Both of us found it an arduous role to fill. In the decades since we have spoken to countless others who had similar experiences and were delighted to find that Sam Walker did years of research and published “The Captain Class.”
His goal was to answer one of the most challenging questions in the history of sport: who are the best teams of all time? In all sports, in all time? Talk about a Mt. Everest goal. He also had a second goal. If he could make a claim that there was one class above the rest, did they have any characteristics in common?
Turns out he could and there was. It was that they had a certain type of Team Captain. He then went on to identify that those captains had seven characteristics in common.
This was pure catnip for us and led us to interview as many college, high school, and youth sport coaches we could and ask, if this is true, then how can you incorporate identifying potential captains and then developing them as part of your program?
What we heard and how coaches are changing what they are doing in response to the data is encouraging.
We will continue to review this effort in this section of the publication. Here is a copy of what we send to coaches prior to our conversations with them, feel free to send it to any coach you know and we would love their advice and comments.
Thank you so much for your readership and engagement with our research on building and maintaining winning teams. Winning together is a jump for joy moment and we think those are worth the blood, sweat, and toil that goes into being collectively excellent. We will be back to you in the middle of May with our latest insights that we glean from our network of awesome contributing coaches and leaders.
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