Lessons on Company Culture From The Chain Gang.

By Tai Anderson, August 29, 2016

My oldest son plays linebacker for Roswell, a large high school north of Atlanta. They have a great team, a winning tradition, and a distinct culture. From our fans throwing flour in the stands, to “Enter Sandman” blasting out of the speakers as the walkout music, to the way the team celebrates a touchdown and the after game position group prayers, there is a “Roswell way” of doing things. Of late, that “way” includes an impressive record and consistent success.

Part of the “Roswell way” involves parent participation. Through the years, I’ve helped with parking, cleaned up the stands, and worked in the concession stand. However, my favorite role is working on the chain gang. Whenever I can, I work on the chain gang with the officiating crew on the visiting team’s sideline. It’s the best seat in the house to watch the Roswell Hornets, including my son, in action.

On the chain gang, I get a firsthand view of the culture of each team we face. I’m right there, listening to the way the players talk to one another, the way the coaches talk to the players, the way the coaches talk to one another, and most importantly, the way the players talk to the coaches. The season is early, but so far, Roswell is undefeated. So, I also get a firsthand view of how the opposing team handles adversity as well. It’s not always pretty.

In my role at Leadercast, I interact with a lot of different companies. In those interactions, I’ve seen a direct correlation between employee engagement and companies that have a distinct, defined corporate culture. When I talk about corporate culture, you’re probably picturing a company like Google, Apple, Nike or Amazon; modern companies with relaxed working environments. However, I’m not just talking about dress codes, napping pods, ping-pong, or free lunch. When I talk about corporate culture, I focus on the 2 most important things;

How does your team handle success?

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How does your team handle adversity?

Handling Success

At Roswell, our coaches lavish praise on exceptional players, give ample high fives, and acknowledge successes publicly. It’s not uncommon to see our coach jumping up in the air for a little bump with a player after a particularly impressive play. After each game, the parents gather around the huddled athletes as they are praised for their success and admonished to make wise choices over the weekend. The athletes then break into their units for further acknowledgement, and a brief prayer. Then, there is dancing, song, and a frequent celebratory dinner at a local chicken wing establishment.

Coach John Ford acknowledging a past Hornet, now Division 1 athlete on a touchdown.

Coach John Ford acknowledging a past Hornet, now Division 1 athlete on a touchdown.

You’d think success is the easy part. However, a lot of organizations don’t know how to handle the win. There’s a perfect balance to it, and a great leader has a plan on how to achieve that balance.

First of all, celebrate victories, even minor ones. Great companies plan ways to celebrate a meaningful revenue win, a successful quarter, or a great fiscal year. This can involve something as simple as ringing a gong, rewarding employees with bonuses, or doing a fun office-wide event. But, the great organizations celebrate the company wins together as a team.

Teams that celebrate victories tend to have more of them.

Employees want to be recognized. When they are, they perform better. Then, there’s more to celebrate! It’s a beautiful, wonderful cycle.

Managers can help employees see how their work is contributing. Most important, they can avoid actions that negate its value.
— Harvard Business Review

Secondly, great teams apply the Under Armour motto to “be humble, stay hungry.” Great competitors never disrespect their opponents and are never satisfied with the last victory. If you ask a truly great football coach what the most important play of a game is, he or she will usually answer, “the next play.” A great team is always looking ahead to what is next with healthy discontentment.

Just as it is important to celebrate a victory and acknowledge success generously, it’s just as important to then look to the future and stay focused on the larger goals of the organization.

The celebration of a Roswell High School win lasts approximately 10 hours. Early on Saturday morning, the team arrives to watch film and start preparing for the next week’s challenge. A great leader helps his/her team celebrate a success, but also helps transition focus to the next challenge ahead. There’s always room for improvement, and your past record puts no points on the board for the next contest.

Handling Adversity

Times of adversity are when your team's true colors come shining through. Although many companies don’t handle success all that well, it is not inherently difficult. Adversity, challenges, failures and losses are a whole other matter. If you really want to see what a company culture is all about, see how they handle seasons of trial. Is management calm? Are there firings? Do employees turn on one another? Do people pass the buck or try to fly below the radar? Just as you have to plan ahead for how you will celebrate and move on from successes, you must also plan for how you will acknowledge and move on from inevitable adversity.

On the chain gang, I’ve seen and heard it all. I’ve seen teams that stay absolutely calm and consistent even when a game is slipping out of reach. Not surprisingly, those teams tend to go on to have winning seasons, even if they lose that particular contest. I’ve also seen teams that absolutely fall apart. I’ve seen teams handle adversity with calmness, and I’ve seen teams turn on one another. I’ve seen coaches second guess one another. I’ve seen players disrespect their coaches, and I’ve seen players and coaches disrespect the officials.

Every team will face adversity. My Roswell Hornets will face adversity this year. However, they have built a culture that is prepared for it. The team loves ones another, regardless of the scoreboard. Is the same true of your company? When it’s all said and done, the way that people treat one another is the strongest indicator of a team’s true culture.

How does your team celebrate success? How does your team handle adversity?

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