We are the Champions - what sport can teach us about culture

It is often said that culture is at the heart of all successful teams. The culture of a sporting club is generally linked to its success on and off the field.

On September 30th, 2017, we experienced this first hand when the Richmond Tigers were crowned “world champions” of the Australian Football League (AFL) for 2017. 

Over 100,000 people at the mecca of sport, the Melbourne Cricket Ground  MCG and a few million watched on TV, as culture once again prevailed.

Although not the most skilled team, finished 13th last year, the culture that this team built over the last few years was evident for all to see. On the afternoon of Saturday September 30th this culture delivered the ultimate prize.

In 2016, the team was under siege, from the media, ex-players, supporters and a host of others. The Board stood firm and did not wilt. They believed in what they had built. They were steadfast in their approach and the decisions they had made over the last few years. It was determined to establish a culture of success. Yes, they had not been successful on the field, but they could sense that this was only a matter of time.

They stuck by what they believed in, their support structures, the appointments they had made and the environment that they had created. They were keen to develop a culture that was unique and was theirs and more importantly one that had buyin from everyone associated with the club – they were all in!

So, what is this thing called “culture”?

The dictionary definition states:

noun

  1. the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

"20th century popular culture"

  1. the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular person or society.

"Afro-Caribbean culture"

So, we can see from the above definition that is pertains to a collective, a group and it covers such aspects such as thoughts, practices, behaviours and the overall attitude of the group.

Recently I was fortunate enough to be in the audience at LearnX Live 2017 in Sydney Australia to hear Matt Johnson (Former Global MD for Kineo) deliver his keynote address:

“Let a thousand flowers bloom: developing a culture that helps your business thrive”

The slides share of this presentation can be accessed here

Matt challenged the audience to consider the importance of culture in business success and how learning can play a role.

A key slide of Matt’s presentation was a quote from the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016:

 

Taking time to invest in leadership and development, a learning culture can flourish, which will eventually lead to increased business performance and success.

Just like the Richmond Tigers in the AFL, a total review of the organisation, a focus on leadership and growth, along with a clear emphasis on team success, all lead to a change in culture that delivered.

The day after the game, one of the players outlined to the media a process that was employed by the club that he believed lead them to their success in 2017.

 

Highlights - Hardships - Heroes

Highlights:

Each member of the club was asked to identify their highlights in their life, the life changing moments that they had experienced and that had impacted their life.

Hardship:

They were asked to dig deep and express moments of hardship, those times when they had hit rock bottom, relationship issues, major injuries or other difficult times in their lives. This was the most difficult of all three as it was private and personal.

Heroes:

Lastly, they were asked to identify their heroes, those people in their lives that were their “super heroes”, their spouses, their partners, their parents, their friends, other sports people or prominent figures that they looked up to.

The process was undertaken in front of the whole playing group and each player took a turn during the season.

Slowly, he said, they would notice a cultural change around the club – a change like no other, a change that they could have never planned for.

The players knew each other better than ever before, they knew what made them tick, what hurt them and who their role models in life were. Sharing such intimate details allowed them to bond. Having coaches and other support staff also undertake this process made it a club wide initiative – as I said earlier, they were all-in.

“We all cared for each other more than ever before” he said.

A football team is no different from any organisation. It has its up and downs and there are a diverse range of people and roles, but they all strive for one thing – success!

Business success is no different to sporting success. Although there may not be a trophy at the end of the journey, there is the joy of achievement, the joy of accomplishment and the joy of working together as a team.

Cultural change is driven from within. - from within all of us!

Matt Johnson highlighted this in his closing statements:

“As I’ve been talking during this keynote about growth and learning, the most important aspect in creating the right culture is leadership. That doesn’t come from organisations – it comes from individuals.”

His call to action to the L&D audience assembled was clear:

“Learning needs to redefine L&D as “leadership and development” – culture and behaviours, not structures and roles”

Just like the all-conquering Richmond Football Club, each person played their role.  The club did not focus on structures or job descriptions – it empowered each individual to play a role – their role.

By adopting a Three Hs approach it could dispense with labels, allowing everyone to flourish and bloom.

 
 
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