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Coaching and Culture – What We Can Learn From March Madness

By Al Curnow, Senior Consultant

Buckle up. March Madness is here.  It’s the best time of the year.    For any college basketball junkie, this is a time of pure bliss.   In two weeks, the brackets will be set and we’ll become inundated with games from dawn to dusk. 

While there’ll likely be a few Cinderella stories among the games, the men’s and women’s tournaments are typically dominated by many of the traditionally strong programs (think UCONN or Tennessee among the women’s programs, or Duke and North Carolina among the men).    What is it about these programs that make them perennial contenders for national championships?    Without a doubt, a major component is the culture these institutions have built.   Further, they are able to recruit the top basketball talent available.   Yet, even with a great culture and top talent, these players need to be developed and molded into great teams.  Who’s responsible for doing this and how is it done?  Beyond that, how can we apply this to our own organizations?

It’s all about Coaching

I’d argue that coaching is the key.   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that programs run by coaches such as Krzyzewski, Auriemma, or the late John Wooden or Pat Summit were/are always in the running for (or winning) national championships.  While critical in sports, effective coaching is important to any organization’s success. That’s why coaching is one of the more important components of our 8-Step Framework to build and drive a high-performing culture.     

The process of building and sustaining a high performing team and culture is largely a teaching function.  We first must very clearly define what we want our culture to be, in terms of behaviors (we call these  Fundamentals).   Then, we must teach and coach these Fundamentals to our team members over and over until they become woven into the fabric of our organization.

Leverage the Teachable Moments

Once you have identified and communicated what you want your culture to be, an infinite number of “teachable moments” will present themselves.  It’s essential that your leaders, supervisors, and managers be prepared to leverage these opportunities when they arise.   We need to be able to positively reinforce and recognize those team members who are practicing the desired behaviors, while looking to “coach up” those that might need assistance. 

How You Do It Matters

Coaching done in a way that fosters learning, self-belief, and a focus on potential  (in addition to performance) pays huge dividends. Put in basketball terms, good coaching extends far beyond the X’s and O’s of game strategy.  The real coaching takes place in the countless hours of practice, team meetings and one to one coaching sessions.   This is where the teaching is done, where the desired habits and skills are formed.  It’s not about the screaming from the sideline (although there’s often plenty of that); it’s about all of the work done leading up to game time.

The Benefits of Good Coaching

While the benefits of good coaching are almost limitless, here are a few of the more significant outcomes:

  1. The power of every team member is unlocked.
  2. A cohesive, high-performing team is created.
  3. Consistent, superior performance is sustained over periods of time.
  4. Improved relationships are created among team members and across the organization.
  5. Team members become more motivated and engaged team members.

Developing good coaches that drive your culture should clearly be a priority for your organization.  If you’d like to learn more about how to do that, just shoot us an email, give us a call, or check out our founder, David Friedman’s latest book, Culture by Design. You might also consider joining other leaders who are passionate about their culture at our Annual Summit. We’re here to help.