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by John Korber

Culture [kuhl-cher] -noun: the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization. 

Successful teams, sometimes by accident, but more often by design, share amongst their members a common set of values, attitudes and goals. These characteristics define the identity of a given team, and ultimately create the culture of that team. 

Everything about the actions of the team is a function of these characteristics, right down to the definition of success itself. A team that values equal playing time for all players could consider a tournament without winning a game a successful one…while clearly plenty of other teams would not. A team’s culture helps define where it wants to go and how it wants to get there. Core to the success of any team is an agreement, unspoken, implied, or in writing, between its members on these things. Leading a group of people who do not share a minimum of them in common is both incredibly difficult and incredibly stressful. 

I believe that a team’s leadership has a responsibility to lead the team in a direction consistent with its culture. In some cases (like some youth sports or the business world), it can be appropriate for leadership to impose values, attitudes and goals onto the members of the team. In cases where the leaders function more as peers (as is common on many ultimate teams), the leaders only have a limited ability to influence the team’s culture. 

Captains can be highly effective leading a team where it wants go, but should be cautious about trying to lead a team somewhere else. If your team of sheep are happy being sheep, you probably will not have much success trying to make them into wolves. It takes a tremendous amount of poise and character for a captain to lead a team somewhere away from his or her own goals, but our obligations as a leaders are to lead our teams where they want to go…or to let someone else do it. 

Recently, I have led two very different ultimate teams. The first played most recently at the USAU Club Championships and was formed through careful recruiting and selection. Its members shared values and goals from day one. The other played indoors in a local recreational league and was formed through a random draft. Its members had little in common other than living in the same general area and looking for a good time on the field one night each week. 

As expected, the teams differed greatly in many ways. One team consisted of mature players with polished skills and refined personal drive. The other had several players who had never heard of a stall count, could not throw a forehand, and had never heard of the USAU. 

My leadership of these two teams varied as greatly as their makeups, but one constant persisted. I worked as hard as I could to deliver an ultimate experience consistent with the expectations, values and attitudes of my teammates. On the one hand, this included track workouts, sophisticated defensive schemes and goals for success at Nationals. On the other, teaching basic rules, the shirt colors which could be considered ‘dark’ and the importance of stretching were more appropriate. 

While the cultures of the teams clearly varied, my responsibilities as a leader remained unchanged: lead the team to the place that it wants to go using means consistent with its culture. My recreational league teammates did not want to hear "Just work harder!" any more than my club teammates wanted to hear "Well, at least we are all having a fun time!" 

A team’s culture is central to its existence, identity and success. 

If you already have a team to lead, it is important to understand the value and goals of your teammates. For example, what would a majority of them consider a successful season? Going undefeated? Sharing playing time equally? How do they want to achieve this success? Holding shorter practices? Running more track workouts? Partying harder together more often? 

If you are starting a new team, you have some flexibility to recruit players who share your values and goals. Make your values clear before and during tryouts and encourage people who share your values to come out. In the end, identifying (and leading in a manner consistent with) your team’s culture will have a significant effect on your effectiveness as a leader. 

huddle issue032

Thu March 31st, 2011

Us vs. Them
by Tully Beatty

Find Your Spirit Animal
by Tyler Kinley

by John Korber

Nurture What You Like, Overcome What You Don't
by Peri Kurshan

Team Identity
by Ali Lenon

Self-Sustaining Team Culture
by Matt Mackey

Key Team Culture Moments
by John Sandahl

Work Together
by Charlie Reznikoff

It Will Change Every Season
by Miranda Roth




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