Having worked with a number of NFL, NBA and college coaches and teams and many businesses I can attest that the principles for leading and managing great teams really do apply to both. And what I love about sports is that in the course of just a few months it’s clear to the coach, the players and the millions of fans watching the game on television whether or not the coach’s leadership and teambuilding principles and strategies have worked.
So how do great coaches get buy in from their teams? How do they create a real team that is truly committed to each other? How do they prevent individual and organization negativity from sabotaging the team? And most important of all, what can we learn from these coaches when building our own business teams and organizations. Let’s start with culture.
1. Culture First – In 2008 Mike Smith was hired to be the head coach of The Atlanta Falcons after Bobby Petrino left the team and their culture in shambles. I consulted with Coach Smith during that time and his biggest priority as a new coach was to focus on the culture of the team. Coach Smith knew that he had to first identify, create and share the values, expectations, beliefs and habits that would define the Atlanta Falcons in order to get his players to buy in. Those who shared these values and beliefs would be enthusiastic and engaged while those who didn’t fit this culture were given other opportunities to play somewhere else. Coach Smith created his culture every day by sharing his beliefs with the team, making his expectations very clear, having the team read The Energy Bus, communicating positive messages on a daily basis, and living and breathing the values he wanted to ingrain in his team.
2. Get your team on the bus – When it comes to buy in the first set of people you need to get on your bus is your leadership team. If you don’t have buy in from your leadership team you won’t be able to generate passionate engagement from the rest of your team. This seems like common sense but many teams aren’t connected at the top and that’s why they crumble at the bottom. When I worked with the University of Texas football team in 2009, the year they played for a national championship, the first thing we did was to create buy in from the leaders of the team. Once the leaders were on board we then devised a plan to invite the rest of the team on the bus. With every team I’ve worked with I’ve had the leaders hand out bus tickets to the team inviting them on the bus. I tell leaders don’t assume someone is on your bus just because they are a member of the team. By inviting them on the bus you are symbolically asking them to buy in. When they accept this invitation and hand in their ticket they are committing to the team. The desire to be part of a tribe and engage in tribal rituals is ingrained in our DNA so when someone ritually invites us on the bus our desire to be part of a team turns into commitment and buy in.
3. No Energy Vampires Allowed – Coach Mike Smith created a No Complaining training camp. Coach Jack Del Rio put a No Energy Vampires Allowed sign on his door. Mark Richt, head coach of the University of Georgia, had a picture of an Energy Vampire placed in the team meeting room last year reminding players they were going to stay positive as a team. After reading The Energy Bus, Doc Rivers head coach of the Boston Celtics made it clear that no energy vampires were allowed on the team. In essence these coaches were saying that we as a team must stay positive and not allow energy vampires to suck the life and energy out of our team. Under no circumstance will we allow an individual’s negativity to sabotage our team, our mission and the goals we want to accomplish. Great coaches like Notre Dame Women’s lacrosse coach Christine Halfpenny combat negativity at the cultural level and deal with it upfront by making it clear that Energy Vampires will not be allowed on the bus. They help a team stay positive through adversity knowing that a team who stays positive together, wins together.
4. Believe in them more than they believe in themselves - Leadership is often a transfer of belief and your belief transfers more powerfully when you are someone your team wants to follow because you believe in them. Steve Jobs was legendary for his ability to distort people’s reality and convince them that they could do things they never thought possible. Steve would have been an incredible NFL coach if had ever decided to take a pay cut and coach the San Francisco 49ers. Great coaches, like the current 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh believe in their team members more than they believe in themselves. I can still see the image of Coach Harbaugh on the sidelines thumping his Quarterback Alex Smith’s chest (I don’t recommend this at work) before a huge play-off game last year as if he was physically instilling his confidence and belief in him. At the beginning of the season most people said Alex Smith would no longer be a starter in the NFL but Coach Harbaugh believed in him and as a result of his coaching, encouragement and belief Alex Smith made the two biggest plays of his life to win that playoff game.
5. Love Tough – Tough love is often necessary to accomplish team goals. But for tough love to work love must come first. Buy in happens when a team member knows you care about them. If you show them you care they will be more receptive to you pushing them to be their best. I’ve worked with Mike Smith and the Atlanta Falcons for the last five years and my favorite habit of Coach Smith is that he often visits the treatment room to see the injured players. While most NFL coaches have no interest in speaking to injured players since they are of no use to them, Coach Smith takes time to show his players he cares. When the players recover they are more loyal and play harder for their coach. Relationships are the foundation upon which winning teams are built and great coaches build great relationships with their players. When you love tough you not only get powerful buy in, you get greater results.
How do you get your team to buy in? Leave a comment below.