Fourteen elderly men on a massive seesaw -- what could possibly go wrong? As soon as I saw this video, it reminded me of every team and organization I’ve ever worked with or been a part of.
After you read this article, watch the video. It will stay with you much longer than the two minutes it takes to watch, because it perfectly illustrates how one person in an organization can make a huge difference, for better or worse (pay careful attention to the gentleman in the middle wearing the light blue coat).
Team culture is a very obvious thing in athletics, but it can be very subtle in business. I’ve coached championship teams and those years it was a pleasure to go to work every day. During the successful years, the players were all good friends, the captains were admired, and the coaches were respected. Everyone got along, and it was fun to be a part of -- because the culture was positive.
I’ve also coached teams that struggled to win a game. During the losing seasons, some of our own fans heckled us. A few even sent me hate mail and told the college president I should be fired.
The chemistry internally wasn’t any better. One of our defensemen didn’t get along with the attackmen, one of the goalies didn’t get along with the others, and our best player didn’t get along with anyone. It was painful to be a part of and not fun to go to work every day, because the negativity of those three culture vultures won out.
The amazing thing of it all is that there wasn’t that much of a talent difference between those championship teams and the losing teams. As a matter of fact, some of those losing seasons involved the most talented players I’ve ever coached. There was one key difference: culture.
Organizations and teams are just like the seesaw in the video. There are positive team members on one end who have a team first mindset and a big-picture vision. On the other end of the seesaw (insert organization or locker room) you’re dealing with what I call “culture vultures” (Scientific Classification: Negativus Maximus). They’re negative, think only about themselves, their personal stats or numbers, and as a result, they’re toxic to team success. They’re thinking about what the organization can do for them, not what they can do for the organization.
Culture vultures will sabotage others to make their own accomplishments stand out. Their egos get in the way every time, and worse yet, their negativity is contagious. If you're not careful to guard against it, their influence spreads, and they can pollute the culture by quickly outnumbering the positive members of the organization.
In the middle of the see-saw that is your organization stand the silent majority of your personnel whose mindset could be influenced to go either way. Adding or subtracting a leader or culture vulture can tip the scales in either a positive or negative direction for you. It’s a constant battle to move the majority over to the positive side and away from the influence of the culture vultures. The example in the video represents what can happen when culture vultures are able to exert stronger influence than positive leaders.
This subtle influence is how one or two people in the middle can make a big impact on the culture of your organization. Their movement to one side or another is contagious and creates momentum either towards success -- or towards sabotaging the team’s goals.
Every action has influence upon those around you, and the best way to improve the team is to improve the individual. The best thing you can do is to move out of no man’s land in the middle and take positive steps towards being a better team player. Others will follow your lead, and everyone will be better because of it.
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