Behind every great team is a strong culture; great leadership; and passionate, committed people.
There’s a reason why all great teams have a great culture. It’s because culture is the living and breathing essence of what a team believes, values, and does. Team culture is the written and unwritten rules that say how a team communicates, connects, thinks, works, and acts.
When Apple was just the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), they knew the culture they wanted to create. They would be the culture that challenged the status quo. Everything they did, including hiring people, running campaigns, and creating products, was inﬂuenced by this culture. Even now, the culture continues to inﬂuence everything they do and the way they do it. It’s why Apple is famous for its maxim, “Culture beats strategy.” You have to have the right strategy, of course, but it is your culture that will determine whether your strategy is successful.
Your most important job as a team is to create a culture— and not just any culture. You must create a positive culture that energizes and encourages each other, fosters connected rela- tionships and great teamwork, empowers and enables your team to learn and grow, and provides an opportunity for you to do your best work.
Create Your Culture
When I was a sophomore on the Cornell lacrosse team we were ranked ninth in the country. I was the starting face-off mid- ﬁelder and we played a tough game against West Point that went into sudden-death overtime, which means the ﬁrst team to score wins. I remember standing at the face-off circle in the middle of the ﬁeld thinking, If I lose this face-off we will likely lose the game. I need to win it.
I lost the face-off and, the next thing I knew, my opponent was running down the ﬁeld along the sideline with the ball. I was so mad that I ran as fast as I could and somehow caught up and hit him really hard and the ball fell out of his stick. I picked it up before he did and, as he pushed me out of bounds, I jumped in the air and threw the ball behind my back to my friend and teammate, John Busse, who caught the ball with one hand and threw it to our other teammate, Joe Lando, who scored the game winner for us.
Please know I’m not telling you this to impress you with my athletic ability. It was my one and only great play in college. I’m telling you this because we won so many close games that year. But during my senior year, we lost a lot of close games. We even had a chance to beat Princeton, who won the national championship, in overtime but couldn’t pull it off.
Looking back, I can see that the clear difference between my sophomore year and my senior year was our team culture. We had lost the championship culture that had been created. As Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens says, “Your culture is not just your tradition. It’s the people in the locker room who carry it on.” Unfortunately, my fellow teammates and I didn’t create or carry on the culture of our older teammates before us.
I wish I had been the leader then that I am now but, unfortunately, I wasn’t. I didn’t know how important culture was to the success of a team. I didn’t know you could lose your culture. I didn’t know that culture and performance could change so quickly. I now know that building a great team begins with creating a great a culture. I know that, as a team, you are always creating your culture. You are creating culture every moment of every day by what you think, say, and do. It doesn’t matter what your culture was like yesterday or last year. What matters is what you are doing to create it today.
Culture is Dynamic Not Static
People often look to leadership when it comes to the culture of an organization and team—and they should. Leaders have a huge inﬂuence on the culture. They set the tone and decide what the team values and stands for, but it’s important to note that your culture is brought to life and created by everyone on your team.
You and your team members have a huge inﬂuence on your culture and the culture you create. It’s not just about what your manager, school principal, boss, coach, or supervisor says and does. It’s also about what you say and do. If you are a part of a negative culture, don’t see yourself as a victim and by- product of it. Instead get together with your team and create a positive culture to replace it.
Culture is not static; it’s dynamic. You can change it by what you say. You can elevate it by what you think. You can improve it by what you share. You can transform it by what you do. You can be a positive team that creates a positive culture right now.
Make Your Bus Great
People often ask me what to do if they are part of an organization with a negative culture but desire to have a positive culture in their department or team. I tell them what I shared in my book, The Energy Bus.
You may not be driving the big bus but you can make your own bus great. Create the culture of your team and show the rest of the organization what a positive team looks like.
Over the years I’ve had many teams do this and report to me that their team inspired other teams. In some cases, the positive team became the model for the entire organization, and transformed it as a result.
Never doubt the impact that a positive team can have on its organization, community, and, ultimately, the world. When you make your bus great, you show what’s possible and help others drive toward greatness.
Jon Gordon was once one of us, frustrated with his circumstances, blaming everyone else for his troubles, fearful, negative, miserable and trying to figure it all out. Now, the worldwide bestselling author, keynote speaker and leadership expert is the guy everyone is turning to for major breakthroughs in successful team building and powerful inspiration. In the decade-plus since the publication of his critically acclaimed book and Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Energy Bus (10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy),” Gordon’s principles are continually being put into practice, making a huge impact in America’s boardrooms, locker rooms, classrooms and beyond.
Read Jon Gordon’s latest book, The Power of a Positive Team: Proven Principles and Practices that Make Great Teams Great to learn more about practical tools to help teams overcome negativity and enhance their culture, communication, connection, commitment and performance.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from The Power of a Positive Team by Jon Gordon. Copyright © 2018 by Jon Gordon. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and ebooks are sold.