Duped by Success

Duped by Success

You’ve probably heard that “love covers over a multitude of sins.” In the sports world, that translates to “wins cover a multitude of sins.” When your team keeps winning, it’s easy to think that you have good methods, strong relational trust and minimal dysfunctions. Winning puts everyone in a better mood and masks issues that can slowly eat away at team trust.

Recently, a few assistant coaches of winning teams shared with me stories of rampant dysfunction within their coaching staff and players. Teams led by humans (guess that includes every team!) will have some dysfunction, but the level of unhealthiness present on these conference-leading teams shocked me.

Head coaches establish the culture and environment of the team, but many times are oblivious to how their leadership style impacts the team and/or current issues between team members. Perhaps they don’t care or want to know, but more likely they don’t know because they simply don’t ask.

Feedback is like vegetables. We know it’s good for us, but don’t always like the taste. Yet, leaders who will not ask for, listen to and truly consider feedback from other team members run the risk of being duped by success.

Three ways to get helpful, honest feedback in order to address your team’s dysfunctions:

  1. Team survey. Some coaches use these once a month in order to keep a pulse on how things are going in key areas. I like the one from Jeff Janssen’s book, Championship Team Building, that evaluates areas like communication, conflict, cohesion and coaching. Have team members fill them out anonymously for the best results.
  2. 360-degree review. A questionnaire that people under or around your leadership fill out (assistants, players, athletic director, peers). Many online versions make it easy to use and mean that feedback remains anonymous. Every leader has blind spots (things obvious to others, but unseen by you) and this tool helps you recognize them.
  3. Ask. Find someone you trust who:
    • will tell you the truth
    • has spent time around your team and
    • has watched your leadership

Ask for their observations about something specific (i.e. how you conduct practice or relate to players/coaches, how individuals treat one another, how team members handle conflict). No matter what they say, refuse to get defensive, listen to them and say thank you.

You may win for a few seasons with a dysfunctional team, but sooner or later it will catch up with you. Create opportunities for feedback and you’re less likely to get duped by your own success.

Have you every been duped into thinking all was well with your successful team, only to find out later about issues under the surface? Tell us about what you learned below.