How to Spot a Winning Team Culture

I attended a women’s basketball game recently in which the home team sought to win the regular season conference championship against the visiting perennial conference power.

I didn’t know anything about either team—their strengths or personnel.

The first few quarters were close, but the home team led. At the beginning of the third quarter, I predicted to my friends that the home team would fold and the visitors would walk away victors.

My prediction was based solely on what I observed of each team’s culture.

The visiting team had a winning culture.

Here’s what it looked like:

  • players on the bench were animated and enthusiastic—standing, clapping, screaming for their teammates—they were very clearly FOR each other
  • communication was off the charts; the players would huddle on the court between plays and had tremendous vocal leadership and eye contact
  • when a player went down, teammates ran to help her up
  • players ran on and off the court
  • players owned their mistakes (“that was my fault”)
  • players complimented one another (“great hustle play!”)
  • they were TOGETHER and showed energy and grit

During an officials review near the end of the game, the visiting team players were huddled and never stopped talking.

The home team was standing near one another but somewhat separated. After the coach made some initial comments, none of the players talked.

No encouragement. No connection. The players were all in their own heads.

The difference in the two teams was striking!

All the visiting team behaviors were taught and reinforced. Those behaviors do not come naturally.

We all know that displaying the above characteristics does not guarantee a win.

But teams that do will overcome obstacles and even a talent deficiency. More often than not, they will put themselves in the position to win.

And on that night, the visitors made my prediction come true—they walked away victors.