That’s What Teams Do

I know a family who has fallen on some hard times. A lot has happen lately. They are the type of family who wouldn’t give most of life’s issues a second thought, wouldn’t consider them problems, just stuff we all have to deal with from time to time. But this is a little different. They’re hard times have been health related, ongoing, and one after another.

This is the thing about this family: They have given so much to others over the years. They’ve enriched us through their deeds, heart, and presence. Those of us who know them and are part their team, their tribe if you will, decided to give back a bit, a small token not nearly commensurate with what they have given others, but enough to make a difference, enough to pick them up just a bit.

In the attached video (click here for video), you can see this unfold. One of my favorite parts of the video is when Coach Mark Bernas says, “We pick each other up. That’s what teams do.”

Isn’t that so true? Isn’t that what teams do? Real teams, the type that make a difference, pick each other up no matter what is at stake. If it matters to one, it matters to all. The scoreboards and trophies are such a small part of what real teams do. The real work is in picking up the people, the individuals and families, who come together to create the team. This is what teamwork is about. This is family is about. This is what community is about. This is what being a connecting, spiritual human is about.

There is strength in numbers, and when we need to be strong, we need to feed our strength, not our weakness. This is why the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” When we are weak, we must fight the urge to feed our weakness for that is when we need to feed our strength the most. We feed our strength by coming together and picking each other up.

If you know someone who needs to be picked up, please do it. It doesn’t matter if they are part of your perceived team or not. Blur the lines that divide teams into separate units. Understand that we all stand on the same sideline in life and make a play to pick up a new teammate in need. Feed our strength. It’s what teams do.

The Illusion of Poisonous People

In yesterday’s post (to read Playing from the Heart, click here), I discussed playing from the heart, which is to make plays with the most love, caring, and compassion you can muster. I would like to share a story about how one of my clients played from the heart in what he once considered a situation that was out of his control and destined to be a loss for his team.

I recently worked with a client who was experiencing some very negative symptoms, even panic attacks. He perceived the problem to be stress from his job as a professional service provider and also a business owner who has employees. Thus, not only do some people depend on him for professional opinions, others depend on him for a living. In his mind, it was a crushing workload, and frankly, a burden to carry. You can imagine how he was feeling with this as his mindset.

After our first session, he began to lose his need to control, and he started to open up to possibilities and began to love making the plays of his profession. Early in the next week, he was already feeling much better and had a renewed purpose and energy.

Over the next few weeks and months, he continued to make great personal strides, but he continued to be concerned about one particular staff member (we will call her Employee X) who seemed to poison the minds of the all staff in the practice, including him when he was not aware that she had no power to control his thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, he was frequently able to be aware that she did not control him, and as he opened up to other possible thoughts about her, he usually felt better. Unfortunately, it was not possible for me to work with the entire staff, so we had some talks about how to handle the situation.

Finally one day he was feeling extremely frustrated with the same problems occurring again and again, and we had a conversation about how to handle the situation. All he could do was communicate and lead from the heart. This would help force a choice among his other staff members: Continue to let this person seemingly poison the environment and their thoughts and feelings, or they could decide to play it from the heart, like the boss was going to model for them.

 A few weeks later, I got this text from him. I think it sums up nicely several ways he’s made important changes in the way he’s making plays from the heart in what he once considered an external situation that controlled him:

Employee X showed up unannounced to a meeting. Frankly, I didn’t invite her because she isn’t productive in those meetings. She called me out publicly in front of the rest of the staff. I addressed her objectively and swiftly. I was calm and concise. My thoughts didn’t waiver, so neither did my feelings. The staff saw how calmly I handled it. I hope they can follow my lead. More importantly, Employee X got a clear message. Play all the games you want, but it is not going to affect my emotions.

Hopefully that will be the end of her antics. I’m not sure what she has gotten all these years out of pushing my buttons, but it is my fault for letting her do so. So instead of me spending all my team proving my point to everyone, I’m just going to lead the right way and hopefully everyone will follow. She now has a decision. Get on the team or not, but your cancerous attitude will no longer hang over the rest of the team.

I am not sure I would have handled it or explained it in exactly the same way, but this was his way of dealing with it. And it was certainly much better than the ways he had dealt with it in the past.

In becoming aware that the staff member had no control over his thoughts and feelings, my client began to awaken to other possibilities. Finally, he was able to make some plays from the heart that have helped him deal with this employee even though she really hasn’t changed much at all. As my client understood that nobody can poison another’s mind, he began to change his thoughts and feelings about this person and the situations she influences. He certainly has not come to enjoy her, but he no longer believes she has the power to poison him or the environment.

Playing from the Heart

Despite my advice about the importance of trust in organizations, I frequently work with clients who are having trouble getting along with a someone. Often this person is a teammate in some way: A sports teammate, a business teammate, a family teammate. Typically, one of the major issues is a problem in communication.

As is usually the case when people are in conflict, there is a difference of opinion, and anger, hurt, and mistrust exists. My clients have usually come a good way in understanding that their anger and hurt is only coming from their own thought-feeling connection, but they are often still lost about how to communicate with someone who doesn’t seem to be as invested in building in a trusting culture.

My suggestion is always the same. You should make plays from the heart.

What does it mean to make plays from the heart? Making plays from the heart is acting (communicating, supporting, helping, etc.) in a way that shows love, compassion, or care for others.  I find that this guideline almost always results in modeling the behavior you want to see from others. I also find that people are at their best in almost any endeavor when acting from love. It’s essentially the emotion that allows the true you to be expressed unfiltered.

If you act from blocked thinking and negative emotions, you aren’t going to be playing from the heart, and everyone around you will see someone other than the real you. To be at your best, understand than any negative feelings are only coming from your thinking, and if you don’t muddy your thoughts with blame and judgement, those feelings will change when your thoughts eventually and inevitably clear. From this clarity, you can then take action, such as communicating from the heart, sending a message that represents the true you.

Now, this certainly doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to get walked on or trampled. It simply means that if you act from the heart, from the most loving, compassionate, caring position you can muster, you are going to build trusting relationships with others, even when you are delivering difficult news, even when you are explaining why you do not trust them.

If you keep making plays from the heart and pointing in the direction of trust, it will be built within your culture, and your culture will thrive.

The Importance of Trust in Cultures

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of implied cultures (to read yesterday’s article, click here: The Importance of Implied Culture). Today, I want to touch upon the importance of implied trust within cultures.

If you are a regular reader of my columns, you understand my multiple reasons for cautioning against buying into the illusion of control (to read more about illusions of control, click here: Be Aware). Most importantly, it stifles freedom and creativity.

In a culture of two or more, trust and control are not compatible. Why is this the case? Consider human relationships. When you feel the need to control another person (please note, true control is an illusion, but some people buy into the illusion), it is likely because you do not trust them. If you trust them, there is no felt need to control them, and there are no actions taken to control them, actions that are often taken to communicate a lack of trust.

Lack of trust and attempts to control can only divert attention and effort that is required to perform at one’s best. To use a football analogy, how good can a quarterback be if he constantly caught up in mistrust of blocking and receiving? Certainly adjustments are needed, but trust in others’ abilities to perform their roles is necessary for maximum attention to one’s own job duties. Without trust, the system will perform less than optimally when everyone – except the leader – performs their duties to their maximum potential. When the leader fails, what happens to making the play? To continue with our football analogy, if a quarterback changes his footwork or throws in anticipation of mistakes that do not occur, the play will break down due to a lack of sequence, timing, or positioning.

If you hang onto the idea that you need to control another’s thoughts, feelings, or actions (or even if you hang onto the illusion that you can control another’s thoughts, feelings, or actions), you will never fully trust them, and you will constantly spin your wheels seeking a control that you will never realize. This will also probably be experienced as frustration and confusion for the other person (or more than one person), and your organization will become bogged down in frustration and confusion.

Thus, attempts to control lead to frustration and confusion and tend to communicate a lack of trust. Without trust, you will stifle the freedom of your organization. Without trust, you will never experience the insight and exponential growth that only results from freedom to explore the limits of what is possible.

You might be thinking, but trust needs to be earned, and isn’t it true that people can prove themselves to be untrustworthy? Absolutely, and this is why it is so important to be trustworthy if you are devoted to the cause of your organization. Any lack of trust threatens to undermine possibility and progress and is likely to bring more attempts to control into play. However, keep in mind that the first show of mistrust is an attempt to control in the first place.

Trust in others, and build pathways for them to show their worth. If they fail, continue to show trust in their ability to improve. This is the path to a great culture.

The Importance of Implied Culture

I played football at Albion College in the early to mid-90s. One of the things that I found interesting about those teams was that we never had any explicitly stated mottos, slogans, or team names. We weren’t Team 92, Team 93, etc.

But if you asked for a story that defined our team, or if you asked what our motto could be, or if you watched the way we got after our practices and games, to a man our implied motto could have been stated something like this: We are a rising program that is going to win a national championship.

From the moment we toured campus as high school student-athletes, the upperclassmen started talking about this belief. They told stories about a loss to a former national champion in which we had come back from 21 down to force overtime. They told stories about the great will the team and its individual players had shown in recent years. They invited us to join them.

Our coaches shared this vision, they never demanded it specifically. It became part of our culture because the players believed in it and talked about it without prompting.  It wasn’t explicitly stated anywhere, but it was implied everywhere. It was within every mode of communication that existed.

It’s not that it couldn’t have been explicitly stated. It could have been. It simply did not need to be explicitly stated because it was already etched in our hearts and minds.

What created this culture? It wasn’t just one thing. It wasn’t on t-shirts. It wasn’t printed on a board in the locker room. We didn’t decide it at a team summit. No leadership group provided it for us. It was grown from from the inside-out from each of us in the program. It was inside every one of us implied in every type of interaction and communication throughout every single day. If you are a regular reader of my articles, you know that I believe we all connected so strongly because it was in each of us already. Nobody can plant an idea in you, and even if they point in a certain direction, no idea will take root if your mind isn’t already fertile for its cultivation.

The thing is, I don’t believe it had to go this way for us. The 100 or more players and coaches could have taken the culture in many directions, but this was one possibility that existed for us. It developed so strongly because of relentless pointing in the same direction. Even with the graduation of our greatest senior class ever, the belief didn’t die and actually came to fruition in the following season. In what was supposed to be a down year for us, we went 13-0 and won the DIII National Championship.

If we believed that the dream were imposed from the outside, we could have very well given up on it when the seniors of that class graduated. Thankfully, we understood that the dream was always present within us. It wasn’t imposed by those seniors. They simply invited us to join them. For us to be a part of it, it had to be within us too. This is the value of teaching culture the correct way. No illusion of outside force is present. In a strong implied culture, we are clear in our beliefs, actions, and roles within the culture.

Keep in mind, explicit tools of culture aren’t bad, but they aren’t good either. They are simply neutral. The implied culture is what actually exists, because the importance of an implied culture tool is in the eye of the beholder. Implied cultural tools are incredibly strong because they honor our inside-out nature and do not point in the confusing direction that some explicit tools seem to.

Explicit signs can be important, but it is always up to the individual to make sense of them, which is where the danger lies too.  When explicit signs of culture don’t match what actually happens, they became punchlines to a sad joke, contradictions to what actually exists.

Why are implied cultures so strong? Implicit cultures are so strong because they seem to communicate the message: I’m going to show you what we are all about, and I invite you to join us. Our inside-out natures match better with invites than they do with demands. The strength of implicit messages are also derived from the understanding that our actions speak louder than our words.

When you look at the teams and organizations you are a part of (don’t be limiting here, think team, work organization, school, community, and most importantly, family), what is the true, implied culture that is pointed to everywhere? I know families who claim to care about each other, but then they yell and threaten when things don’t go the “leaders” way. What is the true implied culture in that group?

If you constantly show negative reactions, no amount of happy sayings on decorative wooden blocks are going to save you. It doesn’t work that way. We connect from the inside-out, and all of us have many potentials within us. The importance and strength of a culture is contained in the implied beliefs, not the explicit ones.

The Point of Culture

Culture is a hot topic these days. It seems everyone wants to weigh in on its importance and how you are the average of your five closest friends. I agree, people tend to run in packs, but we certainly do not just end up the average of our five closest friends. So you need not ditch a lifetime friend who is down just to free yourself from his anchor. You cannot actually be buoyed by a new, higher rising friend. Change comes from within, and you have the potential to grow no matter who your friends are. Don’t buy the illusion.

Here is the point of culture: The point. The point of culture is to get as many people as possible constantly pointing in the right direction.

Remember that nothing from the outside controls our thoughts and feelings. We certainly have many consistent reactions that we seem to have conditioned over the years, but if you consider the physics and mechanics deeply, situations do not force us into any particular thought or feeling. There is always a possibility to override our past.

However, we forget this fact. We act as if we are forced into feelings or thoughts by some Jedi Mind Trick. We act as if this or that pissed me off. We believe momentarily that this challenge is too big for me. Each of us have moments when we feel like I can’t take it anymore. They are all illusions. The only Jedi Mind Trick that exists is the one we play on ourselves.

This happens because we don’t control our minds, and we forget things. We have limited capacity to think at any one time, and sometimes we are preoccupied with other thoughts. It’s natural, normal, and not to be fussed over. In those moments when we forget our own influence, it pays to have a culture around us that points in the right direction and reminds us what we consider important.

Being aware of illusions of control is essential in creating and building a culture. If you understand illusions of control, you understand that great cultures can’t be forced. The world of thoughts, emotions, and cultures is different from Newtonian physics. Physics can be forced. Discipline can be enforced. Doors can be shut. Gates can be closed. But these methods do not work in culture-building. Great cultures cannot be forced.

Great cultures evolve from the inside-out. Great cultures are created when members understand that the best they can do is point toward what can be accomplished, and this is no small task. Great cultures point in the direction of the inspiration, motivation, and greatness that already exists inside of us.

Rather than contemplating what rules they can enforce upon one another, individuals in great cultures look toward each other and ask, “What can I do for you? How can I demonstrate what is possible for us? What plays can I make for the team today?”

Great cultures point through writing, speaking, doing, and even silent proximity. Sometimes just being present with someone is enough to communicate volumes about our fundamental connection as living beings. We are not alone. We are powerful. We have purpose. Culture can serve as a reminder of those facts – not by force – but by pointing in that direction.

I don’t mean this as a commercial, but any one of these 3 elements can influence a culture that has slipped into blame, control, limits, and conditions.

Be aware of illusions of control. Nothing outside you controls you, and you are fallible. It’s part of being human. You are unconditionally important, powerful, and influential. Move along now.

Be awake to possibilities. What can you do?

Be alive with action. Do what can to make a play. Then make another play. Get after it with reckless enthusiasm. Point others in the right direction with words, action, and presence. Be a part of a great culture today.