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DISC Team Culture for Sport


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What Coaches need to know about their Team’s Culture


By Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian and International Coaching Consultant 

In previous articles, we discussed at length why a productive Team Culture is vital for sports teams. But how do you actually know what kind of culture exists in your sports team? In this article we discuss the four DISC Culture Styles which are mapped to the four elements of the Competing Values Framework.

The Competing Values Framework in a Nutshell

The model was developed by faculty at the University of Michigan nearly 20 years ago, and demonstrates that there are four broad types of culture.The Competing Values Framework was identified as one of the 40 most important frameworks in the history of business. The four types of culture are:

Market, Clan, Ahocracy and Hierarchy

  • Market oriented cultures are results oriented, with a focus on competition, achievement and ‘getting the job done’. This maps to the Dominance Style DISC Culture due to the high results oriented style approach.
  • Adhocracy oriented cultures are dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on risk-taking, innovation and ‘doing things first’. This maps to the Influencing Style of DISC Culture, with its high level of energy, quick decision making and creativity.
  • Clan oriented cultures are family-like, with a focus on mentoring, nurturing and ‘doing things together’. This maps to the Steadiness Style of DISC Culture.
  • Hierarchy oriented cultures are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency, stability and ‘doing things right’. Finally, this maps to the Conscientious Style DISC Culture.

DISC Team Culture in Practice

If you are familiar with our work with DISC in sport, you will notice that these four elements map perfectly to the four DISC Styles.

Market = Dominance Style Culture

Ahocracy = Influence Style Culture

 Clan = Steady Style Culture

Hierarchy = Conscientious Style Culture


As the University of Michigan model suggests, culture isn’t simply this or that (a dichotomy). Instead your culture is a combination of cultural types with preferences toward one or two types more than others. This is consistent and aligned with DISC Theory in that behavior (or culture) is measured on a scale, not in black or white. As you are not only a D (Dominance), an I (Influence), a S (Steady) or a C (Conscientious), but a combination of these, so too is your culture.

synergy1One of the most effective ways to quickly analyze your team’s culture is using DISC Profiling. In measuring the dynamics within your team, DISC also helps you to gain insight into your team’s culture. The reason DISC is preferable is due to the behavioral nature of DISC Theory. DISC measures one’s behaviors and actions. When we define culture as ‘the way we behave around here’ then it can be seen how a culture can be described as a D, I, S or C style culture based on what the most prevalent behaviors which are done most often.

Depending on the percentages of the DISC Styles within your team, certain behaviors may be more or less prevalent. If you have a large proportion of Dominance and Influence style athletes within your team, your culture favors frankness, directness, a fast pace and concise communication. However, if your dynamics feature a large ratio of Conscientious or Steadiness style athletes, you may find your culture more inclined to consideration, attentiveness and harmony, along with a distinct lack of instructional and constructive feedback.

In our eBook “Team Culture: is it making or breaking your Team?” we discuss what distinguishes the Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S) and Conscientious (C) cultures; how different DISC behavioral style athletes will feel in each culture; and give advice for coaching in these cultures.

What Culture is Best?

Field-Men-300x300All cultures promote some behaviors and inhibit others. Some cultures well suited to rapid and repeated change (Adhocracy or Influence). Other cultures are suited to slow incremental development of the team (Hierarchy or Conscientious). Market or Dominance orientated cultures are designed to rapidly turn around poor performance. Finally where teams are already performing well, sustained success can come from integrating a Clan or Steadiness culture. 

The comments expressed here are a small sample of choice points which lead to being able to choose the right type of culture for your team. There is so much to consider from a culture perspective and this is a short summary of some critical points to be aware of.

Choose a Culture that fits your Teams Direction

Firstly, when thinking about your team’s culture and what you want it to be like, it is vital you choose a culture which closely fits your team’s direction and strategy (your team’s goals and ambitions for this season and beyond for recruiting purposes and sustained success). Your culture should also be able to confront whatever issues and challenges are present in this given time.

For example, let’s assume your team is not currently achieving sustained success. Your role is to identify what your current culture is (based on the highly observable behaviors committed daily) and decide what changes need to take place. If your goal is to become a winning team, then your culture must reflect and support this ambition. So what does a winning team’s culture look like? How does one define these behaviors? This is the challenge. One point in particular is true for all of us and your athletes. This is the fact they seek meaning in what they do and want to be part of something (the team) which is greater than themselves. As New York Times columnist Daniel Pink explains in his book Drive, “Humans, by their nature, seek purpose – a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.” A successful team culture, transcends the individuals which are part of its make up.

How do the DISC Profiles on your Team effect Culture?

Your team’s culture is critically influenced by the mix of differing DISC styles of your individual athletes. We call this your Team Dynamic. If you haven’t encountered DISC in your coaching career, we highly recommend you read a basic overview of DISC.

Football teamIn its simplest form, an abundance of certain DISC styles means an abundance of certain behaviors. The opposite is also true, too few of certain DISC styles in your team means you will have less of certain behaviors. Ultimately, for a team to be successful, it requires certain behaviors to be naturally abundant. It also requires other behaviors to be kept to a minimum. This mixture of behaviors has a natural balance point which is dependent upon various factors, but when the balance is not quite right, then an ineffective culture can result which will make achieving success a very difficult task. It is at this point tough decisions need to be made in regard to what culture is required and who on the team fits this culture and who will not fit or adapt to a small degree to fit. Where a team member cannot fit, they need to be removed from the team. This is for their benefit and the team’s. Usually the removed player goes to another team and makes a needed contribution which could not have happened had they stayed. They also, most importantly, enjoy their sport again as they feel as though they ‘fit’.

A specific team dynamic and its associated culture is appealing to some behavioral styles more than others. People who ‘fit’ with the team culture will feel right at home. However, athletes who do not fit with the culture can often feel very uncomfortable and increasingly feel the need to adapt, which can create stress and negatively impact performance. Understanding how team dynamics affects the team enables the coach or leaders to be more strategic about creating the ‘right’ type of culture for the goals the team is working to achieve.

Understanding the factors which effect team culture helps the coach and team leaders to make changes to the team’s dynamic and subsequent culture, should it not be creating the results required.

Where to from here?

team_cultureOverall, culture is a massive topic, and it can be difficult to cover all the aspects in one article. This is one of the reasons why we developed our eBook, “Team Culture: Is it making or breaking your sports team?” to assist sport coaches in understanding their team’s current culture and then, in consultation with staff and athletes, decide on whether this culture is serving you well, on and off the ‘field’.

We highly recommend you purchase the eBook, for the price of a couple of coffees you can have confidence in knowing what effects your team’s culture, how to analyze your team’s culture, the four different DISC team cultures, and their individual characteristics, values. Most valuable for coaches, this eBook discusses how different athletes will feel in each culture, and how to tailor your coaching for the unique culture of your team.

You may also be interested in the hundreds of free articles and videos in our Learning Zone.

At Athlete Assessments we work with over 15,000 athletes, coaches and sports managers on team culture and peak performance. Contact us today to find out more.[/fusion_text]

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