What Coaches need to know about their Team’s Culture

Bo Hanson
4x Olympian, Director, and Lead Consultant

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In previous articles, we have discussed at length why a productive team culture is vital for sports teams to be successful. But how do you actually know what kind of culture exists in your sports team and whether it is productive or effective, or if it needs development? 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, Adhocracy, and Hierarchy
  1. Market cultures are results -orientated, with a focus on competition, achievement, and ‘getting the job done’. 
  2. Adhocracy cultures are dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on risk-taking, innovation, and ‘doing things first’. This culture has a high level of energy, makes quick decisions, and prioritizes creativity.
  3. Clan cultures are family-like, with a focus on mentoring, nurturing, and ‘doing things together’. 
  4. Hierarchy cultures are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency, stability, and ‘doing things right’. 

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.

  1. Market Culture = Dominance Style (High results orientation)
  2. Adhocracy Culture = Influence Style (High energy, fast, and creative orientation)
  3. Clan Culture = Steady Style (Togetherness orientation)
  4. Hierarchy Culture = Conscientious Style (Structure and control orientation) 

As the University of Michigan model suggests, culture isn’t simply one or the other (a dichotomy). Instead, your culture is a combination of the 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, right or wrong, one or the other. Just as an individual is 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.

One of the most effective ways to quickly analyze your team’s culture is using DISC Profiling as it measures the behavioral dynamics existing within your team, which is a direct insight into the likely culture. The reason we prefer to use DISC over other profiling tools is due to the behavioral nature of the theory, measuring one’s behaviors and actions, rather than their personality type. When we look at culture as ‘the way we behave as a team’ then it can be seen how we can define a D, I, S, or C style culture based on what are the most prevalent behaviors 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 team features a larger ratio of Conscientious or Steadiness style athletes, you may find your culture is 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 gives advice for coaching within these cultures.

What Culture is Best?

All cultures promote some behaviors and inhibit others. While the Adhocracy or Influence are well suited to rapid and repeated change, the Hierarchy or Conscientious are better suited to slow, incremental development of the team. Market or Dominance cultures are designed to rapidly turn around poor performance, whereas teams that are already performing well, with sustained success can benefit from integrating a Clan or Steadiness culture. These are just a small sample of choice points which lead to being able to choose the right composition for your team, but there is so much to consider from a cultural perspective. 

Firstly, choose a culture that fits your team’s direction.

When thinking about your team’s current culture and the changes you want to make to it, 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. It’s critical that you involve your athletes in this decision making as they will need to live the culture, so it’s important they are a part of the process. 

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 performed 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 affect culture?

The combination of the differing DISC Styles of your individual athletes critically influences your team’s culture. This collection of DISC styles is what we call your ‘team dynamic’. If DISC is a new concept for you, we recommend you read a basic overview of DISC. However, as a general rule of thumb, too many of one type of DISC style means an abundance of one type of behavior; and the same can be said for too few of one type of DISC style which results in an underrepresentation of certain behaviors. Your team dynamic is dependent upon the percentages of each DISC Style within your team, where certain behaviors will be more or less prevalent. Ultimately, for a team to be successful, behaviors which contribute to what winning looks like for the team are preferred over behaviors which do not serve the team. These preferred behaviors are what we call our ‘Match Winning Qualities’ (values/standards). Match Winning Qualities are the behaviors which your team has agreed will best serve your program and provide the foundations to win more often. These behaviors also underpin the culture you want to have. As a team, you need to decide what these most preferred behaviors look like, and what they do not look like, and how each team member will demonstrate these qualities. Behaviors that you have agreed do not look like your Match Winning Qualities need to be kept to a minimum. 

Some team members will find it more natural to behave in line with these Match Winning Qualities as they suit their natural DISC Style, while there will also be team members who may find it challenging and will need to adapt their most preferred way of behaving to adhere to the team’s agreed upon qualities. It is at this point tough decisions need to be made in regards to who on the team fits the culture you have created, and who will not fit, or need to adapt to a small degree to fit. Where team members cannot fit, or must make massive, unsustainable adaptations to behave in the agreed upon way, they need to be removed from the team. This is for both their benefit, and the team’s, as this allows the player to find a more suitable team culture where their preferred behavioral contributions are better aligned with that team’s Match Winning Qualities. This could not have happened had they stayed. They also, most importantly, will feel a sense of belonging as they will find where they ‘fit in’ culturally without having to create adaptations they can’t sustain long-term.

A specific team dynamic and the associated culture it creates will be appeal more to some DISC styles than to others. Athletes who share behavioral preferences with the team culture will feel right at home, while athletes who do not naturally align with it will often feel uncomfortable, and increasingly feel the need to adapt. While a small adaptation can be manageable over long periods of time, and is encouraged in a team environment, larger adaptations require an extensive amount of energy to maintain, and cannot be tolerated for extended periods. This kind of adaptation creates stress, and ultimately will have a negative impact on the athlete’s performance. As a coach, understanding each athlete’s individual DISC style, most preferred behaviors, and the team dynamics within your program will enable you to be more strategic in creating the ‘right’ type of culture to serve the goals of the team. It also allows you to make changes to the Match Winning Qualities underpinning the culture you have created, should they not be delivering the results required to produce sustainable success within your team. Ultimately, the goal is to see your team win more often, both on and off ‘the field’, so defining what winning looks like and what behaviors are required to achieve this provides clarity, unity, and better performances within your team. 

Where to from here?

Overall, 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’. 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.

We also recommend our Coaching Philosophy Workbook, your ‘how-to’ guide to developing your coaching philosophy. Understanding and developing your Coaching Philosophy is the foundation for why and how you coach. If you haven’t already, take time today to focus on this important exercise and see how your athletes and others benefit, through increased levels of understanding, trust, and ultimately better relationships. 

You may also be interested in the hundreds of free articles, downloads, and videos in our website resources. At Athlete Assessments we have worked with over 100,000 athletes, coaches, and sporting professionals on team culture and achieving peak performance. Contact us today to find out more. 

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Where so many other factors in sport, across sports programs and organizations are very similar, effectively managing the ‘people side’ is what differentiates the mediocre and truly great. DISC Profiling will take your team’s performance to the next level, allowing you to get ahead and stay ahead.

Our team packages include our sport-specific DISC Assessments plus importantly, a series of consultations via video conference. Our goal is to use the information of the DISC profiles to the benefit of your program and coaching and make it as useful and practical as possible.

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