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Coaching, Coding and Learning By George Evjen

At some point every athletic coach will have a player that has the mindset to do whatever is necessary to disrupt any team cohesion that you are trying to create. You have basic team standards that you expect everyone to follow and adhere to but this one player will always do the minimum or assume those standards are for the other people on the team. The player comes to practices, games, and meetings late, is the last one on the floor and is the first to leave when the practice is over. He walks to and from timeouts and when things get hard and the team faces adversity he is the one that starts blaming and pointing fingers at the rest of the team. Nothing is ever his fault and the coaches never do enough to cater to his ego and vision of himself. Unfortunately as disruptive as he is to the development of your program and to the other members or your team, he happens to be your best player. Some version this scenario happens on most athletic teams every year, but it also is happening in our IT development and business teams. A team member with exceptional skills, knowledge and tenure happens to be our worst teammate and because of his prominence on the team, he is also our worst leader.

As agile coaches we have the task of working with people that have been grouped into teams and each team is unique and is comprised of team members that come from a variety of backgrounds and skills and all of them happen to have an agenda. It is our hope that their agenda will be centered on the business, the product being developed and a unity with the group to adhere to the principles that best accomplish the business objectives. At some point, you will have a team member that doesn’t show up for meetings, is late to meetings, or on his phone during meetings, delivers sub-standard work, talks poorly of leaders or other members of the team, no adherence to company or team standards, or hordes information making it difficult for other people to efficiently do or complete their work.

Below are four things to consider when you best player/employee isn’t your best worker/leader.

1.       Ownership

As the coach or leader of this group you first have to take complete ownership in everything that is happening from within it. The situation where you have a player being lazy, disloyal, disruptive and unproductive should initially be on you as the leader. I’m not suggesting that you run to your team and this person and apologize for the behavior of this one person. When you reflect on this issue, you need to first ask yourself, what did I do to allow this to happen? What did I do to allow it to get this far? What did I do to build five great team members and one bad one? What have I allowed to slip that would have caught this earlier? Was the employee brought to onto your team with these traits and challenges? If they had these characteristics from day one, you need to evaluate your recruiting/hiring strategies. If the team member developed those characteristics while being on your team, you have to look at your team vision, team communication strategies, and coaching philosophies to determine where along the line, you allowed this to seep into your team. In the book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin they spend an entire chapter discussing that there “are no bad teams, only bad leaders.” Below are some quotes from that book and chapter.

·       “Whether or not your team succeeds or fails is all on you”.

·       “the leader drives performance – or doesn’t”

·       “Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance.”

·       “Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems.”

·       “A team could only deliver exceptional performance if a leader ensured the team worked together toward a focused goal and enforced high standards of performance, working to continuously improve.”

You have to take complete ownership that you allowed this to happen on your team, by doing this you also allow yourself to take ownership in correcting this problem.

2.       Team Development

Coach Meyer is a legendary basketball coach, who at one point was the all-time winningest coach in the history of college basketball. His theories, practices and standards on team development have been analyzed and implemented by coaches and business throughout the country. Below is one of his more important points on team dynamics. “If it comes down to you or the program that decision was made long ago”. What he means in this quote is, the team is the most important component of our program, not the individual. The individual is never more important than team development and achievements.

On all the great teams that I have worked with or observed there are five traits that all of them have.

·       Togetherness - all members has a shared unity to each other and the process to achieve the team’s goals. They were in complete service to each other.

·       Work Ethic – they had a tenacious mindset to work towards and achieve common goals

·       Encouraging – they were uplifting and encouraging to on another, they didn’t blame or point fingers and worked towards solutions.

·       Humility – they all had no ego and were selfless in their approach

·       Ownership – all members felt a part of something bigger than themselves and felt that they were an integral part of the program or company. They have the feeling of “this is my program”

I have been on teams where all five of these were on the top of the charts, but I have also been on teams where these were all very low on the range. One characteristic of a great coach is to make sure you identify the program’s absolutes and teach these on a daily basis to your teams. A coaching phrase that has stayed with me is “It’s not what you teach, it’s what you emphasize”.  As a coach it is important to emphasize a practice or process and skills, but it’s equally important to continually emphasize your programs values and standards. Whenever these traits are traded for other values such as individualism, isolation, laziness, tardiness, bickering, blaming, selfishness and ego we handled these with extreme consequences. To use the quote from above from the book ‘Extreme Ownership’, a leader has to ‘enforce high standards of performance’. Determine what those standards are for your team, and then enforce those high standards. Your team members will be trained on what ‘is us’ and what is ‘not us’.

If you are building your team on these or other shared values and standards, what are you saying to the rest of your team if you allow your best player or employee to adhere to a different set of standards? You are not enforcing the high standards you have sold to the rest of your team. If the team comes first, you will not allow any employee to work off a different set of rules. You teach team attitude and standards every day. You don’t teach team principles on the employees hire date, you teach it every day by your emphasis on them. You drill it into them daily, then when you get new people on the team your veteran team members will help you instill those principles and standards because they have been taught the importance of those values on a daily basis and the value they bring to the team.

How important is team development to you? Are you genuinely concerned about team development or are you using the team for some other output? Are you only concerned about the deliverables the team is producing? Do you feel any member of your team is quickly replaceable? If you do not value the development of your team in terms of work ethic, loyalty, values, character, togetherness, service to one another, unity, humility, and ownership then you should be fine with your best player or employee being disruptive to these team standards.

1 Communication

You have to make it a priority to sit down with this player/employee and discuss with him how his behavior is affecting the team. We have already determined that one, we take ownership for allowing this to happen, but we also take ownership in finding a solution. Second, we have determined that we will enforce the standards set by the team and that there is not one person that is above the team. We can no longer allow this team member to take the energy and enthusiasm we are creating for our team, out of every other member. Our standards are togetherness, work-ethic, encouraging, humility and ownership, this employee is violating some if not all of our team’s high standards. When you sit down to discuss the team with the player you have to make sure that don’t immediately attack or put the person on the defensive. We want this employee to be open and receptive to the questions and allow them to help find solutions. As a coach our outcome is to influence this player to make some changes that will ultimately impact our team for the positive. He is our best player our most skilled employee, and if he will make some changes that influence our team in a positive direction we can accomplish quite a bit more than without him. We also understand that we cannot and will not allow any team member to not live to up to our team’s standards.

I believe that most, if not all decisions made by people are simply based on pain and pleasure. We make decisions to run from pain and go towards pleasure. There are reasons why this employee is acting this way. It is up to the coach to communicate in such a way to uncover these reasons and figure out why this person is gaining pleasure in disrupting the team dynamics. Start the conversation by building them up and letting them know their value.

·       Do you understand how important you are to the team?

·       When you do [x – something positive] this is how it impacts the team – this is how your teammates respond.

·       Do you understand how the other people on the team look at you because of your skill and position?

Follow that with questions about the team’s standards.

·       Do you understand we have standards on the team that help us accomplish our objectives?

·       Do you understand why it’s important that we have these standards?

·       Pick a member of your team that is fully bought in on all your team’s standards. What would our team be like if everyone had the attitude of [name]?

·       What would our team look like if everyone lived up to the standards like [name]?

·       Do you think there are some other standards we should have?

Once you both have discussed the team’s standards, let him know what standards he is falling short on.

·       How do you see yourself when it comes to [x]?

·       Which standard do you think your best at?

·       Which one do you think you need to work on?

·       Which one do you feel I can help you with?

·       When it comes to [x] I see you do [x] and this is how it affects the team and my ability to lead them. Do you feel that I’m seeing this correctly?

·       When you do [x] I would prefer it if you did [x].

·       Moving forward I would like it if you did [x]. 

Step one above is to build them up. Step two is to set the expectations and clarify why the standards are in place. Step three is for you to convey to them what you are seeing and offer solutions and help.

2.       Role definition

Role definition is the last item to consider. We have owned our situation, we place and enforce the high standards for our team, we have communicated with the player so they understand the value and importance we have for them on our team, and they also understand that we will not bend when it comes to our team’s standards. We have also made some leadership changes pointed at developing other ways to motivate this employee to help them embrace our team’s standards. If at this point, we still are having issues with this employee then we are forced to make some changes. We believe in the statement, ‘the decision between you and program was made long ago’ and because of our commitment to the team and our standards, we are going to have to change the role this employee has within our team. Consider this conversation when talking with the player/employee.

“Recently I let some things slip relative to the team and the importance of the standards we’ve set up. I own that slippage and lately I have been working with the team to make these corrections so we can start moving in a better more efficient direction. I’ve talked with you about this and we have also talked about how important it is to enforce these standards and to make sure we do what we can to get total buy in by the team. In those conversations you agreed that things may have slipped in my approach and you also have agreed that we all need to be rowing the same direction. In our conversations we’ve talked about how valuable you are to the team but we have also talked about how you are not living up to the standards we’ve set. Because of your skill and position you are looked at as a leader within our group and I cannot have one of my most valuable and skilled employees not living within our team’s boundaries. We have talked about how your disregard for these standards has brought a cloud over our team and you have made it difficult for me to have the impact I need to have as a leader of this team. We both agree that there are changes we both can make to solve this issue but currently I have not seen the changes that need to be made. If you are unable to change (desired change) then you are forcing me to make some organizational changes to our team and the role you have within it. I’ll give you a day to think about this, but if you don’t show up tomorrow with these (changes) then we will talk again about your new role within our team.”

What is good about the conversation above is you are reviewing everything that has happened with this employee and your goal is to get them agreeing with you and saying ‘yes’ to your statements. Yes, somethings have slipped. Yes, I agree you are working to make changes. Yes, we talked about these standards. Yes, I am contributing to this issue. Yes, we need buy in from the team. Yes, I am looked as a leader of the group and finally, yes I have not made the changes we discussed. The last statement puts the responsibility to change on them. At this point they know what is expected, what you require of them and if they don’t make the changes you requested then they know the consequences.

Coaching an athletic team or an IT business team is no easy feat. There are many movable parts that continue to evolve and change as days and weeks go by. What has to remain consistent is your vision, approach and commitment to your team’s standards. You have to place the upmost importance on the ‘team’s development’ over the individual. The team has to come first and the standards set by the team are set for all team members. Years ago the head coach at the University of Michigan gave a speech to his team. In it he had the line ‘The Team, The Team, The Team. Nothing is more important than the Team.’ That speech and quote now decorate many walls in the Michigan football facility.

Posted on Thursday, November 3, 2016 8:59 AM Agile , TeamBuilding | Back to top


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