Changing a culture

Imagine being tasked with changing the culture of a team or any organization. Sounds easy enough, just get started doing something immediately right? Maybe not.

When you enter an organization where you are expected to change the culture the first thing you need to understand that there is a reason for this need. If things were going well and in the direction ownership wanted there would be no need for you to change the current culture.

This leads us to a common mistake by coaches taking over a new team. Even though they might have been told, or identified the need to, change the culture – starting out by changing a lot of things is not the way to go.

The team members (players, staff and other stakeholders) may not be aware of a need for changing their culture. They may not have been informed by the decision of ownership to change direction or is not able to identify any reasons for change since, “things are going okay for me”.

First order of business as the new coach is as counter-intuitive as it is important, namely ‘doing nothing’. Which does not literally mean doing nothing, you’re not just going to sit on your hands, but you will change as little as humanly possible.

Spend your first days, weeks and maybe even months observing the current culture in your new organization to identify it’s characteristics and the underlying problems that prompted your entrance in the first place.

Without learning about the culture and identifying what your players are doing, it is impossible to understand how and why they are behaving the way they are. After all, a team or club culture is the way its members interact, based on history, environment, personalities etc.

In order to change this culture you can alter one of these factors, for example making changes to the environment (re-modeling the dressing room, training areas, procedures around games and trainings etc) or the personalities in your team (by adding / removing players, staff).

However, making changes will raise questions and lead to an uncertainty within your team, unless everyone understands that they are necessary. Which is why your first order of business as a new coach is to observe and identify these problems in the current culture.

When you have identified the problems in your culture your next order of business is to make everyone else experience these so that they will understand that something needs to change. Human beings in general are reluctant to changing their behaviors unless they know they have to in order to solve ‘their problem’.

Ideally you as the coach create situations where the problems are exposed to such a degree that the players themselves not only understand that there is a clear problem, but also suggest the change that you already wanted to make from the start.

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