What Kind of Culture Do You Have? Discover the 8 Kinds of Cultures

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Is your team’s culture where you want or need it to be?


Do you have a positive and productive culture firmly in place that helps you win on and off the playing fields?


Or are you frustrated because you seem to have a Country Club Culture where many of your athletes are too soft, lazy, and entitled?


Or worse yet, do you have a Corrosive Culture filled with conflicts, criticism, and cliques that distract, divide, and destroy your team from within?


Unfortunately, many coaches don’t realize the full impact of their culture - until it’s too late. For example, in the frustrating last days of his coaching career at Illinois, former men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber candidly lamented to the media, “You have got to develop a culture. I think the last three years all I worried about was winning rather than developing a culture. I am disappointed in myself for not developing a culture of toughness with our team.”

Your team’s culture has a powerful, persistent, and pervasive impact on everything you do in your program. It impacts recruiting, attitude, commitment, competitiveness, chemistry, etc. Because of this, you must invest the time to continually mold, monitor, measure, and maintain your culture throughout the course of a season.

To build a winning culture, you must first honestly and accurately assess your current culture. Being privileged to work closely with hundreds of programs each year through our Leadership Academies, here are the eight most common kinds of cultures I see when working with a variety of teams. I've categorized the eight cultures based on how much the particular culture values and emphasizes both relationships and results. See which of the eight best describes the current state of your program.


8 Kinds of Cultures™

1. Corrosive Culture

A Corrosive Culture is highly toxic and is characterized by a lot of conflict, negativity, frustration, cliques, gossiping, distrust, and selfishness. It is obviously not one that is fun to be around and the turmoil and tension off the field/court almost surely affects the team on it. From a relationship standpoint, cliques will often develop that divide, distract, and destroy the team. Rather than battling your opponents, your athletes spend more time battling each other and the coaching staff because no one is on the same page working toward the same goal.

From a results standpoint, people become apathetic or even resistant toward team goals because they lose respect for their coaches and/or teammates. In Corrosive Cultures there is a lot of selfishness because in such a negative and dysfunctional environment, members basically must look out for themselves because they don’t trust their teammates and coaches. As the name suggests, Corrosive Cultures eat away at people’s attitudes, commitment, and chemistry much like a caustic acid. Ultimately, people just seek to endure in this kind of culture or escape it whenever possible.


2. Country Club Culture

The Country Club Culture is one of entitlement, appearances, and leisure. The priority in this culture is to look good and to have a good time rather than to win championships. It is a superficial and soft culture where little accountability is expected from its members so people are allowed to coast. Playing time and leadership positions are often not based on merit but instead on politics, popularity, and brown-nosing. The currency in a Country Club culture of is much more about style than substance. Status in a Country Club Culture is accrued primarily by the kind of gear people wear. Results are clearly secondary and relationships are superficial at best.


3. Congenial Culture

A Congenial Culture is one where the focus is primarily on getting along and preserving harmonious relationships. The group becomes more of a support group and social club rather than a high-performance team focused on achieving winning results. While most people get along, a Congenial Culture’s major concern is that it can be too nice and not focused enough on results. Members are very kind to each other but they are typically not honest and candid because they worry the truth might cause hurt feelings or strained relationships. A Congenial Culture fits well for a fraternity or sorority, but not as well for a competitive sports team.


4. Comfortable Culture

A Comfortable Culture is one where results and relationships are of moderate importance. The team sets reasonable standards and is interested in doing well but not if it pushes them out of their comfort zone. They will train to certain level but once it gets tough or uncomfortable, as it does and should when you are trrying to be a championship program, they tend to back off, complain, and not push through the hard work of training. Similarly with relationships, the team generally gets along but there are few deep, enduring relationships. And there is not a collective sense of mission between the teammates. Comfortable Cultures usually produce mediocre results and teammates and coaches who end up being acquaintances rather than life-long, close friends and mentors when it is all said and done.


5. Competitive Culture

In Competitive Cultures, there is a strong focus on results and moderate to minimal focus on relationships. The competitiveness is demonstrated both externally with opponents and internally with teammates. Team members spend a lot of time competing with each other for limited playing time, coaches’ attention, and leadership roles. While competition is necessary and can spur on great achievement, if taken overboard, the competitiveness can also inhibit or destroy relationships within the team itself. You do want a highly competitive team - but you also want them to bond, collaborate, and positively push each other.


6. Cut-throat Culture

In a Cut-throat Culture results reign supreme. Talent and performance are the sole criteria of success in this merciless and unforgiving culture, whereas character and people skills are often neglected. All that matters is winning - period. If you can get the job done, we’ll overlook your selfishness, extreme character flaws, off field antics, and/or acerbic attitude. The ends justify the means. If you can’t produce due to ineptitude or injury, you are quickly cast aside or totally cut off from the program. Relationships are not really valued because they are seen as irrelevant and sometimes even a hindrance to achieving results. Because of the business nature of professional sports where millions of dollars are at stake, some professional teams and even some big-time college programs are prone to developing a Cut-throat Culture.


7. Constructive Culture

A Constructive Culture has a solid level of focus on results and a satisfying focus on relationships. Team members are committed to being successful and are usually willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve at the higher levels. From a relationship standpoint, teammates strive to get along with each other and develop a solid bond with each other. Although the Constructive Culture is positive, productive, and often successful on and off the playing fields, it falls short of the intense levels of commitment, chemistry, and accountability you see in a Championship Culture.


8. Championship Culture

A Championship Culture places a premium on both results and relationships. From a results standpoint, Championship Cultures have a strong sense of mission and purpose. They know exactly what they want to achieve and have a burning desire to achieve it. They are fully designed and aligned to achieve their goals and are focused on them like a laser beam. They have very high standards for the team members and provide them with candid and frequent feedback on how they are doing.

In addition to results, Championship Cultures also highly value relationships. Team members are treated with respect and valued for their contributions to the team, whether large or small. Teammates take pride in their roles because they know their value to the team and feel appreciated for playing them. Leaders intentionally build strong relationships within the team to help people feel respected and perform to their potential. Because they feel appreciated and cared for as people, team members selflessly subvert their individual goals for the benefit of the entire team. They value and take immense pride in being a part of something that is much bigger than themselves. Not surprisingly then, Championship Cultures are typically highly successful both on and off the court/field.

So after reading through these eight kinds of cultures, which of these eight cultures best describes the current status of your team? Why?

If you are like many coaches and find that your present culture is not your preferred culture, what can you do to change and transform it?

To learn more about how you can build a Championship Culture in your program, check out our new book How to Build and Sustain a Championship Culture. The book details a practical and proven 10-Step Blueprint for how to build a Championship Culture based on our work with over 25 national championship teams.


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