Why You’re Wrong About Locker Room Cultures

…and why you should be trying to create one

Cody Royle
Jul 11, 2018 · 3 min read

For most people, the phrase ‘locker room culture’ conjures up images of semi-clad guys engaging in some sort of tomfoolery, laughing hysterically at a smutty joke.

Having spent most of my life in and around locker rooms, I can tell you there is some truth to that portrayal (from men and women, actually) but at its heart it’s a thin stereotype.

Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

Once you admonish the Wolf of Wall Street-esque images in your head, what is revealed about team dynamics in sport is particularly spectacular. Sports teams at their peak have a set of highly-developed customs that:

  1. facilitate honest conversations about performance;
  2. demonstrate how small behaviours build trust;
  3. show how personal sacrifice is required to make the team work; and,
  4. emphasize that the team culture supersedes anyone, or anything.

The reason this is so fascinating is because of the regularity with which I read articles outlining how often corporate managers stress about how their teams:

  1. only have conversations about performance once a year;
  2. only behave a certain way because they’re supervising them;
  3. are out the door at 4:59pm every day; and,
  4. don’t care about the company, or its goals.

It turns out, there is much more to a locker room culture than nudity and inappropriate jokes. There is depth, nuance, intelligence, and a bank of knowledge that has been meticulously tested over decades.

There are leaders in their 60s that are successfully managing that damned ‘Millennial’ group to perform at a high-level. The business world is still flummoxed by this challenge.

You see, sports teams have a unique opportunity to create an abnormal understanding of people; how to utilize and organize and motivate them to create an unfair advantage for your team.

One such example is how mindfulness is sweeping through the corporate world, being promoted as a revolutionary new productivity hack. It certainly has many advantages, but the Chicago Bulls were practicing it as a regular team activity in 1993.

That’s 25 years ago.

Quite frankly: it’s old news.

Thanks: Oprah Winfrey

Recently, there has been a slew of leadership and culture content published that helps articulate the bountiful lessons from the inner sanctum of pro sport.

Whether it’s books, videos, documentaries, interviews or newspaper exposés, being able to see behind the curtain is allowing us to learn from some of the very best people managers in the world.

Going back to our four highly-developed customs above, here are some current examples of the team dynamics expertise on display in the top levels of pro sport:

1. Honest Conversations

This video shows what we call ‘performance dialogue’. Steve Kerr uses evidence to show Steph Curry that despite his lower-than-usual shooting percentage (an individual measure), Curry’s plus/minus (a team measure) is helping the team achieve their goal — winning.

2. Small Behaviours

The Culture Code outlines how Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon keeps a bowl filled with the names of expensive bottles of wine. When a player breaks a team rule, he has to buy one of the bottles of wine and uncork it with Maddon. Punishment is linked with empathy and reconnection.

3. Personal Sacrifice

Legacy helped popularize the notion of ‘Sweeping The Sheds,’ an act of togetherness and respect by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team in which they clean up their own dressing room after each game.

4. Culture Over Everything

In an exposé titled Secrets of The Patriot Way, journalist Lars Anderson explores the ruthless nature with which Bill Belichick manicures his team to ensure the collecting culture stays strong. The Patriots have repeatedly traded away and cut elite players at the first sign of a bad attitude, or impending ego.

Slowly but surely, these anecdotes are proving we need to evolve our thinking about sport to one of curiosity, not condemnation. We should be treating locker rooms with intrigue rather than suspicion.

How can your small business, with limited money and limited resources, compete with goliaths in your industry? There’s a sporting anecdote for that.

How can your historic Fortune 500 innovate its personnel decisions to ensure it doesn’t go the way of the dinosaur? There’s a sporting anecdote for that, too.

If you think about it, you should actually be trying to create a locker room culture, not guard from it.

Where Others Won’t

Author and podcaster Cody Royle explores the crossover of leadership between sports and business.

Cody Royle

Written by

I study how teams create sustained success | Where Others Won’t | Head Coach of AFL Team Canada | Avocado Toast Aficionado | #altMBA

Where Others Won’t

Author and podcaster Cody Royle explores the crossover of leadership between sports and business.

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