Instilling Pride in High Performing Teams

We are high-performance coaches for world-class athletes, sports teams, and industry-leading companies.  Simon and I have worked intimately with teams whose success depends on their capacity to work together—working above and beyond individual talent. Today’s best teams must have the ability to leverage their knowledge and skill.  They must lead to positive change through a collaborative process. Our observation is that instilling pride in teams largely depends on attention to critical aspects of this collaborative process.

Some years back, Simon worked with an organisation called the English Institute of Sport (EIS). Their job, very simply, was to provide sports science support to the Team GB Olympic programmes and England Teams. Simon had joined the EIS shortly after it was formed in 2004.

Leaders in their field

At that time, they were following in the footsteps of the well-established Australian Institute (AIS) and US Olympic programme (USOC). They often looked upon the AIS and USOC as the leaders in the field. They were their examples of ‘best practice’ and provided a benchmark for them. However, in the lead up to the Beijing Olympic Games of 2008, they began to realise that their processes at the EIS were probably better than those of their competition. When they looked at the quality of practice worldwide, they became aware they were no longer following; they had become the world leaders.

This realisation sparked an exciting transformation. As a practitioner, Simon began to feel real pride in the team. Whenever he pulled on his uniform, the black shirt and tracksuit, he was reminded that he belonged to a truly elite organisation. His respect for his team members and the work that they all did grow as a result. Although at that point, they didn’t have the effects to prove it.  They were aware that their team was world-class. In 2008, the Team GB medal haul provided the validation. However, the pride came first, born out of their belief in their processes, and the results followed.

The World cup

Now let’s shift our attention to the most significant single sporting competition globally—the 2014 World cup in Brazil. Pride is vividly experienced as fans sing their songs. Wave their country flags and dance like crazy. They were pulling for their favourite teams. Both as an athlete and as a fan, I’ve had plenty of experiences seeing world-class competition.  However, nothing compares to being at a Soccer World Cup. This time also was different for me since I’ve been supporting the Adidas team in Latin America this past year. They are the #1 sponsor of this year’s event.

It’s not hard to observe that the teams that break through to the final rounds put them ahead of the individual. With plenty of individual stars around, this is not a simple task. Just ask Uruguay and their situation with one of the world’s most talented players, Luis Suarez. He lost control of himself during the final minutes of their game against Italy. Bit another player’s shoulder and got booted out of the Cup.  Here is an example of a player who forgot where he was, lost control of his emotions, seriously hurt his team’s chances and, indeed, its pride.

Self-less attitude

Uruguay is due to play Colombia in the round of 16 next. Who knows what the score will be, but both of these team’s pride couldn’t offer more excellent contrast. Colombia’s pride is at an all-time high.  Their head coach Jose Pekerman having more incredible popularity in Colombia than the country’s president had during their recent presidential elections. While Uruguay is getting international attention for Suarez’s “cannibal” behaviour, Colombia is being recognised as a team that plays unselfishly for the glory of a whole country and distinguishes itself through its selfless attitude both on and off the field.

For Simon and me, whether it’s in business, sport or education, instilling pride in teams starts by focusing on delivering world-class processes. When people understand that what they do every day is founded on a non-negotiable standard of excellence, they begin to develop pride in who they are and what they do. When team members understand that attention to everyday excellence precedes all outcomes, they also deepen their respect for each other. Of course, the formula is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to adopt!

Our top 6 tips for instilling pride in teams are

1. An external vision and map

For people who want to perform at the highest levels possible.  The chance to be part of a team that consistently pushes us to grow beyond what we’ve known is beautiful. Pride multiplies when we belong to an organisation and a group willing to make a meaningful impact and offers a detailed blueprint (map) to keep people in the game.

2. A commonly shared ethic 

Throughout our experience as coaches for high performing individuals and teams. We have frequently seen that breaking through to greater sustained high performance and growth are preceded by moments of difficulty and challenge. Being able to pull through these difficult moments of our evolution is critical.  It not only develops needed capacities in us to successfully manage the complexities we face. But serves as confidence builders that make us proud of ourselves and the teams we do through. Belonging to a committed and organised group to remain together when the going gets tough is a significant pride builder.

3. Regularly setting high performance

Talk is cheap, but if people consistently see each other taking action that’s constantly raising the bar of the team’s standard of excellence, the respect for the team and its members grow exponentially and having each others’ back becomes the norm. The journey of evolving high-performance potential in groups requires teams to dig ever more deeply inside themselves and feel their deepest longing, emotions, and drives. The reason is that as competition gets more challenging, transactional changes aren’t enough to sustain excellence over some time.

4. Results-oriented rigour 

On high pride teams, pushing each others’ boundaries is a regular practice in which the zone of discomfort is sacred ground for continuous growth and success. However, results are not the source of the pride but rather the focus on the site of the discomfort process through which these results are attained.

5. Not trying to look good ahead of others

Teams that instil pride are lean in politics and personal agendas. While there is a team-wide invitation to welcome diversity, transparency is non-negotiable to keep each other accountable and be each others’ coaches where regular sharing and feedback is invited. Rather than being seen as negatives, challenges are interpreted as necessary opportunities to go to the next level.

6. Sharing small wins and often

Our most significant opportunities to leverage growth and instilling pride are built from apparent insignificant small acts.  Then we have no choice but to become better listeners. We listen to ourselves and the people we team with. Team pride emerges from our capacity to create a work container.  Where team members can recognise themselves and each other regularly.

“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.”

                                                                                                                                                                                  – William James