Handshakes as Team Ritual

Posted by jlubans on October 26, 2015

Caption. Homer Handshake.

Just prior to winning the 2015 national basketball champion, Duke University published an article, “For Duke, Handshakes an Expression of Togetherness.” It spoke to one of the team rituals that seemingly contributed to the team’s success.
That article links to an explanatory video* about how these handshakes – as frequently as five times during a game - came about and how they helped the team remain cohesive in their run-up to the championship game. Everyone credits Quinn Cook, a senior starter and co-captain, with creating and maintaining the tradition of these unique handshakes, numbering some 200.
Since I evangelize about self-management for individuals as well as teams, it’s worth noting that this ritual originated from the players, the team; none of the coaches were involved. Interestingly, the head coach does not participate in the handshakes. I wonder what it would be like if he did? I imagine Coach K would do better than Homer Simpson does in the illustration.
Are you wondering what this has to do with leadership in the workplace? As readers of this blog know, I look for examples in many domains of team building techniques that could transfer to the workplace or help illustrate the underlying concepts of effective team building.

Caption. Two Board Members Practicing the Bro Hug!

Now, I doubt anyone is going to begin a ritual of hugs and handshakes among the members of a board or at your next (shudder) committee meeting, but there is something to the notion of touching that can make for a lasting connection.
Touching, like that found in a traditional handshake or a touch of the arm, the shoulder, or a pat on the back can strengthen relationships. Touching someone introduces a different, more intimate dynamic in a relationship. It grounds a group's camaraderie, that “we’re in this together” feeling.
What do Mr. Cook’s teammates say? The handshake can be “confusable” as one player said, – talk about a Yogi Berra-ism - but it “reminds me to relax and to have fun”; it’s a “connecting between you and your brother.”
It’s “used to tell the team: “We have each other’s back … we love each other.”
“It’s a lighthearted thing that calms everyone down.”
Caption. Handshake “culprit” - one player's term - Quinn Cook, #2.

As the team’s co-captain, Mr. Cook put the handshake tactic to good use when (in 2014/2015) he had to “take on the task of mentoring 4 freshmen on an eight-man team. He was the rock and stability that Coach K needed during this year.” Often, a sports captaincy – the head of the players - is in name only; under Coach K, the captain is an extension of the coaching staff, a leader who holds teammates accountable on the hardwood.
Mr. Cook elaborates: I “always do the handshake, (even when) yelling at the guy or praising the guy… (it) symbolizes our relationship”
As a leader, “sometimes I can get on a guy, tell them to pick it up and give them a handshake.
How effective was Mr. Cook? Suggestive of Mr. Cook’s standing with the team, he was voted by them as their co-Most Valuable Player along with the freshman (super star) Jahlil Okafor.

*Another brief video can be found here. Set to music, it quickly explains the handshake ritual and provides a dozen examples from Mr. Cook’s repertoire.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015
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