Team Rituals

Posted by jlubans on March 11, 2012

Since we are in basketball’s “March madness” I want to give you some of my observations about how real team members – albeit they are not on work teams – support and encourage each other.
20120311-TEAM b-ball.jpg
This picture, shot by Toni Tetterton, appears in Leading from the Middle in Chapter: 8: “More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team.” It depicts a common practice among men’s and women’s basketball teams – players circling up, arms around waists or draped over shoulders, faces close, fully attentive, with a few words spoken to plan, to calm, to encourage, to support. The coach is not in the huddle.
I could do a full day workshop on this picture alone. Really. It speaks to me with an eloquence that surpasses the circle’s symmetry.
Do you circle up like this at work?
We use sports analogies on the job because our bosses aspire to “WIN”. Unfortunately, for many reasons, our aspirations fall short. For example, there is an inherent superficiality in applying these team work adages in the work place: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” or “There’s no ‘I’ or ‘U’ in the word TEAM,” etc
But, instead of dismissing all team rituals because of our ineptness o-t-j, take a minute with me and see how basketball team members interact, encourage, and inspire
While observing two games – one a men’s and one a women’s - I picked up on several rituals. What qualities/transfers do these rituals offer? What is their provenance? Why are they done?
I encourage you to think about how these gestures and behaviors could apply to work teams. Do some what-iffing about how we treat ourselves off the court.
Cheering comes from the bench (from the “riders of the pine”); the non-playing substitutes pay attention to the game; there’s clapping, rising to feet, shouting. Absent, except among dysfunctional teams, is any staring off into space wanting to be somewhere else, resenting the loss of playing time.
Injured players sit on the bench, often in uniform, even if unable to play.
Bench players get up on feet, give up their seats to players during a time out with the coach.
The Bench rises and greets incoming players.
After a time out with coaches, all hands go up and touch in a spire, including coaches and other team members. (Surely not all these players like each other, yet they touch and aspire together.)
Hand taps by incoming players to entire bench – yes, the players runs the length of the bench hand-touching the team doctor, the strength coach, the assistant coaches, etc.
An assistant coach gives a word of advice, recognition, and encouragement as an aside to an incoming player.
At the start of the game, after the national anthem, starting teams are introduced. While only five players will be named, the bench players are up in a double line and the starters run through the lane and end with a low five or chest bump or other imaginative exclamation point. The entire team (players and staff) circles up before the tip-off.
On the COURT:
Hand taps between players, while passing up and down the court.
At the foul line, players touch hands, always, and give pats on back to shooter whether the first shot is an air ball or basket.
An incoming player (in women’s game) often brings a towel to the replaced player.
Teams circles up under basket after point made or missed or the shooter “charged” or was “blocked”. The circle provides a sense of celebrating and/or steadying, calming, focusing.
Players, but not all, talk. (Often talking or not – communicating - is cited by coaches as a contributing reason to why a team wins or loses.) Hand signals can be used for communication.
Sometimes, a quick burst of hand clapping is a non-verbal “let’s go!”
Hand touch or hand slap after basket. Good job!
Player gives finger point to the assisting player, for a pass in or a dish out that results in a score.
A player helps a downed player up off floor, offers a hand up and a smile or a concerned look. (On an occasion, an opponent offers a hand up to a downed player – sportsmanship of the finest kind!)
Scalp rub or tap: usually from a veteran to a rookie who does well.
Players set “screens” (this is a legal way to hinder a defender and to “open up” a shooter.
‘Tude or swagger is less about teamwork than it is about psyching the opponent. Still it can bind a team and intimidate an opponent. (I recall a women’s team that circled, pre-game, the opponent’s court with their hoodies up over their heads – thug-like, an image this team and coach cultivated. They won.) Chest bumps after a great play might qualify as ‘tude, possibly earning a technical foul.

Let me know if your workplace team emulates any of these behaviors. A few might be taboo in the no-touch corporate culture, although hardly any are really invasive or harassing. Hand taps, shoulder touches, talking, eye contact, encouraging words and gestures, and engagement, are all relevant and possible. Through them we strengthen our connections and heighten our trust and awareness of each other.
Watching Florida State University Seminoles battle the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for the ACC Championship, I saw FSU player Luke Louck advocating and encouraging several players on the court and at least once inside the coach’s huddle with seeming full support (Bravo!) from Seminoles coach, Leonard Hamilton. It was a scene right out of the classic team movie, Hoosiers! The Seminoles have had a hard season, but after losing 6 of 10 games from November to early January, the team has come back. How did that happen? Here I am citing from a March 10 an ESPN blog item by Edward Aschoff who explains that the team confronted itself after those embarrassing loses, “Players and coaches gathered … to speak candidly about how things weren't working. Slackers were called out and even coaches received constructive criticism from players.
Guards were told they were shooting too much and big men were called lazy in the ultimate open forum.
"Everybody knew what the other guy next to him was thinking," James (a FSU player) said. "We identified our problems and everybody worked toward fixing them. That's what brought us to the point we are now."
FSU won its first ever ACC championship on March 11, 2012
Sounds like the kind of conversation we need but all too often do NOT (cannot?) have in the work place!

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