A couple of young ladies I care about played their first high school volleyball games of the season Saturday night, so I went to cheer them on. I had no idea how much ritual there is in the game of volleyball! I loved what I saw because it demonstrated key elements to any successful, top performing team, including your own corporate or manufacturing business unit.
Practice: These girls repeatably practice and perfect every move they make: positioning, serves, attacks, blocks, backcourt and front-court play, sets, digs, bumps, rolls, rotations, substitutions, and more… You might say they perfect everything they do, from production to delivery to “service”, before they go on the court. Reminds me of the old adage:
“Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”
Common Language: Top volleyball teams develop a “common language”, so much is communicated with few if any words or gestures.
Common Rules: They play by the same set of common rules of the game, and they establish their own “unwritten” group norms – recognizing the difference between norms that take them closer to their goals and those that take them further from their goals. In addition, they “play on” with few if any complaints about the rules or how they are enforced. In other words, they compete against the other team instead of the game officials.
Celebrate Together: They celebrate often, and celebrate well, no matter how their game is going and no matter who won the last point. This achieves many subtle yet powerful results in the long run, besides the obvious contextual encouragement. Teams who know when and how to celebrate – and create a shared ritual for celebration – are much less likely to “crash and burn” under intense pressure, temporary failures, losses or even losing seasons.
Ritual: They ritualize important practices, including celebration, and demonstrate these practices during warmups and throughout the game. The warmup time before the start of the game was an impressive show of skills and teamwork. At every whistle during play, these girls performed a quick ritual, keeping them focused on their common goal regardless of the most recent point.
Common Focus: This team won fourth place in the high school state tournament last year. This year’s team intends to do no worse. A lost point meant little on Saturday evening, other than to remind them of their ultimate goal, the obstacles they must overcome to achieve that ultimate goal, and the many battles for points and games they will face along the way.
Roles: They understand what roles they need to be successful. Each player has a role, understands her role and the roles of her teammates, and supports her teammates in their roles.
Leadership: They allow someone to lead. It’s one thing to name a formal leader – almost every team names a captain – but the best teams are filled with team members who allow a peer to lead, and anyone (everyone) may step up to lead at critical times based on their roles, circumstances and what they see is needed at the time.
Coaching: They have a great coach who recognizes individual talents and “team genius”, as knows how to bring out the hidden potential of both. Great team players learn to be highly coachable players.
Relationships on top teams are an outcome of having the right goals, roles and rules in place. Poor performing and dysfunctional teams believe relationships and personalities are the primary precursor for success and the root cause of too much failure. Relationships don’t always make the team work; more often, teamwork makes the relationships.
So the next time you are looking for a model or a spark to move your team from good to great, check out how your local volleyball champions play their game – and make sure you take your whole team to the game!