When someone joins an underperforming team, convincing the team’s current members of the necessity for change can be a daunting task. Failing cultures are usually not, ironically, receptive to change. Their team members have grown accustomed to thinking that’s the way we’ve always done it. Enticing them to embrace a new system and overcome their resistance requires a strategic approach.
Here are seven ways good teammates can ingratiate themselves and improve their chances of getting others to subscribe to the need for a change in culture:
- Respect history
Your arrival may trigger a change in direction, but it doesn’t mark the team’s beginning. The team, even if underperforming, existed long before you arrived. Don’t discount the team’s history. Demonstrate respect by recognizing the past. I worked with a coach who insisted on only wearing team apparel with vintage logos for the first six months after his hiring. The coach wanted to project respect by acknowledging his new team’s roots and paying homage to them.
- Identify the positive
A change in culture may be called for, but that doesn’t mean everything your team was doing before you came on board is bad. Don’t automatically throw the baby out with the bathwater. Be on the lookout for the positives. If you identify something your new team has been doing well, be sure to openly recognize and praise it. Praise will accentuate its importance and preserve its continuance.
- Ask before you suggest
Adopt a personal policy of not suggesting a new strategy without first inquiring what other strategies have been tried in the past and the effectiveness of those strategies. Suggesting new strategies without inquiring about prior efforts will be interpreted as arrogant, insulting, and insensitive.
- Timing is everything
Be extra cognizant of when you lobby for change. Suggesting a new method or criticizing an old method right before lunch may not be the best time. Expecting your teammates to process your suggestions while they’re “hangry” probably won’t lead to the results you desire. Neither will making a suggestion at five o’clock on a Friday or at opening bell on a Monday. Timing matters.
- Accelerate new traditions
Traditions bind members to their team. Sometimes teams need to introduce new traditions to improve their culture. The problem, however, is establishing traditions takes time. Can you find a way to accelerate the process? Can you turn a popular annual event into a monthly or weekly event? Instead of recognizing a teammate of the year, can you celebrate a teammate of the month or week? Increased frequency leads to accelerated integration.
- Find a common adversary
Few things generate unity quicker than a common enemy. Form an alliance with your new teammates through a mutual foe, even if you must manufacture a foe. I know of an administrator who would hire an outside consulting firm and instruct the consultants to deliberately make an unfavorable recommendation. The administrator would call the recommendation preposterous, side with her staff, and create unity. She united her team by aligning their contempt.
- Coach, don’t coax
You need to do more than make suggestions. Coaching entails explaining the reasons for your suggestions and a plan for implementation. Coaxing is merely promoting change and can be perceived as being manipulative. People are far more apt to invest in a different approach when they know why you want them to change.
To quote the legendary John Wooden: “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” Good teammates recognize the value of change and embrace its unavoidable necessity—because doing so is what’s best for their team.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.