Monday, May 4, 2015

Symphony, Football and Associations: Teamwork Wins the Day


The other night my wife and I joined another couple at the Southwest Florida Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in D Minor Ode to Joy.

I enjoyed the music but found myself studying the different musicians and sections. Beethoven scored the symphony for 11 units: piccolo, flutes, oboes, horns, strings, trumpets, trombones, kettledrum bass drum, cymbals and triangle.

It was fascinating to watch the conductor and musicians perform especially when individual units had times to play and times to wait. They worked as units (sections). Together, they performed a masterpiece that was written nearly 200 years ago.

As I studied the performance, I realized there were similarities between the symphony and the story behind Ohio State’s national champion football team.

During the season and even now, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talks about building a culture of trust and leadership. And, he mentions the importance of all nine units working together to build a winning team.

In Urban Meyer Shares Secret to Winning National Championship, John Millen shares some key elements of Meyer’s culture:



  • Coach Meyer attributed the wins to creating trust amongst players and coaches to build a winning team culture over the past two seasons.
  • Building an intentional leadership-focused culture would be an unusual approach for a college sports team. Meyer said corporations spend billions of dollars on leadership training, but traditionally college athletics has spent “zero.”
  • In the end, Meyer attributes much of the team’s success to Tim Kight, who provided leadership training to Meyer, his coaches and players over the past two years.
  • [In a Wall Street Journal article prior to the National Championship game, Kight explained that it was not about motivational speeches. Instead, Kight was embedded with the team for two years, while he and Meyers implemented a disciplined, systematic approach to leadership training that taught positivity in the face of adversity.]

Event + Response = Outcome

Players wore wrist bands that read “E + R = O” which stands for “event plus response equals outcome.” Kight taught that players have no control over events, such as losing their top two quarterbacks, but only have control over their responses, which determine the outcome.

Culture of trust


  • In the beginning Meyer and Kight recognized that trust had broken down on the team. He said the team deserved to lose two games in 2013 because he was operating with 6 of 9 effective units. “The common thread missing in all those units was trust. Not that easy to fix. Trust is a very fragile thing, now a days more than ever.”
  • “How do you get these groups of kids to trust the unit leader [coach] and their head coach?” Meyer asked. “So we went on a journey we called the brotherhood of trust workshop.”
  • Building a “Brotherhood of Trust” took the team from a culture of whining and complaining to a culture of accountability and positive leadership, Meyer said.
  • He said that winning depends on commitment, teamwork and positive results, but none of that can be achieved without trust, especially today. “When I was a kid, if my father or coach said ‘you’re going through that wall’, I’m going through that wall. You are a much different generation than that. You want to know, why should I run through that wall? So instead of complaining about that, we said ‘let’s tell them the why’.”
  • “You can’t just declare a culture,” Columbus-area consultant Brian Kight said. “Every coach declares a culture. Every coach says, ‘We’re going to be the toughest team.’ So why isn’t every team tough? That’s what every coach talks about. Because you don’t get the culture you declare, you get the culture you lead.”
  • There are some bedrock principles of their teachings. In addition to the E+R=O philosophy, there’s the “Performance Pathway” that leaders build culture, culture drives behavior and behavior produces results, which Kight calls the physics by which any successful organization operates.
These symphony and football stories can be an example for associations.

This begins with a culture of trust.
  • Trust between the association board and the association staff. 
  • Trust between the association management and professional staff. 
  • Trust between staff departments (are they strong units working together? Or, silos creating inefficiencies?)
As the chief staff officer, you are the conductor. You are the coach. You help create the culture. You nurture your association board and help establish their culture.

These two cases serve as models for your work.

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