Sunday, September 6, 2015

6 Tips to Make a Good Team

The 2015 College football season has begun.

The Ohio State football team (yes, I’m biased) and its defense of its national championship offers lessons for association professionals.

I once served an association that became known as “the best in the profession.” As we grew – more members, more money, more prestige – the “grind” became keeping up and continuously improving. One of our “errors” was trying to do too much which defused our focus. In the end, we were not able to sustain our success.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer guided the 2014 OSU football team to a national championship in only his third year on the job. Now, he is attempting to repeat. Last year’s motto “the Chase” has given way to “the Grind.” 

Here are six leadership lessons from OSU football:

1. Leadership development
  • Meyer hired a leadership development person for himself, then for his assistant coaches and finally for his players. The program focuses on servant leadership and team first.
2. Developing assistant coaches
  • While Meyer is clearly the CEO, he assigns important work to his coaches. He establishes expectations and holds his assistants accountable for performance.
3. Establishing – and reinforcing – culture
  • Meyer began with players he inherited. He established expectations. He basically said, “This is how we do it. If you don’t want to do it this way, you are free to leave now.”
  • Meyer recruited players who could meet his standards. And, he reinforced the culture and expectations daily.
  • Meyer established a mentoring program through which upperclassmen helped reinforce the “Ohio State way” with incoming freshmen.
4. Next man up (football is a male sport; for your association, you may want to say “person.”)
  • Meyer and his coaches reinforced each team member had a role as well as a key responsibility for the team. If a player went down, the next player needed to step up. This means if you were not one of the 22 starters, you supported your teammates and you prepared for your time.
  • This philosophy paid off when a sophomore “backup” stepped up when Ohio State’s starting quarterback was injured in pre-season and unable to play. Then, after leading the Buckeyes for 11 games, the backup broke his leg in the final game. So, the third string quarterback, stepped up and led the Buckeyes to three playoff wins and the national championship. All three players remain close both on and off the field.
5. Nine units strong: holding each other accountable
  • Football teams – like associations – have different “departments” or units. To be successful, each department needs to provide exceptional work that enhances the overall team performance. The key is that each team performs well and keeps the overall team goals in focus. With this philosophy, the so-called “silos” may work for overall association performance.
6. Growing bonds of trust
  • Meyer focuses much of his teaching and training on growing trust with his assistants and his players. Likewise, he focuses on players trusting players and players trusting coaches. 
Much of this 6-point philosophy reflects on an organization’s culture. If you want to read more on the importance of culture, please see Culture That Works by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. Great stuff. You can also follow Jamie’s writings at

Postscript (written after Ohio State's opening night victory over Virginia Tech, the only team to beat OSU last season):
Ohio State showed that a combination of great talent within an awesome culture can result in victories.  In the case of associations, great talent and awesome culture leads to success in achieving the association's objectives.

PSS.  Tuesday's Washington Post featured a story about the culture within Ohio State's football team.  You can read it here

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