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Defining, Managing, and Modeling Team Culture

Guiding Question(s): How do we create an environment where people can do their best work?

Brett Ledbetter is an author, consultant, speaker, and performance consultant for high-performing organizations. In his book What Drives Winning Environments, he wrote, “When an NBA general manager was asked about his role in the organization, he responded, “To build an environment where people can do their best work.”

Every coach and every leader wants to create, build, and sustain a great culture where people can do their best work, but how do you do that?

Brett says the answer to this question usually comes down to three things: How you DEFINE, MANAGE, and MODEL your expectations.

  • Proactively DEFINE your expectations, and DEFINE what you look like when you are doing your best work.

  • Know how you are going to monitor and MANAGE above-the-line and below-the-line behavior.

  • Intentionally MODEL the behavior you expect from others.


Astronaut Neil Armstrong once said, “If you’re an inch off on landing, no big deal. If you’re an inch off on takeoff, you miss the moon by a million miles.” Clearly defining your expectations is a proactive way to ensure that your team, organization, and culture are moving in the right direction.

Here are two reflection questions you can ask when trying to define your expectations:

1 - When are we at our best? What are we thinking, saying, and doing?

2 - What gets in the way of us being at our best?

3 - How can we beat the barriers so we can consistently perform at our best?


Managing expectations is all about catching and reinforcing above-the-line behavior, and appropriately addressing and converting below-the-line behavior. Soccer coach Anson Dorrance said, “Players do what you inspect, not what you expect.” Division 1 baseball coach Tim Corbin said, “What you allow will come back either positively or negatively. The allowance of behaviors, good or bad, sets the stage for what’s going to come forward.” 

But how you praise or address actions and behaviors impact how much people like coming to work, how much they enjoy the work, and how they perform. When you are too tight, people tend to want to leave, but when you are too loose, people might not have the discipline to do their best work.

Here are three reflection questions you can ask when thinking about managing behaviors:

1 - When we catch you doing well, how do you like to receive praise?

2 - When we need to correct you, how do you want to be held accountable?

3 - How do you like being told/shown you are valued and appreciated?


Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” If someone were to follow you around for 48 hours, they would be able to tell you a lot about who you are, and what you care about.

Do your words match your actions? Do your actions match your expectations?

The modeling tool below can be used to align your expectations and actions:

If I want my team to __________ then I need to __________.

-  If I want my team to have positive energy and enthusiasm then I need to have positive energy and enthusiasm.

-  If I want my team to hold themselves accountable then I need to hold myself accountable.

-  If I want my team to come early or stay late then I need to come early or stay late.

-  If I want my team to have great customer service then I need to have great customer service.

- If I want my team to go above and beyond then I need to go above and beyond.


Culture is who we are, what we do, and why we do it. A supervisor I once had said, “I want to lead my own school district, hire a bunch of people I really like, and I want to have a great time taking care of kids and families.”

A principal I know says, “I want everyone here - students, teachers, and parents - to have a great experience.”

In 1 or 2 sentences, how would you define the kind of culture you want to create? What do you hope your people say about your culture?

To get a PDF version of this post to use yourself or with your team, click here: Defining, Managing, and Modeling Team Culture

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