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We Are the Champions

It is often said that culture is at the heart of all successful teams. For instance, the culture of a sporting club is generally linked to its success on and off the field. On September 30, 2017, we experienced this firsthand when the Richmond Tigers were crowned 2017 world champions of the Australian Football League. More than 100,000 people spectated at the mecca of sport—the Melbourne Cricket Ground—and a few million more watched on TV, as culture once again prevailed.

Although not the most skilled team (they finished 13th last year), the culture that this team built over the last few years was evident for all to see. On the afternoon of September 30, this culture delivered the ultimate prize. 

In 2016, the team was under siege from the media, ex-players, supporters, and a host of others. The board members stood firm and did not wilt. They believed in what they had built. They were steadfast in their approach and the decisions they had made over the last few years and were determined to establish a culture of success. Yes, the team had not been successful on the field, but the board could sense that this was only a matter of time. 

They stuck by what they believed in, their support structures, the appointments they had made, and the environment that they had created. They were keen to develop a culture that was unique and was theirs and, more importantly, one that had buy-in from everyone associated with the.

So, what is this thing called “culture”? The dictionary definition states it’s a noun that means:

1. the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. “20th century popular culture”
2. the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society. “Afro-Caribbean culture”

We can see from the above definition that is pertains to a collective, a group and it covers such aspects such as thoughts, practices, behaviors, and the overall attitude of the group.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience at LearnX Live 2017 in Sydney, Australia, to hear Matt Johnson (Global MD for Kineo) deliver his keynote address: “Let a thousand flowers bloom: developing a culture that helps your business thrive.” (The slides share of this presentation can be accessed here.)

Johnson challenged the audience to consider the importance of culture in business success and how learning can play a role. A key slide in his presentation contained a quote from the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016: “Learning opportunities are among the largest drivers of employee engagement and strong workplace culture—they are part of the entire employee value proposition, not merely a way to build skills.”

Taking time to invest in leadership and development, a learning culture can flourish, which will eventually lead to increased business performance and success. Just like the Richmond Tigers in the AFL, a total review of the organization, a focus on leadership and growth, along with a clear emphasis on team success, all lead to a change in culture that delivered.

The day after the game, one of the players outlined to the media a process that was employed by the club that he believed led them to their success in 2017.


Highlights, hardships, and heroes

Highlights. Each member of the club was asked to identify the highlights if their life, the life-changing moments that they had experienced and that had affected them.

Hardship. Players were asked to dig deep and express moments of hardship, those times when they had hit rock bottom, relationship issues, major injuries, or other difficult times in their lives. This was the most difficult of all three, as it was private and personal.

Heroes. Lastly, players were asked to identify their heroes—those people in their lives who were their they admired, whether that be their spouse, partner, their parents, friends, other sports people, or prominent figures.

The process was undertaken in front of the whole playing group, and each player took a turn during the season. Slowly, he said, they noticed a cultural change around the club—a change like no other, a change that they could have never planned for.

The players knew each other better than ever before, they knew what made each other tick, what hurt them, and who their role models in life were. Sharing such intimate details allowed them to bond. Having coaches and other support staff also undertake this process made it a club-wide initiative—everyone was all in.

A football team is no different from any organization. It has its up and downs, and there are a diverse range of people and roles who they all strive for one thing—success. Business success is no different to sporting success. Although there may not be a trophy at the end of the journey, there is the joy of achievement, the joy of accomplishment, and the joy of working together as a team.

Cultural change is driven from within all of us.

Matt Johnson highlighted this in his closing statements. “As I’ve been talking during this keynote about growth and learning, the most important aspect in creating the right culture is leadership. That doesn’t come from organizations—it comes from individuals.”

His call to action to the L&D audience assembled was clear. “Learning needs to redefine L&D as ‘leadership and development’—culture and behaviors, not structures and roles.”

Just like the all-conquering Richmond Football Club, where each person played their role. The club did not focus on structures or job descriptions; it empowered each individual to play their specific role. 

By adopting a Three Hs approach, it could dispense with labels, allowing everyone to flourish and bloom.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Con Sotidis is a solutions consultant with Kineo (Asia Pacific). He works with organizations to help them achieve their business goals by developing effective and efficient learning and performance strategies and solutions. Sotidis spent more than 15 years as a director of learning and development in the Australian public sector and in various senior learning and performance consultant roles. He is a fellow of the Institute of Learning Professionals Australia, a certified professional member of the Australian Human Resources Institute, and a member of the Association of Talent Development.   Email: Twitter: @learnkotch LinkedIn: Website:
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