Popsicle Moments Make Teams!

I recently posted an invitation to leaders from all walks to consider kenevraire.com as a team building reward or maybe a kick-start for their team. One reader made this comment…

I have to disagree. Unless the reward is further education or training. Rewards are earned based on performance. If your employees are not provided with the tools, training and, education to be able to perform better, then your rewards program is going to fail.

So I replied with the following…

Thank you for your comment. I agree that further education and training is a great reward in a bid to elevate individual competencies but from a team perspective, the focus should be on “group” growth. I remember practising with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on what felt like the hottest day of summer. Guys were competing on the field for more playing time, for a greater role within the game plan but the turning point of practice and perhaps the season came when the coach stopped practice and opened up coolers filled with popsicles. Yes, it was only frozen sugared water on a stick but it brought the team together. The coach didn’t have to do it, but in one small gesture, he rallied the team and made the entire professional football experience quite “personal”. I remember sitting down with teammates from Tampa FL, Compton CA, Rochester NY, Winnipeg MB, Toronto On, and other places throughout North America, relaxing during what was a shared experience. Thanks to moments like the popsicle break, I was willing to go through the wall for them because I cared about them. I was going to show up early for work stay late and find a way to succeed because I knew they would do the same.

This morning, I woke up feeling compelled to expand on my position.

The cool, tendy thing in corporate culture today is the celebration of “the team”.  Truth is since the 70’s, business leaders have come to the realisation that decision making should not be reserved for a few. Decision making was not the providence of a couple of voices in window view offices on the top floor. The expectation that the rest of the company as a whole should follow faithfully without a say, had begun to change. The value of input, the value of acknowledging that there is indeed an “I” in team – the invested, inspired, initiative taking individual was a turning point.

Today companies have foosball tables, in-house daycare, open concept layouts etc. all in a bid to inspire and connect the human spirit found within the team.

Back to that hot July day in Hamilton.

I remember the team struggling and guys were not in a great mood. We had to bus up to a high school field located on the escarpment in Hamilton which was a pain the gluteus maximus.

As per life in the Canadian Football League, there were a couple of new faces competing for jobs, unhappy veterans who felt they were not getting their playing time, upstart players who wanted more playing time. Everyone was competing for a paycheck. The pressure was enormous but the fact is, it was just another Tuesday for us! It was just another regular day filled with competition.

The special part of the experience was the unspoken understanding that each man, though uber competitive and fighting for a job, would do all he could to help the team win. No one man was greater than the team and its goals. It was about the team for the star players, for the back-ups and for the practice roster players.

Yet, how do get a group of high testosterone, high energy individuals to buy in?

The coach could share an inspirational pre-practice or pre-game speech and some guys would buy in and some wouldn’t. Some players tune out and some tune in! Yes, we get that we have to play hard, play smart and do all we could to win. We have been hearing that speech since our days playing kids football.

I have not heard a pre-game speech that could ever rival the popsicle break as a source of inspiration.

As mentioned, mid-practice saw an unscheduled time out. We wanted to get the practice over with but Coach John Gregory called us to the centre of the field. That’s when he told us to relax, not press too hard and that there was a lot of football to be played. Then he motioned to the training staff to bring out coolers filled with popsicles!

In the blink of an eye, the entire energy surrounding the team had changed.  Everyone found shade, everyone shared and everyone cared.

I laughed out loud at jokes shared between Lonzell “Mo” Hill (2nd Rd. draft pick of the New Orleans Saints), Wally Zatylny (fellow CIS All-Canadian from Bishops University), Richard Nurse (Hamilton boy who went to Canisius College) and Scott Walker (from Lenoir-Rhyne College Bears – Hickory, North Carolina).

I learned that LB Terry Wright (Temple University Owls) and I shared birthdays (July 17th), I watched John Motton (LB – University of Akron Zips) do an impression of DL Mike Jones (Brockport State Golden Eagles) watching plays on the Jumbotron in the Skydome while the defensive huddle moved downfield away from him. At one time, the Toronto Argonauts complained to the refs about his being too close to their huddle. They thought that he was trying to listen to their plays! From that moment on, Mike was known as Jumbotron!

Getting to know your teammates on a personal level is key to any team’s success. It is the foundation for success.

The “popsicle” moments make a team. The “popsicle” moments get the team through the tough times.

I can barely remember the scores of games but I can tell you that RB Archie Amerson (Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks) was the toughest player, pound for pound, I have ever seen on the football field. I can tell you that no one understood half the things WR Tony Champion (Tennessee-Martin University Skyhawks) said and that no one will ever forget any of WR Earl Winfield (North Carolina Tar Heels) stories, including the one about fellow UNC alumni member Michael Jordan giving Earl a pair of NBA rookie season Air Jordan shoes and how Earl decided to wear them when he went out to cut the grass!

I will never forget LB Tony Visco (Purdue Boilermakers), knowing he wasn’t going to make the team, calling his own number to blitz every play during a pre-season game, which pissed off defensive coordinator Joe Moss to no end. Who could forget watching game film in the dark and hearing Coach Moss’ dog (half-blind poodle named Sam), bumping into the furniture?

Spitball fights, nailing teammates shoes to their locker rooms, a father and son walking into a bathroom at a player autograph signing event to see C Dale Sanderson (University of Tennessee Volunteers) with no shirt on and Wally Zatylny, also with no shirt on, applying temporary tattoos to each other in advance of heading out to Tailgate Charlies for a few beers with teammates!

I love my teammates. I was willing to pay the price asked of football players because of how I felt about my teammates. Not because of a great pre-game speech!

When I left football I brought popsicle moments to other teams I was a part of, be it the news team at The New RO and A-Channel, the Ottawa Invaders or mu family!

Popsicle moments will make better teams.

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

 

The Theseus’ Paradox and Team Building

Time for a little Philosophy 101 debate!

The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’ Paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object which has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late first century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts remained the same ship. When I present this question at a team building event the debate often becomes heated!

Is it the same ship? Yes? No? Maybe so? Yes, it’s the same ship! No, it’s not the same ship! Back and forth the argument would go like a tennis match being played at warp speed.

I let the debate continue for a bit of time. When the room agrees to disagree, I go on to ask the audience to look at it from a team perspective. I ask them to shift their focus from the make up of the ship and turn toward what needs to get done for the ship to reach its destination and not sink!

I have seen many a team, be it corporate, athletic or even a family, celebrate the foundations and pillars that make up their chemistry! They all have belief pillars! Respect, communication, support & trust, balanced team roles, cooperation through understanding, clarity of aims/goals etc. All quite nice and tidy in the theoretical application but not as easy in the practical delivery.

Belief pillars are easy to believe in and apply when the sea is calm! Everyone can buy in!  It’s when the calm turns into a calamitous chaos that you get a real sense of what your team is made of. Is the focus on the “we” or does it turn to  “I”. Is it abut the collective or the individual. When the captain declares that the entire ship needs to be replaced en route, is the response “We can’t do that..I am going to drown!” or is it “Forget plan A, let’s go to plan B,C,D and continue to adapt until we find land. Drowning is not an option”? Roles may have changed. Becoming adaptable in the face of crisis may be the ask.

Avoid panic. By choosing to panic, the belief pillars are no longer applicable. They have shifted in the sand, displaced an ineffective. By choosing to forget plan A and moving to contingency plan B,C,D and so on, the belief pillars hold their value!

I remember a moment during a football game when we became aware that the game plan we had built would not work and that we had to do something. Our offensive coordinator tweaked some pass route combinations, altered some blocking schemes and changed our point of attack on run plays. It all made sense but a couple of guys were in a state of panic because we had not practiced it. I remember as a child playing football with my friends on the street in front of our house. The game plan was simple. If Roger was near the parked car then go to the street sign across the street. If he was at the street sign across the street then go to the parked car for the pass. Simple but even professional athletes have a difficult time with change.

“Let’s work the problem” is a line from NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz in the movie Apollo 13. As basic and rudimentary as it sounds, it was the next logical step in averting what could have been a significant tragedy. Big problems often require a series of small solutions!

When asked about the Apollo 13 mission he said…“The missions run on trust,” he said. “When you turn seven-and-a-half million pounds of thrust loose on a Saturn that contains three men, trust is the thing that allows you to make a split-second decision and very rapidly seek out every option that may exist.” 

Some say a miracle took place! Truth is, the miracle would have been the crew of Apollo 13 returning safely while Mission Control fell apart! No, the Apollo 13 mission was a success because it trusted in and remained dedicated to their belief pillars.

A ship, be it a spacecraft, boat, business, team or family, manned by challenge seeking believers, armed with a concise strategy (today we replace this piece, tomorrow this piece etc. and here is why, when and how we are going to do it) sets a team up for success.

A team willing to trust and adapt when chaos arrives doesn’t care if it’s the same boat or not. The focus is on doing whatever it takes to find land without leaving anyone behind! Don’t panic and magnify the challenge. Poised problem seekers are what the ship captain is looking for.

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

Ken Evraire is an award winning coach, team building strategist, keynote speaker, author and former professional athlete.Through his professional career he was been traded, released, waived, retired, cut, celebrated and inducted. Visit his website at www.kenevraire.com or email him at ken@kenevraire for more information.

Leadership and the Average Employee

I read a blog on the Canada Human Resources Centre site about three distinct categories that job seekers are broken into and the groupings made complete sense. There is group 1- the top performers, group 2 – the average performers and group 3 – the low performers. What struck me as interesting is that the top performers made up 16% of the population, low performers also made up another 16% and the average performers made up a whopping 68% of the audience. (http://www.canadahrcentre.com/base/finding-top-talent-among-majority-of-average-performers/)

Initially, I understood that it would be tough for employers to find the top performers and I also understood the need to avoid the below average performers. So, the search for the right candidate would center on the large body of average performers. So far it made complete sense to me.

What turned my compass askew was the suggested solution.

The blog forwarded the notion that somehow and someway the HR teams had to sort through the average performers to find the best of the average performers. This struck me as odd. The onus was being put on the employee to be above average without any thought of taking the average employee and working to make them top performers. The margin between an average employee and an above average employee could not be that great. Why spend time splitting hairs.

Now, I get the need for due diligence as it relates to hiring a new CEO. The financial investment associated with finding a new leader is usually far greater than that of a standard employee search. The hiring of the wrong CEO could be disastrous but the hiring of the wrong technician likely has little to no effect.

Yet, how do you find the best of the average group in an expeditious and cost-effective manner? The fact of the matter is you don’t. It is an imperfect process. How many times have you heard an HR Director say “We really lucked out finding her” or “I can’t believe we found him”? Finding the perfect employee can be a crapshoot on the best of days.

So perhaps the search for the best of the average is not the way to go. Perhaps the focus should be on creating an environment that supports growth.

I coach football and on a number of occasions I have had player’s tryout and coaches on my staff inform me that the kid though talented is un-coachable. The natural reaction is to red flag the athlete. His margin for error would be slim. He would be forced to work under that added pressure, fear making mistakes rather than simply go out and compete in an instinctual manner and as a result he would likely fail.

My first thought when being told about an un-coachable kid is…”Who coached him?” Maybe just maybe the player did not flourish under another coach because the system did not fit, his skills were not being utilized properly or he was not put in a position to succeed? Maybe there was a reason why he was average and not a top performer?

If I judged him based on his past I would have been no better than his previous coach. It’s akin to a kid showing up for the first day of school with a mark of C- without doing any work. Now, he may be un-coachable. As the leader of the team, the onus is on me to find out. As a leader, I choose to coach him up.

So, perhaps the focus should be on creating a culture that cultivates success, is cognizant of the importance of the invested individual and celebrates their work.

Average employees will remain average unless you create the opportunity to turn them into top performers and that responsibility falls on the shoulders of leadership. The common denominator that links all CEO’s with each and every staff member is the valuation of time. Everyone gets up and goes to work. Some work in the mailroom, some work in the corner office on the top floor. When the day ends, each and every one of them would like to believe they are part of something. Something that justifies their spending their time and energy on, something that goes beyond salaries and benefits!

A power with people leadership approach will turn average employees into top performers. Leadership isn’t a title. It’s an active, organic, ever changing responsibility that requires a genuine, honest effort. Contrary to what many coaches have trumpeted through the years, there is an “I” in Team and each individual requires a tailored coaching effort. Is it tough to do? It sure is. Yet, anything worth anything requires an effort! At the end of the day, you turn the average into great and you attract the great. It’s a win-win situation.