How to create a winning mentality.

A constant topic which comes up in my conversations has to do with team performance. This is independent of whether we are conversing about a sports team, or a business team. More specifically, the question I am often asked is how do we create a team which works much more productively together, and how to we get the collective team to understand how to have a “winning” mentality?

This morning I was having a conversation with a former NFL player. We were talking about how no one ever shows up on game day and says, “I don’t feel like winning today.” Ironically, he did give me an example of an Olympic athlete who essentially said this, but is this athlete the exception? After considering whether this happens more in sports or in business, we both agreed that the essence of acting this way happens more in business than most leaders will care to admit. Unfortunately, this is demonstrated in the less than desirable performance outcome of a team. Sure, poor performance on sports team’s occurs too, but the collective team mentality is unified in their focus and individually performing at the top of their ability. If they aren’t doing so, everyone will notice, and there isn’t anywhere to hide.

In business, it’s much easier to mask your performance, at least temporarily. The reality is that eventually someone, namely your peers and your leader will at some point catch on to you not bringing your “A” game to the team. It is inordinately frustrating for your peers when you are not “pulling your weight” on a team, and for others who will have to cover or make up the difference for your underwhelming performance contributions. Is someone who is underperforming doing so intentionally? Yes, it’s possible they are, and sometimes this has to do with their state of mind. In other words, whether they have a winning mindset or mentality, or the opposite.

If someone on a team doesn’t have a winning mentality in business, is it collectively understood that a leader will need to address this. It should be both the leader and the person in question, but the reality is that the leader is generally the one who is responsible and who will need to help the person who is struggling with their work performance.  

Although it may appear to be easy to identify who on the team; whether it is a business or sports team doesn’t have a winning mentality, this isn’t always easy to do.  This has to do with the masking I referenced above, and some people are pros at this. They are also simultaneously great at redirecting the attention away from them, with the intent of buying more time to not have to produce top results they are expected to do so.

The good news is that strong team performance can be contagious, but if the team is underperforming and this is manifested in losing or not being competitive, everyone on the team will both feel and see poor results. No one wants to be in this situation, but this happens all the time. Especially in sports, and less desirably when a team is on a losing streak.

When a sports team is on a winning streak, is their mentality different from a losing or underperforming team? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to correctly answer this one, and of course the answer is yes. Although answering this correctly is easy, the hard part is to understand how to create a winning mentality. Both in business and sports. Given the reality this is difficult to accomplish, I will share some of the suggestions I have for both sports coaches and leaders who find themselves in the predicament of not having a winning team mentality.

  • Sometimes a leader or sports coach is unaware of a person on the team who is solely contributing to negatively impacting the team’s positive and winning mentality. If you are not aware of who this person is, it shouldn’t require to you to have too many conversations with others on the team to identify this person.
  • Once you identify who is causing a negative mentality on the team, talk to them individually about how they think they are contributing to the health and wellness of a team from a winning or productivity perspective. Although they may be good at masking how they really feel or are acting, and not revealing why they are negatively impacting the team, you should within 3-6 trouble shooting oriented questions be able to find out why they are doing so.
  • We know that not all leaders are created equally, and this can also apply to their ability to inspire the team they lead to have a positive and winning mentality. If a leader or sports coach doesn’t have a winning mentality themselves, I am going to suggest a controversial approach. The approach will require the leader or sports coach to delegate having another person on their team who is more skilled at and able to positively influence the team to have a winning mentality. From repeated experience, I can tell you this works.
  • The concept of believing in one another is fictionally represented on a show Ted Lasso, but the reality is this concept can be worked on through a series of integrating exercises to apply this. The next step is to then start to have the exercises become embedded in the mindsets of those on the team. In other words, everyone on the team must believe everyone else on the sports team thinks they can win or perform at a top level in order to exceed the performance of their business competitors.
  • Outworking in terms of performance, or out strategizing your competitors are two methods that will help to contribute to having a winning mentality. When they are combined, this is when I have seen team’s both begin to go on winning streaks and begin taking business away from their competitors.
  • Preparing your team to be equally mentally and physically strong can apply to both a sports team, as well as a business. Consider what you are doing on a weekly basis as a leader or sports coach to enable your team to be strong in both areas. Are you sincerely and realistically making the right investments in them to help them to have a winning mentality?

Everyone enjoys being on a well performing team, and the people who lead and who are on these team’s are doing things quite differently than you are. I know this for a fact, as I have done research which provided tangible evidence which differentiated why some teams were winning championships, and others struggled to string a few wins together. I’m sure we can all agree being on a winning mentality team is the more desirable team to be on, so what are you waiting for or going to do if this doesn’t describe the current team you are leading or on?

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