Building Team Culture Using a Great Communication Framework

Whether you are in the pre-season phase or have taken over a team in midseason, developing a system that allows for smooth flowing communication within your team will do wonders for team culture.

At the moment, we are going through the experience of taking over a team that already played 46 of their 68 regular season games. Even at this late point in the season, we immediately set out to change the framework for the type of communication flow we wanted. This was the starting point to build a new team culture.

The first step we took in building our communication framework was to address the entire team and clearly outline what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, on and off the ice. Discipline, good habits, and such topics were outlined to the team. But the starting point was communication.

We stressed that communication needs to be based on respect and common courtesy. One point we made, as basic as it may sound, is the use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; basic common courtesy words. We also set up a scenario where players and staff were encouraged to vocally greet each other when they came in contact with each other for the first time each day. The act of saying ‘Good Morning’ to each other was a positive starting point for us.

The next step was to have one-on-one meetings with each player. We allowed 15 minutes for each, with the ability to go longer if needed. Here we identified individual player strengths and weaknesses, and with player and the coaching staff interaction, we agreed on the role each player would play on the team. Highlights of the meeting were written down for future reference. Free flow between each player and the coaches has to happen. A one-sided conversation is hardly a desired situation.

As the head coach, be sure to do the same with assistant coaches, trainers, staff, and team personnel.

Trainers are of particular interest in setting the communication for your team and building a positive culture. They are typically the daily first point of contact for your players as players arrive at the rink. This needs to be positive interaction for all to set an upbeat mood for the day.

Having a positive communication system is essential. Sure, there will be times when there might be a need to reprimand, address negatives, and yell a little. All these situations can be handled in a respectful and constructive way.

Dealing with every situation in a consistent way will help keep the lines of communication in tact and information flowing in all directions.

Taking the time to clearly define acceptable behavior within your team, taking the time to meet individually with all involved, and focusing on positive reinforcement will help establish a strong team culture.

A Communication Lesson From the NFL

The Globe and Mail newspaper ran an article from The Associated Press on October 4, 2008. There were some interesting coaching tips on player communication from two very successful NFL coaches.Here is most of the article.

RENTON, WASH. — There may be a secret to coaching success in today’s NFL, though it’s one Vince Lombardi would never stand for: empower your players.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was 25-23 in New York with no playoff wins when he arrived for the 2007 training camp in Albany, N.Y., to begin a must-win season. The man renowned for inflexible discipline was concerned over players misunderstanding why he made certain decisions. So he established a leadership council of about a dozen players to deal with internal issues.

Mike Holmgren has had his own players’ committee of about half that size in each of his 10 years with the Seahawks. He also had one from 1992-98 while leading Green Bay. Holmgren won a Super Bowl and went to another with the Packers before moving to Seattle…

Coughlin’s Giants are undefeated and the Super Bowl defending champions.


Players on both teams say the committees enlighten them, unite them, strengthen their teams’ trust.

“It just gives us a chance for you to relate stuff better to your teammates than maybe a coach can,” said all-pro left tackle Walter Jones, a Seahawks committee member. “Not saying you don’t want to hear it from the coach, you are just more comfortable hearing it from a player.

“You build a bond in the locker room. It’s all about respect.”

Added quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, also a committee member: “It makes the players feel they have input.”

Coaches having veterans as their deputies isn’t new in the NFL – or even with the Giants. Bill Parcells used to rely on Harry Carson and George Martin to deliver his intentions and report back on the pulse of New York’s locker room.

But Holmgren and Coughlin have formalized the practice, setting committees and having philosophies on who it should include. Coughlin’s represents older and younger players. Holmgren’s is limited to the captains of the offence, defence and special teams, so it usually includes only established veterans…

Last season, the Giants were 0-2 after routs by Dallas and Green Bay. Fans screamed for Coughlin’s dismissal. Coughlin went to his leadership council and told it there was no other group that he would rather be coaching.

The council relayed the coach’s message. The Giants went on a six-game winning streak en route to shocking the undefeated New England Patriots, one of the biggest upsets in a Super Bowl.

“I think that I’ve communicated better than I have in the past,” Coughlin, 62 and a grandfather, said. “I think I’ve taken the time to do that, attach more significance to that, and been more keenly aware of trying to make everyone understand what’s being done, why it’s being done. And do so with enough advance notice so that there’s time for it to sink in.”

Manning said Coughlin went to his council during New York’s bye last week to inform it he wanted to suspend star receiver Plaxico Burress for that Sunday’s game for missing a team meeting. The quarterback appreciated knowing what was going on.

Coughlin said there was a “very good reaction. The players understood it, they understood why, and they went back to work.”

His last meeting with them was on Monday, apparently over Holmgren wanting to change the way the players review game and practice video.

The 60-year-old has a limit to the give-and-take with his committee.

“I don’t want them coming up to me saying, ‘We want grilled cheese sandwiches on the airplane,’ ” Holmgren said.”We’re talking about things more important