Bruce Arians, NFL head coach for the Tampa Buccaneers, said about the 2019 team: “They were a very, very talented football team, but we really didn’t know how to win.” Translation: They didn’t have the culture and discipline to win.
But Arians called Tom Brady a “winner” who changed everything for the Buccaneers when he arrived in 2020: “He ran the ship for the team, and his leadership ‘permeated through our whole locker room.’” Translation: Brady brought discipline and culture.
“Knowing that he’d been there and done this, our guys believed it. It changed our entire football team,” Arians said.Tom was about to raise the standard, but the question was would other players raise the standard with him?
As a great leader in his field, Brady knew the best way to change culture was to reinforce desirable behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs. He said over and over, “Everybody must be responsible for themselves. We must be focused. It is really important that we are buttoned up.” He said this multiple, multiple times.
Everyone’s hopes were high. I watched the game with the Rams, and everyone could see they were out of sorts in the first half. They did not look or feel like they were ready to play. There was something that seemed different from previous Brady season endings. They made mistakes and were beaten by the Rams. Why?
Peter King explained it this way: “One of the things Tom loved about Tampa is that it wasn’t New England—it wasn’t as structured. But in New England Tom Brady also knew there was an adult in the room with Belichick. In Tampa it was a looser ship. There is something good about not being as structured, but I think Tom misses that.”
How does that translate? What was missing? The culture had slipped. Tom could bring change to the culture for maybe a year, but it was not sustainable without the buy-in of the others. Talent can’t defeat culture for long.
What is culture? A better question might be, “What is the purpose of culture?” According to Brian Kight and the Focus 3 team, the purpose of culture is to drive behaviors that win. “The purpose of culture is not to make people feel good and comfortable. The purpose of culture is to drive the behaviors called for by your strategy.”
That leads us to a critical understanding: If you are going to create a culture that drives behaviors that win, you have to define winning clearly and your team has to embrace that definition. That’s what happened with Brady and the Buccaneers. There wasn’t buy-in on what everyone saw as winning, and they certainly weren’t willing to embrace the behaviors to get there.
Tim Ferriss was asked to define culture. He said, “It’s what happens when people are left to their own devices.” Which is why there has to be an adult in the room, calling for and driving the behaviors that win. Ultimately, the process of building a great culture begins with defining success. You have to know where you are trying to go. Once you have identified the desired outcome, you can reverse engineer the entire process toward the outcome. This process will reveal the core values of the current culture and help you “drive the behaviors” that are vital to your wins. You must build a team committed to those behaviors.
So as the leader, the adult in the room, create your organizational definition of success. Then start building that culture that drives the behaviors that drive the results. Encourage and enlist the team to embrace it.