Friday, August 29, 2014

Open letter to Pr1me

*Note – this letter was written several months ago but never shared with Pr1me.  It recently came to my attention again while cleaning out some old files.  A resounding increase in the teams on field communication was noticed which ultimately assisted with our recent success (improvement) at WCO Riverside.  I thought it tied in well with the previous two blog posts and have decided to share.  You will notice words like culture, leadership, family, consistency etc. Now that you know the chronological history, please proceed….

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” - Samuel Johnson

This is a quote used by an Executive I work with as he addressed his direct reports earlier this morning.  It stuck with me, not because Samuel Johnson essentially wrote one of the most widely used English dictionaries in existence but because of two questions I was asked at practice earlier that weekend.   First, I was asked how I felt about being a coach.  Then I was asked by one of my players, "What do you see that we aren't seeing?" in reference to how his line was playing.  I tried to answer both questions as best I could while trying to stay focused on a number of other tasks.  Admittedly, I was not fully engaged and I believe I answered them from a literal sense and to the best of my ability at the moment.  But hindsight is always 20/20 and if you give me enough time, I will study (translation: over analyze) something until I have an answer that satisfies me. So I started looking at this from a communication perspective.  Here is what I have come up with:
As a leader, you can ensure that your message becomes a part of the culture of the team through repetition.  (We have built a culture here.  I can explain that further if you wish - let me know if you need clarification).  The key factor is to make sure you don't become frustrated when you have to say something more than once.  This can be applied to leader, coach, captain, get the picture.   Repetition can change people by reinforcing the message (or at least, it should it depends on certain variables which I will address later in this letter).  Solid leadership communication is about repetition, whether we like it or not.  A good example of this would be close order drill performed in the United States Marine Corps.  Now, repetition might sound boring to a lot of people but it has been my experience that it is one of the most effective communication tools in a corporate environment.  So why can't it work with our program?  Well, I think it does.  I believe our program is a good example of that actually.
If we really want our team to experience an organizational alignment, collaboration so to speak, with high performance results than repetition is indispensable.  If we say it again, and again, and again or practice it again and again and again, a person who is diligent will see the results.  They will begin to internalize it as they hear the same message over and over and over again.  They will see the results of their lanes, their snap shooting, their communication improving as they drill, drill and drill.  They will hear that “voice”.  The concept is quite simple really. 
Another factor and probably the most important aspect of this communication is to pick the right message.  You want to make sure that the message isn't something that you are afraid to repeat everywhere/anywhere all the time.  Integrity is paramount.  And we should say it every time with the utmost conviction and sincerity.
This, by no means, lets the listener off the hook.  Communication is a two way street.  There is the messenger, there is the medium used to communicate said message and then there is the receiver/target of the message.  The receiver must play a role as well, they must be vested.  They must understand the message then recognize that message for what it is and how it pertains to them.  Then they must acknowledge it and provide quality feedback. 
I want to be a good leader (who doesn’t?).   And I want to be a good player.  That means I need to repeat the key takeaways I want you as a team to have.  It means I must listen and understand the feedback.  But you also came to Prime to be a better player, a better person, a winner... right?  You have invested time and energy to meet these goals, correct?  We need to make sure we are all getting what we want out of this symbiotic relationship because that is what this is.  We use the term family to define us.  We are the Prime Family... Families fight and disagree but in the end, blood is thicker than water.  So let’s agree that we all want the same thing: to be successful in our endeavor of becoming better paintball players and winning.
I didn't realize this would be a book so let me try and sum this up.  Simply, you will get out of Prime what you put into Prime.  I, Mikey and the McGowan family have put a lot into this program as have many of you.  Through clear communication and repetition between and among the team members, we can create an environment of consistency.  That consistent environment will breed winning.  And winning makes us all happy.
So let's make ourselves happy.  Let's practice hard.  Let's create a consistent winning environment.  And let's listen to what's being said, taught, and shown, etc.  You want to be better?  Well, you get what you put in.
Be water my friends…

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paintball as a culture...? Sure.

Paintball teams can learn a lot from how businesses operate.  If you pay close enough attention, you will hear the term “culture” used significantly throughout media.  There is the culture of a country or a people or, as I have already alluded to, a business.  A successful business culture is an amazing thing to behold and you can easily recognize one if you are among it. 

“Culture” is defined as the behaviors and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic or age group.  But how can that translate into useful data in relation to a paintball team?  First, we have to understand what exactly a “business culture” is and from there, we can identify the key take aways. I recently read an article in which MIT professor Edgar Schein described business culture as:

“… a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.”

Hmmm… I think there are aspects of that statement we can build upon and work with, don’t you? 

Mike Myatt, a writer for Forbes Magazine, says that business culture is created either by design or by default. This concept intrigued me.  Here is how he laid it out: A culture created by default will more than likely produce lackluster performance.  Why is that?  Simply put because most people look for the easiest way to accomplish or achieve something (i.e. Path of least resistance).  That being said, the opposite of this approach is a culture that is created with intent or design.  In order to create success (excellence), one must intentionally set out to do so and they must continually work to maintain it. (See where this is going in relation to a paintball team?) The next obvious question would be how to do this.

In order to develop a winning paintball culture based on successful business culture, let’s first use an example.  How about something that is very important to me (and should be to you too): Family.  Family sets the ground work for our ethics, dynamics and socialization.  This is the first instruction we receive in regards to how we should behave/act.  Pr1me has always said we are a family and there are certainly aspects of family in how we approach the team. There is the patriarch/leader, the “older siblings” and the younger children.  Some get “scolded” and others help guide or advise.  It can be very family-like when it needs to be.

Here are what many social experts perceive as the building blocks of a culture that most organizational experts agree must be present:

Values. Values are the main foundation of a culture. Values are the goal setting, the purpose and guide as to how each family member acts and behaves in different situations. We should strive for positive values such as trust, a hard work ethic, respect, honor, etc. Understand that each set of values are shaped by an individual’s education, religion, social status and experience. Now, some values amongst team members will clash.  You must determine early on what you want those base values to be.  For me and Pr1me, I wanted it to be honor and respect.  Know that you want to avoid negative values such as resentment (why does he get to play more?), laziness (why should I help set up/take down?), entitlement (I’m the best here so I shouldn’t have to drill).  Those are usually derived when a culture is developed through “default”.  See how that all comes around? 

A team that has positive base values like the ones I listed above has, in my opinion, set itself on the road to success.  If you don’t trust the guy in front of you, behind you or beside you, you can’t be expected to play to your fullest potential.  Make sense?

So how can we develop positive values for the team?  Positive values require constant reinforcement and that reinforcement must include consequences when they are not adhered to.  You must look for and stamp out the negative values from the team.  If you don’t, that toxin will spread and before you know it, the family you have is named Manson…

Norms. These are what I like to call the rules of engagement.  They represent your team’s values in action. Norms guide how your team members interact with one another and with the others (refs, other teams, sponsors). How does each of your team handle each other at practice or an event?  Does one yell and point fingers?  Is one never wrong about what should have happened and makes sure everyone knows it?  Or do they assist each other and look for more insight or perhaps provide valued input based off recognized knowledge?  If you are the leader of the team, whether you realize it or not, you are teaching the Norms through your own behavior, in words and actions.

For example, Pr1me is a private field and we do not require a field fee for a team member.  However, all members are required to help set up and/or take down the field after practice.  If you fail to perform one of these duties, you are not only ridiculed by the pack (see ritual/traditions) but are charged a $20 field fee. 

Rituals/Traditions. This is your paintball team’s identity or soul. These are what the team has in common.  It’s the glue that binds teammates together. Rituals and traditions can be the setting up and taking down of the field EVERY weekend, the meeting up at a favorite local restaurant after practice, the workouts, the drills, rites of passage for new members…(those can be interesting).  You get the picture. 

As with the other two pillars, rituals and traditions can either be created by design or default. When left to default, you end up with subpar rituals that are boring and meaningless and don’t bring the team together. With no identity there will be no loyalty. With no loyalty there will eventually be no team.

Look at teams like Dynasty and Vicious.  I guarantee they have all of these aspects (and probably more) in play hence their longevity and success.

Creating a successful program is not easy.  It should be approached with what I like to refer to as a comedic seriousness.  Take it seriously but don’t be afraid to laugh at your mistakes because you WILL make them.

Not really sure how to wrap this one up so I will conclude with this -

Congratualtions to Pr1me for their podium finish at PSP’s 2014 West Coast Open as well as Pr1me 2’s podium finish at the same event.  Photos to come!

Mike Bianca
Team Pr1me