“Work, shmerk…” remarked my exasperated client. She rolled her eyes as I tried to explain the value of finding meaningful and inspiring work. She was miserable working at a fashion company with its toxic sink-or-swim culture. A co-worker she had thought was a friend had falsely accused her of misplacing an important accessory from a fashion shoot. The pervasive attitude at the company is “I look better when you look bad,” she explained.
“What cultures bring out the best in people?,” an article in Harvard Business Review, identifies three main factors: (1) play, (2) purpose, and (3) potential.
By “play” I don’t mean playing Ring Around the Rosie or doing cartwheels through the office. I am referring to the pure enjoyment one gets from doing work that is inherently interesting and engaging.
Purpose is believing that your work matters and that you are part of something larger than yourself. It reflects your values and goals.
Challenges are growth opportunities. Having the chance to learn and to stretch yourself boosts motivation and meaning.
There is no better example of a play-purpose-and-potential-driven culture than the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team. The Huskies, as they’re known, dominate the sport. Before Mississippi State defeated the Huskies’ during this past weekend’s Final Four game, UConn had won 111 games in a row (their last loss was in 2014) and typically beat other teams by double-digit margins. The players are known for great sportsmanship, tremendous discipline and relentless dedication. They are outstanding off the court, too. These uber-athletes go to class and get good grades.
So how do the Huskies do it? The emphasis is on bringing out the best in the team and one another. Their coach, Geno Auriemma, is known for developing talent, not just recruiting it, and for cultivating a culture of grit and graciousness. As sports writer Sally Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post, “It’s about method, approach, and above all playing the game as a kind of ethic.”
A few days ago, the UConn ladies lost 66-64 in overtime in an amazing game with Mississippi State. After the game, Coach Geno Auriemma told reporters what he said post-game to his “unbeatable” team:
“I reminded them that college basketball has given them a lot. They’ve sent a lot of kids to the locker rooms over the years feeling the way that they’re feeling. And now they’re starting to see what that is like, and now they are part of what a normal college experience is. I reminded them it’s not normal what we’ve been doing. This doesn’t happen in real life and what they’re experiencing now is real life, and what we do going forward will probably be more important than anything that they did this year.”
The team that never lost has a great deal to teach us about losing. There was neither scapegoating, nor finger-pointing nor dwelling on what they could have done. Yes, there were a lot of tears in the locker room, but there was also humility, grace, admiration for the winning team and an eye on the future.
The celebrated football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.” I disagree. The UConn women knew how to win and lose with grace. It all boils down to culture.
While we can’t all be Huskies we can do our best to cultivate cultures that bring out the best in others.