Lessons from a Lacrosse Team

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My son plays lacrosse and has done for about 13 years and this year has been a pinnacle experience for him as his high school team recently won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Championship.  For those of you not acquainted with lacrosse, to win this in Maryland is a big feat as the game is more like a religion than a sport and thus is extremely competitive with many top players hailing from the area.

Now how did this team do it?  How did they win every league game as well as a championship?  While there was a ton of talent on the team, I think there were other, more critical elements that made them successful and here are a few:

  1. Direction: They had one goal instead of many which caused them to act unselfishly and work for team rather than individual.  There was little to no ball hogging.  There was little to no “buddy” passing where one player tends to only pass to their buddy even though others are open.  When a lesser known player was in position to score, they were fed the ball.  When one player had a chance of scoring but another had a better chance, a pass was made.  To make this overly clear, the players wore shirts at every game with the moniker of “one band, one sound” to keep them focused on ‘We’ instead of ‘Me.’ The direction was clear so the team sought wins rather than individual highlight reels.  This focus on a group result meant everyone on the team was rowing together in the same direction rather than individuals trying to go their own way.
  2. Trust: Each player had faith in the rest of the team.  They worked together to support each other’s ups and downs.  When the goalie was struggling, the defense stepped up.  When the defense was in trouble, the offense worked to create a cushion on the scoreboard, and when the team seemed in trouble overall, everyone stepped up to rally each other.  There never seemed to be any pointing of fingers when someone made a mistake, rather, there was support, encouragement and belief…in each other.  They trusted each other to do the right thing for the team.  They trusted that everyone was in it for a win for the team instead of being in it only for themselves.
  3. Communication: In lacrosse communication is critical since there are so many times when a player is blind to things around them.  For instance, there are times when you are guarding your man with your back turned to the ball.  During these times, the goalie is constantly calling out where the ball is and various other orders so that everyone, even those who cannot turn to look, know what is happening and what they should be doing.  At other times, you may be running with the ball only to have someone hot on your heels and at these times a quick shout from a teammate to watch your back can save the day.  All of this communication gives everyone the information they need to succeed in their role and to ultimately help the team succeed.

What can those of us in business take away and learn from a high school lacrosse team?  Well, a lot actually, at least a lot of things to question in our organizations.

  1. Is everyone in your organization rowing together? Is there a clear, unified direction?  Does everyone understand that it is not about results for a department or person, but rather, results for the organization?
  2. What about trust? Do your “players” trust each other? Are there hidden agendas; are some people or departments hiding things for their own benefit?  Can team members have healthy conflict and speak their minds or do they sit back and hide their ideas for fear of reprisal, ridicule or worse?  Do team members support and encourage one another or do they find ways to diminish each other in hopes of making themselves look better?
  3. How is communication? Do people in your organization make sure communication is clear?  Do they share all of the pertinent information or do they assume people know things?  Do they over communicate on many channels to ensure everyone hears the message or do they have an approach of saying things only once thinking people should get it without needing repeated iterations?

A company, church, school, non-profit, band, orchestra or any organization for that matter is just a team.  We can learn a great deal from a bunch of high school lacrosse players who unselfishly served one another for the good of the larger team goal.  Through trust and good communication, they managed to reach a unified goal to which everyone was committed.  By subjugating the push to make it all about the one, they combined to win it all for the many.  Great lessons indeed and ones your business can use to win.

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