What Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll Can Teach You About Building Positive Company Culture

This article was originally published on EarlyToRise.com, which can be found here. 

It was about six weeks until our first super bowl…Coach Carroll and I were standing in the tunnel at the training facility and he looks at me and says, Do you feel it? Do you feel what’s happening here? Dr. Gervais nods and says “It’s Amazing….god it feels good around here.” People are deeply optimistic, looking forward to the future, handling adversity well… there was a great togetherness that was taking place.

What Dr. Gervais is describing is the incredible culture that Coach Carroll has created since taking over as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. Dr. Michael Gervais is a high-performance sports psychologist who has done mental training for olympic champions, the Red Bull jumpman Felix Baumgartner, CEO’s and since 2012 the Seattle Seahawks. In podcast I recently co-hosted with Dr. Gervais, he describes in detail the inner workings of the Seahawks’ culture; here is the full interview.

This article will hopefully answer questions such as:

  • What’s unique about the Seahawks’ culture?
  • How did Coach Carroll build it?
  • How can you apply Coach Carroll’s methodology to your start-up, team or business?

But first, what is culture and why does it matter?

Culture is the shared beliefs and attitudes of the members of a team, or as Benjamin Hardy writes, “culture is a social construct”. Most companies think culture is about rewards v. punishment, titles or salary. While those things are important, culture must tap into a higher level of needs than those of base needs because once base needs are met, they are no longer useful cohesives to keep a team together. Instead, a successful culture taps into what Maslow described as ‘esteem needs.’ Esteem needs are met when one feels a sense of connection and meaning due in part to being a member of a team or group. It’s the step right before self-actualization.

While culture is intangible — you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, and you sure as hell can’t buy it — it can be a competitive differentiator in a big way. On average, organizations can expect 147% higher earnings per share vis-a-vis their peers when employees experience above-average levels of engagement (one measurement of culture).* Other factors, such as retention rate, absenteeism and product quality are all positively affected by a company’s culture.

So we know what culture is, and how freaking important it is. Let’s now dive into 3 tactics for upgrading your team’s culture.

#1 — Develop a Philosophy

There wouldn’t be one person in the [Seattle Seahawks] organization who wouldn’t know the philosophy, and know what it means.

If I asked you, who are you…what do you stand for…what do you believe in, or in short, what is your philosophy? Could you answer it? More importantly, could you answer the question in a sentence or less?

What about your company’s philosophy? Does every person know, word by word, your company’s philosophy and infuse it in everything they do? If not, getting clear and precious on your team’s philosophy is the first step in creating a culture, as it’s the guiding star for every member of the team. It also gives the team members something to fall back on when adversity strikes.

Dr. Gervais said that there wouldn’t be one person in the [Seattle Seahawks] organization who wouldn’t know the philosophy, and know what it means. For Seattle, the philosophy is “Always Compete.” Coach Carroll then goes into detail as to what the philosophy means and how it should be applied.


#2 — Invest in the Person

Coach Carroll puts a heavy emphasis on helping each member of the team be the best that they can possibly be, and from there let’s the rest fall in place.

The second tenet focuses on caring about the people on your team at a deep level — caring about their work and non-work self. Coach Carroll puts a heavy emphasis on helping each member of the team be the best that they can possibly be, and from there let’s the rest fall in place.

So how can we help our team, our employees thrive as individuals?

Dr. Gervais suggests focusing on the three areas within our control — body, mind, and craft — and providing resources to your team to improve each.

Body — this is all about the eating, sleeping, moving. For a professional football team, the focus on body is heightened compared to a company whose team members meet in an office as opposed to a football field. That said, if your team members aren’t healthy, their performance will suffer. Providing stipends for gym memberships is one way to do it, but a more effective way is to lead group workouts, such as a run in the morning three times a week. Doing so brings the team closer and improves fitness levels.

It’s well documented that exercising increases serotonin, which in turn impacts brain function, mood, and impulse control.

Mind — this is where Dr. Gervais helps the Seahawk players with mental training and mindfulness. In short, their sole focus here is increasing the frequency at which each player is able to focus on the present moment. Or, to develop a deep awareness for what’s happening NOW because that is where flow state/ peak state begins, and in turn is where we do our best work. There are a number of ways you can provide resources for your team, such as meditation, imagery (imagining the optimal experience for a given call or meeting), or consider contacting Compete to Create (a firm started by Dr. Gervais and Coach Carroll).

Craft — this is the actual skill-work or technique required to perform one’s job. Each role in the company can be performed at various levels of excellence. To improve an individual’s ability to serve a certain role, we should distill that role into the various micro-skills that comprise the overall skill. For example, in sales the micro-skills could be prospecting, discovery, and negotiation The key here is to keep the micro-skills simple and easy enough for the individual to focus on.

Helping your team improve each of the above three areas — body, mind, craft — tie back to the overall point, which is to care about the development of the person on a deep level, inside and outside of the company. If you put an emphasis on helping each person improve their body, mind and craft, within work and outside or work, you’ll notice a strange occurrence start to take place. The person will be pulled (as opposed to pushed) into doing their role to the best of their ability. They will give it their all because doing so helps the overall group, the overall team, and the connection to the group — due in part to the culture — is everything.


#3 — Creativity

If you don’t spend time each day creating ideas, your idea muscle will atrophy.

Creativity boils down to setting aside time for each person to produce ideas to help improve the performance of their role, which in turn helps the broader team. Doing so reinforces the connectedness one has to the culture. It also reinforces the meaning one feels towards the culture.

James Altucher is known for his thoughts on flexing our idea muscle. In short, your idea muscle is just like any other muscle. If you don’t spend time each day creating ideas, your idea muscle will atrophy.

How can we put this to use in the business world? It depends on the role, but one idea is to have each person set aside time each day or week to create 10 ideas that will move X forward. What is X? If you are in sales, it could mean creating 10 ideas to move a given deal forward, or 10 ideas to penetrate a new account. If you are in product, it could be 10 ideas for new features. Tailor the idea session to the role, and lead from the front by sharing your 10 ideas with the team.

Here is a podcast with James where he describes in detail his ritual for creating ideas.

To connect the dots, Coach Carroll created a culture in Seattle that enables the players on the team to feel deeply connected to the group and derive meaning from being in the group. He does this by having a clear philosophy that guides everything the team does, cares about the person inside and outside of football, and creates an environment where the players can be themselves.

I’d love to hear any suggestions or feedback for how you’ve created a winning culture at your organization.

* The State of the American Workplace, 2017, Gallup.

About the author:

Ryan Warner (@Ryan_N_Warner) is the co-host of TR Talk Podcast, which interviews leaders in their fields to learn how millennials can fastrack their personal development. Guests have included former NFL players, NBA champions, Olympic gold medalists, CEO’s, and New York Times best sellers. Ryan is also an account executive on Salesforce’s financial services team. You can subscribe to the podcast here and connect with Ryan through the following channels.

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