In the Boise State men’s basketball locker room, on one of the walls--20 feet long and 10 feet tall--is a photo of the team, huddled together. The photo is shot from above, showing players’ heads and arms, wrapped around their shoulders. The caption under the photo reads:
WE HUDDLE TIGHTER
When I first heard this phrase, it was as an answer to a question I asked one of the players about the program’s culture and what he thought made the place different from other schools. His answer was quick, without hesitation: “we huddle tighter, literally.”
And he was right.
Even a non-basketball expert like me saw that. When there’s a stop in the play, this team comes together quickly and huddles. When head coach Leon Rice calls a time out, the players run over to where Rice sits on a small stool. The players look down at the drawings he makes on a small white board, their arms draped over each others’ shoulders, their heads almost touching. When there’s a break in play on the court, they come together, arms around their waists or shoulders, pulling together.
I notice that sometimes the opposing team members or assistants may seem to look around the stadium during a break. But the Boise group has been taught to huddle tighter. The rationale is that physical touch helps motivate and keep the team stronger, but it also conveys an idea that as a team, they’ll play better than they would as a collection of individual stars who don’t coalesce.
With several leaders in town, I’ve been working on a book about how creative leaders build the cultures they want. Central to this project is understanding how organizational leaders translate and then communicate values into behaviors that exhibit the culture of the organization. Huddling tighter is a great example of how the value of teamwork and working together comes through in the behaviors of the players and their coaches.
In working through the project, I expected that visual depictions—like the photo of tightly huddling players-- would be most useful for reaching younger people, who’ve been raised with lots of visual stimulation. What I did not expect is how powerful visuals, with or without words, can be for people of all ages and backgrounds and how many organizations are beginning to use them.
One fast growing firm in town, for instance, uses a very tangible and visual way to show growing the firm together. Each new employee receives a brick with his or her name and date of employment on a brass plate on the side of the brick. Once a year, employees bring their bricks out, stack them against a wall and take a photo. Visual evidence of the firm’s growth, “brick by brick,” as they build a company.
Trying looking at the visual clues for culture in your own organization and in others you visit. But if you want a good example to start with, go watch the Boise State men’s basketball games and see if you can spot the huddles!