// you’re reading...

How to Win

Unspoken Understandings

Over the weekend, my family went for dessert at Holsten’s, the ice cream parlor where they filmed the final episode of “The Sopranos.”

It was my first trip there since the series ended, and, upon walking in, I asked the waitress, “Where was Tony?”

There were no more words needed. She knew that I was asking “Where was Tony sitting in the final episode?”

It reminded me of the only time I’ve ever visited Dealey Plaza, the place in Dallas where president John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

As new tourists arrive in the plaza, they ask two questions. The first is, “Where was he?” There are no extra words needed; the question refers to where the president was when the bullets hit.

The second question, accompanied by a gesture toward the Texas Book Depository, is “Which was one was it?” That question refers to the window where police say the assassin perched.

I asked my friend and fellow blogger Larry O’Connor, who sees deep into the human experience, about what these sparse conversations meant. He said that they reflected an understanding so embedded among some groups that words were scarcely necessary.

For a fan of “The Sopranos,” the question, “Where was Tony?” is sufficient. For an American who remembers JFK’s death, few words would be needed in Dealey plaza.

It made me wonder about my team — and yours. What values, thoughts, habits, are so embedded and perfectly understood that no further explanations are needed?

If you play for the New York Yankees, the expectation is clear: win the World Series. If you played hoops under Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee, you knew you were going to work hard. If you join the women’s soccer team at the University of North Carolina, you better be ready to compete in practice, because that program is about internal competition.

In my years as a sports writer, I worked with certain understandings: you’re going to write a story, you’re going to get it in on time, and it will be the best story you can possibly produce in that amount of time.

We’re talking about your team culture. How are things done? How well are they done? How often are they done?

In my earliest days in the newspaper business, I got a lesson in team culture. One day our department was getting a lot of heat from the big editors. “Don’t worry,” said my boss. “It will blow over in a day or so.”

That editor knew from experience that the sudden emphasis on quality and accountability would not last long.

How about in your group? The people there have a deep understanding of something. The question is, “What?” What do they really believe about the way things are done? Will you keep your emphasis on quality, or will things blow over? The answer to that question will determine how successful your team is.

*** *** *** ***

Would you like to improve at what you do? “The Improvement Factor: How Winners Turn Practice into Success” can show you how! Are you a coach? “Ten Things Great Coaches Know” can make you a better one.


One comment for “Unspoken Understandings”

  1. Great blog post, Mike. Unspoken understandings lie at the heart of champion performances, yet receive scant attention. You should run with this, bud …

    Posted by Larry | May 9, 2012, 9:11 pm

Post a comment