Nearly 5 years ago, I made the decision to learn how to play ice hockey. I had always loved the sport but was not able to play as a child. The first time I stepped onto the ice, I fell flat on my face because I forgot to take my skate guard off (I now have bright yellow skate guards instead of black so that doesn’t happen again). Today, I am the captain of my men’s league team, despite being one of the worst players on the team (I’m really good at paperwork and administrative stuff). Hockey has taught me a lot about teams and leadership, here are my top takeaways:
1. “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.” I’ve heard these words of encouragement from coaches and random people at open skates countless times. In order to get better at skating and hockey, you have to be willing to fall and fail. If you aren’t falling, you are playing it safe and not advancing. How many times do we play it safe at work? What could we accomplish as leaders or teams if we pushed outside our comfort zone and had the support of our organization?
2. Make sure everyone on the team shares the same goal. Early in my days of being the captain, there were two groups of guys on the team. One group cared about winning, improving every game and advancing up to the next level. The other cared about the camaraderie of having beers after the game and enjoying the time on the ice. I made the mistake of trying to keep the former happy and failed to recognize a majority of the team cared about the latter. We now have a fantastic group of guys who support each other, drink beers after the game and have fun. We are all on the same page and it has made us a more successful team. We have brought in better players, but I always make sure they are a good culture fit by emphasizing we are not here to win the championship (though that would be nice), but we are here to have fun and win the 4th period. Does everyone on your team share the same goal?
3. Keep it simple. There is a great book by John Bacon about how he turned the worst high school hockey team in the country into a perennial winner. The book is not really about hockey, it’s about leadership. He had two rules on the team: Work hard and support your teammates. Those rules covered any situation that arose on the team. Did a player drink alcohol at a party? Well, that is not supporting your teammates because that player will be suspended and unable to play in the next game. Show up late to a practice? Well you can’t work hard if you aren’t on time. So many companies burden their employees with an infinite number of policies that take hours to navigate. How much better would it be if there were simple rules for employees to follow? Hire the right people and then trust them to do what is right.
The picture below captures how far we’ve come as a team. After going 2-20 over our first two seasons, we won our first playoff game this year. We have fun and support our teammates.