Getting over the wall: Team culture matters

Team Culture Matters

Every Saturday from September through early November you will find our family at the back of a local high school, surrounded by cadets in ACU’s.  We spend the day watching our son and dozens of others competing in physically- and mentally-intense challenges.  The cadets are part of their school’s JROTC Raider program – teams of individuals who train to compete in these challenges around the area.  We watch them flip 600 pound tires, carry 50 pound rucksacks for miles in cross country rescue, do team runs, complete obstacle courses, and build and cross rope bridges.  None of these events are individual – they must all be completed as a team.  In fact, penalties accrue if your team doesn’t stay within 20 yards of each other at all times.


Often on the obstacle course or even the cross country rescue course the teams will run across a 6-9 foot wall to scale.  They have no choice but to figure out how to get every team member up and over the wall.  Sometimes the team members are able to do it themselves, but more often it takes a boost or additional help.  It’s incredible to watch and impossible to not cheer them on as they scale these challenges.


There is a wall that affects every single one of us – in our families, in the clubs and organizations we belong to, and in the teams we lead.  That wall is our culture.  The “wall” of culture is a little more like the Great Wall of China than the obstacle on a Raider course.  The wall on the Raider course could be avoided – you could simply run around it – though there would be consequences for doing so.  The Great Wall of China can’t be avoided – you either run into it head first, or you find a way to scale it.  The Great Wall at one time defined the boundaries of China, just as your culture defines the boundaries of who you are as a family, organization, or team.

Culture is defined as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular group.” (  Culture is too important to leave to chance.  You have to be deliberate in choosing what culture you want to create.  In your family, you may choose to have a culture of respect – meaning you must deliberately demonstrate respect to your children and spouse, not simply require your children to say “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am”.  Then, when an incident of disrespect happens (and oh, yes, it will happen!), your family can gently remind each other That’s not who we are.  In my church, one of our culture statements is “Good is the enemy of the best.”  That means we all know that we are striving for excellence, not mediocrity, because eternity is not something to treat lightly.  (You can read all ten of our culture statements here).


I just finished filming a video for our Kids department that defines our culture.  We will show it to every existing volunteer, and every new volunteer as they onboard with us.  I think culture is far too important to hope someone “catches”.  It’s a wall that defines us, and each person must choose to scale the wall and join us on our journey, or choose a different path.


I would encourage you to do two things:

  1.  Define your culture.  Come up with 2 or 3 or 10 statements that define who you are, in whatever context you choose – family, organization, or team.  Think about what is important to you, and the behaviors and beliefs you desire to live out.  I would encourage you to include the other members of your unit.  Then craft those into easy to remember statements!
  2. Share your culture statements.  Don’t make anyone guess who you are striving to be.  Hang them on your wall, print them out for new team members, and talk about them often.


My son’s Raider team has defined it’s culture in two phrases this season:  No Fear, No Failure.  That defines how they approach their events, how they practice together, and even how they act around school.  They’ve figured out how to get over their wall.





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