What can a soccer show teach us about building organizational culture? As fans of Ted Lasso learned, the titular character’s approach to building a positive team culture has applications far beyond the “pitch.” Despite the fact that Lasso was set up to fail as an American football coach handed the head position with a British soccer club, his winning leadership style shines through.
The show goes beyond sports to demonstrate how a diverse team navigates human issues and sensitive topics like mental health, relationships and ambition. While the show's workplace is a soccer club, the situations and lessons about how to build a positive culture are applicable to any organization.
Every workplace has a culture or “way of doing things.” Corporate values are often touted in employee orientations and splashed on posters or office wall murals. The challenge is activating the behaviors you’d like to exemplify the brand. Fostering positive organizational culture requires leadership and a consistent team effort. Through wins and losses, the cultural beliefs and behaviors of a team hold them together.
The ethos of the “Lasso Way” not only helps the team win but influences each person to become their best self. Articulated and embodied through Lasso’s optimistic personality, eventually, the “Way” was adopted by everyone who had a stake in the club’s success.
When I watched the show, several elements of the “Lasso Way” jumped out as principles for positive workplace culture.
Lasso Lessons for Building Strong Team Culture
1. Extend Trust to Build Trust
Lasso had confidence in his abilities to motivate players from his time as an American football coach. But he knew he wasn’t an expert in soccer. Walking into any new environment or group, it’s important to trust yourself and the value you bring. Recognizing your blind spots and the expertise around you are also essential. Lasso understood that showing trust in his colleagues and players was an important step in helping them trust him—and themselves.
2. Acknowledge & Appreciate Others
Lasso led with gratitude and kindness. From the special shortbread biscuits that he brought his boss to how he showed care for each member of the team when they faced challenges, Lasso found small ways to make people feel seen. “I appreciate you” was a Lasso catchphrase that highlighted the contributions someone made—whether in a game, practice or in his life outside the stadium.
Related: For ideas on how to show gratitude in the workplace, view Beyond Employee Appreciation Day: Tactics for Year-Round Gratitude.
3. Embrace Differences & Diversity
The team roster included players from 11 different countries. The show also features main characters who are heterosexual, bisexual and gay. Women appear prominently as business executives, with storylines that highlight their leadership as well as their love lives. Each person was embraced as their unique self and their strengths were recognized. Together, the team was stronger because of their differences.
Related: Learn how to embrace diversity and support in The HR Professional’s Guide to Diversity & Inclusion.
4. Reinforce Behaviors With Visual Cues
The handwritten “believe” sign was an environmental symbol of the cultural tone Lasso brought to the locker room every day. The poster was much more than décor, however. It was a tangible reminder of a key leadership moment the team took to heart. It stayed up each week (until a major plot twist!) because it was proof that Lasso built a team based on trust and belief in one another.
5. Identify the Potential in Others
Lasso strategically built his coaching staff by listening for insights and watching for what others could offer. He nurtured and promoted people based on what he felt was possible for them, not necessarily the position they held. That open-minded leadership model allowed him to connect on a personal level with each of his team members.
Related: Align your leadership team to drive culture change using these Essential Leadership Skills to Inspire Better Performances.
6. Demonstrate Vulnerability
Even the best leaders experience rough patches. Lasso openly grappled with anxiety, turning to the team’s therapist for support. As work on emotional intelligence and mental health emerged as a central theme, we saw even the angriest and most boastful characters evolve into sensitive and supportive types. (I found myself cheering more loudly in these empathetic scenes than when the team scored a pivotal goal!)
7. Embrace Failure as a Growth/Learning Opportunity
Miss a key play? Lasso would tell players, “Be a goldfish.” Forgetting the past and staying present helped them shake off their self-doubt. The team’s biggest wins weren’t always evidenced by the scoreboard. Lasso triumphed in the moments where the team played well together and overcame adversity.
8. Success Doesn’t Rest on a Star’s Shoulders
Yes, exceptional players popped in and out of the soccer program. But the team’s lasting power didn’t come from a single talent. It was only when members fully embraced a culture in which everyone had the opportunity to shine that they found sustainable success.
Related: Learn how employee advocacy can impact an organization in The Secret to Successfully Inspiring Employee Advocacy.
Applying the “Lasso Way” to Improve Workplace Culture
Every organization should promote a “Way” that is clearly articulated, coached and channeled into everyday behaviors. Leaders must model desired behaviors each day while recognizing that they can’t improve their culture alone.
We work with organizations to develop strategies that motivate teams and improve workplace cultures. Organizations that have a well-established “Way” embrace a system for ongoing training and reinforcement of behaviors that align with the established culture. Once adopted, behaviors become recognized externally, so it’s easier for prospective talent and customers to know what to expect when they interact with team members from your brand.
Related: Our sister company increased employee understanding strategy, employee engagement, and learning and development at DHL.
5 Considerations When Creating an Organizational Climate That Supports Adoption of a Workplace “Way”
- Is there a communication plan for keeping organizational values top of mind?
- Do leaders understand the “why” behind the organization’s “Way,” and how to activate the associated behaviors?
- Are all new team members consistently taught about the culture?
- How can cultural ambassadors provide continuity of leadership?
- What policies are in place to reinforce workplace culture?
Although I don’t have Lasso’s knack for corny rhymes or nicknames, my years as a strategic workplace-engagement leader have shown me what it takes to build a positive culture. To ensure success of your organization’s “Way,” it’s important to consider policies, practices, communications, environmental and systemic opportunities for sustaining and reinforcing it.
Looking for more advice on building a winning workplace culture? Focus on can’t miss elements for a standout recognition culture.