“Different” doesn’t always mean “worse” (or “better”)

I’m in California this week visiting family and friends. I ran over to a department store with my oldest children in tow to grab a few items I’d left at home.
In our hometown, we have the same department store, but the layout is a little different. Our hometown store has a bakery, and they have free cookies for kids at that bakery. This department store we went to today did not have a bakery, and also no free cookies.
My kids have been conditioned a bit to expect a cookie after shopping if they’ve behaved and done what they’ve been asked. I wasn’t able to offer that to them, and since they are 3 and 1 respectively, they were not exactly understanding my explanations that this store had no bakery.
As my disappointed kids kept looking at me for cookies (I’m too cheap to buy cookies for them), this thought crossed my mind: “Man, our store at home is way better than this one.”
We’ve all had an experience or two like this, right? We go to a new place, a new organization, a new team and we automatically start to compare the experiences and framework of the new situation to the comfort and familiarity of our old experience. As we do these evaluations, we often quickly conclude that the new experience is either better or worse than our old one.  
In some cases, our initial evaluations may be correct. But that’s not always the case. Consider these old sayings and cliches, some of which you’ve probably heard more than once:
* “Change for change’s sake”
* “We’ve always done it this way”

* “At my old job…..”

With my department store experience today, I may not understand why they’ve chosen to go without a bakery. Maybe they are able to offer more products regularly used in this part of the country instead of using space for a bakery. Maybe not having a bakery allows prices to be cheaper than if they did have a bakery. This may be true, and it may be not. The point is: I don’t know for sure. And I couldn’t possibly know without a lot more context.
Great teams change and adapt, that is for certain. But simply changing or being different doesn’t necessarily make things better. On the flip side, just because something is familiar or comfortable does not guarantee a better situation either. Evaluations must be made on merit.
Consider your own experience with changing situations and the challenges those situations present.  
* How can you evaluate changes and differences on merit instead of simple familiarity?
* Think of time when you felt yourself defending outdated practices. What prompted your defense? Was it effective and productive? Did it cause any friction on your team?

* How will you approach differences and change in a productive manner in the future?


“Above the Line”

One of my favorite activities to do with my children is wander around our local library.  The library is quite large, has statues, play areas for kids, and (of course) loads of books.

On a recent excursion to the library, I noticed a new book on the display shelf that I hadn’t noticed before.  It was called “Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season.”  Written by Urban Meyer and Wayne Coffey, the book outlined principles of preparation and process employed by the Ohio State University football team, which won the College Football Playoff and National Championship in 2014.

Having grown up in Utah, I was familiar with Urban Meyer from his short stint as head coach at the University of Utah.  I followed his career to Florida, where he experienced a lot of success and then burned out in a spectacular way.  I was most intrigued by the book because of its focus on culture:  the way the Ohio State Football Program approaches their work and maximized contributions from each player, coach, and staff member.

The book had many chapters I found intriguing and fascinating as a football fan as well as one who studies team excellence.  The principle that stood out to me the most, however, was what Meyer called the foundation: Above the Line.  He chose the phrase as the title of the book because of its fundamental importance to the success of his program.

Last week, I wrote about process, and how imperative it is for aspiring teams to have a process that produces results.  While this book illustrates multiple components of the Ohio State process, everything is dependent on “Above the Line” behavior.

From the book:

The performance of a team rises or falls on behavior.  Winning behavior is intentional, on purpose, and skillful.  It is Above the Line.  But it’s easier to be impulsive, on autopilot, and resistant.  This is Below the Line. Below the Line is dangerous because it is comfortable and convenient.  It is the path of least resistance.  Below the Line takes little effort or skill, and the best it can produce is “just OK.” Eventually, it produces failure.

Above the Line: Lessons in in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season.  Pg. 27

This had a profound affect on me as I read this chapter.  Guiltily, I began to see how often I reacted in impulsive, lazy, or resistant “below the line” behavior.  In fact, I am embarrassed to say this behavior was not exclusive to my career, but my relationships and personal life as well.  I resolved to do better.  Much better.

This principle is nothing new or earth-shattering.  But the effort required to follow it takes an incredible amount of effort and devotion.

Consider the following activities:

  1. Identify an area on your team or in your life that is producing mediocre results.
  2. What intentional behaviors can you change right now that may modify those results?
  3. Incorporate the selected behaviors in to your process immediately.
  4. Track whether or not this simple behavior change modifies your desired result. If so, keep it up! If not, try steps 1-3 again.

The beauty and challenge of “Above the Line” behavior is that only you and your team will really be able to identify what it means to be “intentional”and act on purpose.  But simply taking the time to identify what it means to you is the first step.

The Value of “Team”

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Over the last months and years, I’ve been contemplating things that fascinate me, cause me to pause, and encourage me to share ideas with others.

I’ve always loved sports, and it occurred to me that the examples of success, execution, teamwork, and practice are universal patterns of fulfillment across our multi-faceted lives.  The excellence we see on a field or court has been molded through hour after hour of repetitive adherence to the principles of excellence.

As a business major in college, this intriguing concept followed me to my work and career.  The principles that enable a player or team to hoist a trophy at the end of a season apply to individuals and organizations operating within virtually any sphere.  You obey and follow those principles, and success inevitably follows.


In sports, we hear the term “dynasty” used to describe teams that have maintained a consistent standard of excellence over a long period of time.  Cable sports network analysts will argue about whether or not a team has reached “dynasty” status.  This is not an honor bestowed easily.  We have champions every season.  But we have dynasties rarely.

So, what makes a champion?  Most importantly, what molds a champion into a dynasty?

These writings are my endeavor to organize my experiences with and observations of teams that not only reach a high level, but can maintain that level of excellence day after day, month after month, year after year.  These observations and experiences come from a variety of reading, my own experiences, and lessons I learn from individuals and groups that I interview.

I hope you find these writings insightful, that you share your own thoughts, and that the concepts invite introspection and application to your own team process.

-Sean Jaussi