It is important to recognize the impact of culture in an NFL locker room and who helps and hurts that cause.
There seems to be some confusion about the importance of culture in regards to the NFL. While it does not fall on just one player, those players who impact a culture in a positive nature must be identified, recognized, and retained in order to properly install a good culture. Just as important, these type of players need to present in order to elevate past a bad culture. And one final thing, cultures just do not change overnight, it takes years to go from good to bad. Teams are often stuck in a culture purgatory where they are neither good or bad, but one or two individuals can shift that in either direction.
Plenty of teams are stuck in cycles of bad culture. For the longest time the Browns were one of those teams. While they are no longer a bad culture, they are not good in that area yet either. This is an example of teams can elevate past the bad, but not yet be good. The preeminent example of good culture is the New England Patriots, they have been the standard for good culture. Many organizations strive to have the longevity and consistency of New England, but they are never able to replicate their success.
Examples of bad include the Lions, Jets, and Bengals. The majority of these teams have been stuck on their respective sides of the spectrum for quite some time. This shows the importance of having the right front office, coaching staff, and players in the organization. More often than not the wrong mix exists for teams and results in a repetitive cycle of bad culture.
In regards to culture there are three types of categories that individuals fall in. Net positive, net neutral, and net negative.
It is important to distinguish the differences between these three types of individuals. Most individuals in the NFL fall into the net natural category, they do not have a positive or negative effect on culture, just the way it is. It’s the positive and negative type which can swing a locker room and organization hard in one way or another.
Now it is important to be very careful with these types of individuals as the negative is significantly more influential than the positive. All it takes is one largely negative person to take any neutrality and positivity and throw it right in the garbage. The positive people are more of a collective effort as it takes more than one to influence an organization. It takes a collection of these types in order to properly change things for the better. With all of that said, there is a tightrope that must be walked when handling these individuals.
Once an organization acquires and identifies an individual as a positive culture builder, they must not let that person go unless there are extreme circumstances that require it. Teams should pay a premium for positive culture individuals. These individuals help establish accountability and create that positive change that is required to transform a bad or even toxic culture. If the person is highly proficient at the job that premium increases and that should not be of any concern as long as the positive culture can be retained. Positive culture aspects are not permanent and if that person is removed from the equation it can become a massive problem. Their impact does not continue once they have left. There may be remnants of what that individual brought, but since it is not straight from the source it does not have the same impact or longevity. In the end it can allow aspects of a negative culture to infiltrate the organization and undo all the good that was previously accomplished.
What does it all mean?
It’s simple really. An organization needs significantly more net positive individuals than net negative. Ideally there would be no net negative individuals, but that is simply not possible. Neutral individuals will always outnumber everyone else combined, but it is crucial to have the right people to swing them in the right direction. If the positive-negative ratio is off it results in organizations that are stuck in culture purgatory or flat out have a bad culture. There are reasons that certain teams always seem to shoot themselves in the foot and always seem to be on the wrong end of the culture spectrum. Whether it is players, coaches, or front office staff, they have too many negative influences in the organization to succeed. The only way to change that is to perform sone organizational inventory and identify who and how they can take that step towards having a good culture.