What the Boston Celtics Teach Us about Startup Culture

How to create and preserve a strong culture

The Boston Celtics were supposed to go to the NBA finals this year.

After making it deep into last year’s playoffs without their heralded superstar, Kyrie Irving, who was injured, everyone believed they would easily dominate the league this year. Well, they haven’t. This year is been one big disappointment for Boston fans. Unfortunately for Boston fans and fortunately for the rest of us, the year the Celtics have had teaches us a few really important things you and your startup can learn!

Culture is everything

All of the Celtics struggles can be attributed to their team culture. No one from their organization told me this and I did not hear it on ESPN. I saw it. One day when watching a game in which the team played particularly poorly, I noticed that every member of the team displayed negative body language. During the post-game interviews members of the team began to blame one another. It was clear, the Celtics culture was rotten.

Culture is everything in sports, school, family and business. One of the most important things you can do for your startup is to develop and establish a strong and positive culture.

You may have to fire your best employee

Many sports broadcasters and pundits have been talking about the Celtics. What is wrong with them? Why is a team with so much talent losing so often? The problem actually may be their best player, Kyrie Irving. The things Kyrie has said to the media about his teammates, his attitude on the court and his activity off the court shows us that he may be the root cause of the toxic culture of the Boston Celtics.

The culture of your company or startup is everything! That means you may have to make hard decisions about your personnel. You may have to fire your best employee. If you have the most talented person around who produces more numbers than all other people in your company but makes everyone miserable, you should get rid of that person. If anyone in your company threatens the culture you have to consider getting rid of them. You know all of the adages: “one bad apple ruins the bunch”, “…toxic people bring toxic culture”. They are true!

You may have to lead up

No one knows who is in charge in Boston right now. That seems to be the main problem with the team. Is it the coach? Is it Kyrie Irving? Who is the leader?

If you have ever worked in a startup culture you may have had a similar experience. Startups, and larger companies for that matter, often fail due to a lack of clear leadership. But, what should you do when you are under poor leadership? Lead up. Sometimes, you have to use your work, dedication and the way you communicate as your offering to leadership development. If you are committed to the goals and vision of the startup and will not walk away, it is worth your time to lead up!

Do not let losing derail your vision

In sports and business alike we experience wins and loses. In sports wins and loses are clearly defined by the team that scores more points. While this is not the case outside of sports, we still deal with wins and loses everyday. As a startup, clearly define what a win looks like. When you fall short of that goal you have to count it as a loss. There is nothing wrong with taking a loss, but there is something wrong with letting your loss derail your vision. Remember that vision is powerful and progress is not always binary.

Written by Mike Yates

Mike is a former TEDx speaker and educator who has worked in education for 7 years as an education program coordinator, teacher, coach and curriculum developer. Mike currently is working to create a new model of school and motivate students to break all of the rules. Mike interested in finding the next set of large innovations to the classroom through the use of adaptive learning technology and AI. He also wants to inspire teachers to build personal brands, side hustles and become entrepreneurs. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter!

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