Through our work with more than 26,000 teams from around the world, we’ve identified five significant factors that determine a team’s effectiveness. Today, in the first of a five-part series on teams, we take a look at the contribution mindsets make to team effectiveness.
In a recent postgame press conference, Colorado head football coach Deion Sanders voiced his frustration with the way his team performed. “Played like hot garbage,” he said. And this is after his Buffaloes defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils 27-24.
Sanders didn’t take issue with the victory but with how it was won. The Buffaloes fell behind early, committed eight penalties, and gave up five sacks in the game. The final score belies a contest that wasn’t nearly as competitive as it suggests. The Buffs only pulled out the win with the help of clutch play from quarterback Shedeur Sanders (Deion’s son) and a 43-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining. That may make for a dramatic finish and good TV, but slow starts, sloppy play, and late-game heroics do not lend themselves to building a culture of consistency and excellence.
And excellence is what Sanders is after. After all, this is the man who gave himself the nickname “Prime Time,” reflecting both his ability and versatility as a professional athlete and his flashy and charismatic personality—on and off the field. As a standout cornerback in the NFL, Sanders became a Super Bowl champion with both the 49ers and the Cowboys, and as an MLB outfielder, he played on two World Series-winning teams with the Atlanta Braves. During his career as a player, Sanders embraced the spotlight and was known for his showmanship, confident in his talent and unafraid to shine in the biggest moments and on the biggest stages of the sports world.
Now, as “Coach Prime,” he’s brought that self-assurance and swagger to Colorado. When he joined the team, the Buffs were coming off an abysmal 2022 season in which they finished 1-11. In his first meeting with the players early this year, he signaled a shift in philosophy and a new team mindset, repeatedly telling them, “I’m coming,” meaning he was coming in to turn around the program. “There is not going to be any more mediocrity, period,” he said. “I’m coming.”
Great coaches like Sanders possess a clarity of vision and an unshakable belief that they can produce such results, and they do so by shaping the mindset of their team and inspiring that same belief in their team members. Great leaders do the same.
Defining Your Mindset
Whether you’re a college football coach, a rising business leader, or a CEO, you set the culture and tone for your team; you articulate what the team aims to accomplish; and you instill the belief that the group is capable of achieving those goals. The most effective teams have a shared understanding of who they are and what they are pursuing together. You establish the team mindset.
For the Buffaloes, Sanders laid out the team mindset in that first meeting with his players: no more mediocrity. That’s why the loss to Arizona State was so frustrating. It wasn’t frustration born of a failure to win but of a failure to be more than mediocre.
Using Mindset To Boost Team Effectiveness
The Buffs are currently in what I like to call “the messy middle.” They’re onboard with the vision of being a skilled and disciplined well-oiled machine of a college football team, but not quite executing on that vision just yet. As they work to improve, here are three generative factors they can embrace to help unify and strengthen their mindset and three disruptive factors they should avoid, lest the team fracture:
- One Team, One Goal: When members are aligned with a team’s mission and vision, they create a “team identity” and pursue their goals with passion, focus, and creativity.
- Belief in Team Efficacy: The shared belief that a team is capable of achieving its goals provides motivation that increases both individual and collective effort and productivity.
- Systemic View: Viewing the team as part of a larger system or organization allows team members to focus on integrating and aligning their goals and processes.
- Silo Mentality: When team members focus only on themselves and their own work or productivity, they’re likely to miss opportunities for collaboration and teamwork.
- Negative Affect: Negativity and pessimism are exhausting and drain motivation, enthusiasm, and energy from the team.
- Blaming Culture: Mistakes and setbacks are bound to happen, but when team members focus on “who” or “what” is to blame for them, they limit the team’s ability to learn, improve, and evolve.
A Team of Achievement
Despite the Buffs’ lackluster performance against Arizona State, the team is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was a year ago. Halfway through the season, and Colorado has a winning record (4-2) and is only two wins away from bowl eligibility. Coach Prime wasn’t kidding when he said, “I’m coming,” and the change he promised is taking hold.
Ultimately, Sanders’ journey with the Buffaloes is not just about college football; it’s a story of leadership, culture change, and the power of mindset in achieving excellence. Like all great coaches and leaders, he understands the critical role mindset plays in shaping team effectiveness. It can be the difference between building a team of potential and one of achievement.