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Abby Wambach shares why culture is a team sport

By Melissa Jezior

“I loved winning and losing as ONE team. I loved being a part of being something bigger than myself. I loved how my teammates and I cared for each other, fought hard for each other, and respected each – no matter what. What I loved most was being a teammate to women and a leader of women.”

Abby Wambach

This is how two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion soccer powerhouse Abby Wambach describes belonging to a championship team in her new book, Wolfpack.

Now, Abby is focused on a new goal: translating that team culture in a way that empowers women and drives a leap forward for all humankind.

After reading Wolfpack, I was deeply interested in having a conversation with Abby because it seemed her lessons from the soccer field would be directly transferable to companies grappling with creating a resilient, winning business culture. And let me tell you, there are key parallels between winning on the field and winning at the workplace.

In between watching and tweeting about the U.S. Women’s National Team play superior soccer in Paris, Abby spoke with me for Eagle Hill’s new podcast, cultur(ED).

During the podcast, Abby and I discussed key questions that are top of mind for every CEO and business leader: Just how important is culture to a team and what’s the secret sauce to a constructing a powerful culture?

Abby shared her insight that it’s no longer the job of one person to create culture using a top-down approach. “The more modern way of leadership is to get the best people in the room and let them create the culture,” she said. And today, that means being inclusive – from women to younger generations to people of color to those with differing views and preferences.

When I asked about how big of a factor culture plays when it comes to winning and losing, Abby didn’t hold back.

“Culture is everything because culture sets mindset.
And mindset has everything to do with winning and losing.”

Abby opined that businesses are smart to create a culture that is focused broadly on team mindset – things like preparation and practice – rather than short-sighted goals like sales on a spreadsheet.

“The way that you are every single moment, every single day at work determines outcomes of big moments. It’s not the game days that determine the outcomes. What is your business doing consistently well? That is the stuff that what will determine success,” she said.

Take a few minutes listen to the podcast. There’s much that business leaders can learn from elite athletes like Abby Wambach and the high performance, teamwork culture that often is cultivated in sports.

In fact, our new research found that employees who participated in team sports are more likely to believe their work team exceeds its goals, to trust their co-workers, and to tap into their individual strengths every day on the job. We also discovered that employees believe that business teams are falling short when it comes to building cohesive teams, performing at an optimal level, and responding to change.

Workers who played team sports are significantly more likely to tap into their individual strengths on the job and trust their co-workers.

Percentages reflect respondents that agreed with the above statements

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting Workplace Teams Survey 2019 and Team-Oriented Workplace Survey

Creating the strong team culture and mindset that Abby describes is increasingly important because businesses are moving more toward team-based initiatives. Harvard Business Review reports that employees spend 50 percent more of their time on collaborative work than they did 20 years ago. And, our research finds that nearly half of the workforce says their work is becoming more team-oriented and that team projects will become increasingly prevalent.

Given the rapidly change environment confronting so many industries, Abby’s insights are all the more important. Businesses that can figure out how to create a mission-driven culture that fosters teamwork broadly across an organization will without a doubt have a competitive advantage.

For our part here at Eagle Hill, we’re taking lessons from Wolfpack. We’re continuously discussing our own culture and mindset. And we’re finding ways to further strengthen our diversity and inclusivity.

For example, we’re proud to release our first television advertisements during the Women’s World Cup. These ads are one demonstration of our support for women competing at the highest level and our commitment to equality and diversity. In fact, 68 percent of Eagle Hill’s workforce is female, and those numbers are consistent at the leadership level. And we know that businesses and teams – The Wolfpacks – that embed diversity and inclusion into their cultures are those best positioned for innovation and success.