Two stories from the sports world are showing us how important an organizational culture can be. First, the Boston Red Sox. Just two years ago, they were a culture in disarray. The most famous example of their poor culture was that players who were not in the game were going into the clubhouse while the game was still going on, eating chicken and drinking beer. This was accepted and allowed within the culture. The result was that the recent world champions failed to make the playoffs and their manager was fired.

The next season, the team brought in Bobby Valentine to manage the team. He promised to “crack down” on the poor culture. He brought an authoritarian style to the culture, swinging the cultural pendulum all the way across the spectrum. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that what happens in our organizations as well? We tend to overcorrect and make things worse by going too far. That is just what happened with the Red Sox. They tanked and ended up with the worst record in baseball last season. Bobby Valentine was fired and they brought in another manager who promised to maintain a professional culture, but to encourage the players to have fun playing baseball again. He found a good balance.

Then, something from the outside world affected the culture. The Boston Marathon was bombed and the city rallied together. David Ortiz famously proclaimed, “This is our F*#*$ng City!” on national television. The Red Sox became a focal point of “Boston Strong.” The players reacted by making the season all about the city and the fans. They were no longer the team playing for themselves. They were focused on the city… their customers. They all grew beards as a sign of unity and they were off and running toward winning the World Series.

The lesson of the Red Sox is that you have to define a culture and know who you are “playing for.” In healthcare, that means having an explicit culture that is patient driven.

Another sports team giving us a good lesson in culture is the Miami Dolphins. Well, not a GOOD lesson, but an important lesson about what happens when there is a negative culture that can spin out of control. Many of the details are not known yet, but one thing is clear. The Miami Dolphins have a culture problem. No matter who is to blame, it is clear that the locker room culture is one where bullying is permitted, even encouraged, racial slurs are the norm, and employees (the players) are expected to “handle things themselves” without interference from leadership.

The lesson here is that your organization HAS a culture. It may not be the culture you want… but you have one. You have to build a positive culture or it becomes very easy for a negative one to take its place. In healthcare, this is why rounding is so important. Either the Dolphins leadership didn’t know what was happening in their locker room, or they knew and accepted it. Whether or not you think the culture of was good or bad, the end result is that the culture they allowed to develop has resulted in organizational turmoil and the loss of 10% of their offensive starting players. (They lost two starters, one who left the team and one who is suspended indefinitely). The people involved are to blame, but they were acting within the culture they created.

The lessons of these two organizations show us how critical it is to understand the culture we have and to work tirelessly to build the culture we want.

Do you know what your culture is and what you are trying to build? Drop me a note at or tweet me @JakePoore.