There is a subtle but critical difference between a culture of belonging and fitting in. Creating a team culture of belonging is the key to melding a roster of over a dozen unique individuals into a single team with a shared sense of identity and purpose.
A culture of belonging starts with belief that every member of the team has an essential role to play. Finding and utilizing the unique assets of each player on your team will optimize your team’s potential. A culture of belonging celebrates each player’s uniqueness.
A fitting in culture on a team ostracizes players who are different than the majority and forces assimilation. Assimilation is the process in which a minority group comes to resemble or assume the values and behaviors of the dominant group. The consequence of assimilation is a loss of identity for the minority.
In her book Braving the Wilderness, PhD research professor Brené Brown describes an interview that she did with NFL Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks. Coach Carroll said, “there’s no question that it’s easier to manage a fitting culture. You set standards and rules. You lead by put up or shut up, but you miss real opportunities, especially helping your team members find their purpose. When you push a fitting in culture, you miss the opportunity to help people find their personal drive, what’s coming from their hearts. Leading for true belonging is about creating a culture that celebrates uniqueness. What serves leaders best is understanding your players best efforts. My job as a leader is to identify their unique gift or contribution. A strong leader pulls players toward a deep belief in themselves.”
Inclusion doesn’t just feel good for team culture, it also impacts the performance and stamina of marginalized athletes on the team. When players experience exclusion within a team, they tend to demonstrate lower levels of confidence, team spirit and motivation, which ultimately results in burnout. Building a team culture of inclusion is the best way to retain your talent.
How does it feel when you know your teammates have your back no matter what? Do you play better or worse?
Now consider how it feels when you don’t trust teammates or when your teammates don’t trust you?
Can you see how cultivating a culture of belonging on your team is better for your performance on the volleyball court?
Building and shaping your team into a culture of belonging that embraces diversity is one of the most powerful lessons you can take away from playing volleyball. Learning how to do this will serve you long after your playing days are over. You don’t need to be everyone’s best friend, but if you can learn to celebrate the differences in your teammates and affirm their identities, you will be setting yourself up for success in life.